February 2009

Gamel, Brewers officials to chat

Mat Gamel knows that Brewers officials were not particularly thrilled with him when he reported to camp on Wednesday with a shoulder injury. He hopes a little sit-down will help clear things up.

Here’s the background: Gamel was sent home last September with an elbow injury that club officials feel he concealed. But very interestingly, Gamel insisted on Wednesday that he did try to tell medical staffers that he was hurting but got little response.

Then, he was the last player to report for Spring Training and when he showed up, he said his shoulder was hurting. He said he didn’t tell Brewers officials this time because it only happened a day or so ago, and he figured it could be dealt with when he arrived.

As for his late arrival, which garnered him little talkings-to from veterans like Jason Kendall and Mike Cameron, Gamel explained that his fiancee is pregnant and due any day. He wanted to remain at home in Florida as long as possible.

He said he’s looking forward to sitting down to front office folks to clear the air.

“It’s fine, because I’d like to sit down and let them hear my side,” Gamel said. “I tried to fight through it last year, but I also felt like I let them know that my elbow was sore.

“I wasn’t going to say anything about [the current shoulder problem], but then I thought about the negative side of not saying anything, and figured I should let them know. … Now I want to sit down and let them know what’s going on. I don’t want them to think I’m “big-leaguing” my way through my first [Major League] camp.”

It’s an interesting side story to the first full-squad workout. Gamel is extremely talented, but my understanding is that the Brewers want to be sure that he knows his responsibilities.   

Gamel sidelined by shoulder

One of the Brewers’ top prospects is beginning the 2009 season right where he ended 2008: On the sidelines.

Third baseman Mat Gamel was the last Brewer to report for Spring Training on Wednesday and he arrived complaining of shoulder pain. Gamel’s physical exam revealed an impingement similar to the one that is sidelining outfielder Tony Gwynn, Jr., and both players will refrain from throwing until the pain goes away. 

Gamel earned a September call-up last season but was sent home early when he revealed a strained right elbow that apparently had been bothering him for some time. The shoulder problem came as a similar surprise.

“He gave no indication of it,” assistant general manager Gord Ash said. “He said it happened just before he got here.”

Gagne wants to "pay back" Brewers

Here are some quotes from new Brewer Eric Gagne, who returned to Maryvale Baseball Park on Wednesday as a Minor Leaguer on a mission:

“I let the team and the organization down,” said Gagne, who inked a Minor League deal with the Brewers and reported to big league camp just in time for a physical exam and Milwaukee’s first full-squad workout. “The one thing is that it’s easy to succeed, it’s hard to fail. …

“They paid me a lot of money last year and I didn’t really deliver. This is a little bit of payback.”

On being a $10 million bust last season:  “You look at your paycheck every two weeks and it’s like, ‘Man, that’s crazy what I get paid for,’ and you put pressure on yourself,” Gagne said. “I felt bad about it. I want to pitch good. I was happy with the season because we made the playoffs, but I was disappointed because I knew [general manager Doug Melvin] took a chance on me last year, he stuck his neck out. … He gets judged on all his moves, [especially] the big moves, and it didn’t work out with me.”

On whether he turned down Major League offers from other teams to wait for a better deal that never came:  “I’m not going to talk about that one,” Gagne said. “Yes and no. It was a weird offseason, let’s put it that way.”

He added: “I could have retired, but I’m not done.”

As I wrote yesterday and again this morning, Gagne has no assurances about a job and has tough competition from pitchers already on the 40-man roster. Barring injuries, I see two open spots and five 40-man guys with a shot: Jorge Julio, Todd Coffey, Eddie Morlan, Mark DiFelice and Tim Dillard.

Hart's $3.25 million deal is done

Doug Melvin’s streak is still alive.

Melvin, who has not gone to an arbitration hearing with a player since he took the helm as the Brewers’ general manager in September 2002, avoided one with right fielder Corey Hart on Tuesday when the sides agreed to a one-year contract.

In his first year of arbitration eligibility, Hart was seeking $3.8 million in arbitration while the Brewers offered $2.7 million, and Hart said he settled right at the midpoint. He will earn $3.25 million this season.

“That was always the goal, to get to that spot,” Hart said. “It feels pretty good.”

Talks were pushed along with news of the compromise between outfielder Andre Ethier and the Dodgers, who settled on a $3.1 million deal. Ethier and Hart have posted comparable statistics over their three seasons, though Hart has more home runs and RBIs (55 and 212 to 44 and 196) while Either has the superior career batting average and on-base percentage (.299 and .364 to .277 and .323).

The Dodgers faced the same $1.1 million gap with Ethier as the Brewers do with Hart. Ethier asked for $3.75 million and the club offered $2.65 million, and the sides settled for just below the midpoint. That deal does include $100,000 in incentives that would push Ethier’s salary to precisely the midpoint.

Spring surprise: Gagne back with the Brewers

I had just left Maryvale Baseball Park for the day when Brewers spokesman Mike Vassallo texted a shocker: Eric Gagne is re-joining the Brewers.

He won’t exactly make the $10 million he pocketed last season, and general manager Doug Melvin made it clear Gagne received no guarantees he’ll get a job. Gagne agreed to a Minor League contract that includes an invitation to big league camp and an out clause that will allow him back to free agency if he doesn’t get a 40-man roster spot before the end of Spring Training.

“He’s got to win a job,” Melvin said. “He came to me at the end of the season and told me he felt he didn’t earn his [salary], that he didn’t pitch the way he wanted to pitch for what he was being paid. He said he felt indebted to us to come back in and give it another shot for us.

“I didn’t expect that, and I respect the fact that he stood up and said, ‘I didn’t pitch well.’ He came to me and said, ‘I’m sorry I disappointed you.’ But he pitched well at the end of the year and that’s what counted, so I give him a lot of credit for that.”

Gagne joins a crowded bullpen. Trevor Hoffman is the closer and Carlos Villanueva, David Riske and Seth McClung and at least one left-hander from Mitch Stetter or R.J. Swindle are ticketed for what will probably be a seven-man relief corps. Assuming only one lefty makes the cut, it would leave only two more spots for a field of competitors led by 40-man roster members Todd Coffey, Jorge Julio, Mark DiFelice and Rule 5 pick Eduardo Morlan.

Melvin said Gagne’s decision to sign had nothing to do with the team’s decision to cancel a trip by top pro scout Dick Groch to see free agent reliever Chad Cordero throw in California on Wednesday. Cordero’s camp informed clubs that he will only be throwing at about 80 percent of total effort, so the Brewers instead will send their local scouts.

The Brewers are not interested in former St. Louis reliever Jason Isringhausen, another right-handed former closer who, like Gagne, could be open to a Minor League deal. So it appears that the team feels it has enough competitors already in camp to put together a quality bullpen.

Braun stands by fellow UM alum A-Rod

Hours before Alex Rodriguez was to face a media throng in Tampa, Brewers slugger Ryan Braun was standing by his fellow University of Miami alum from more than 2,000 miles away.

While expressing regret for what he called Rodriguez’s “mistakes,” Braun refused to denounce the fallen Yankees star.

“Everybody makes mistakes, and I’m not the type of person that’s going to change my opinion about who he is just because he made a mistake,” Braun said. “I wouldn’t just disassociate myself with somebody just because he made a mistake. I don’t think anybody is perfect, and I don’t think he’s ever pretended to be perfect.”

Braun first met Rodriguez on a recruiting trip to Miami in 2001, the same year that Rodriguez, according to his in his first interview on the subject, began taking banned substances. The story that Rodriguez allegedly tested positive for steroids broke via SI.com on Feb. 7, but New York reporters did not get their first opportunity to grill Rodriguez on the subject until Tuesday.

Because Brewers hitters took the field at 11:30 MT for batting and fielding work, just as Rodriguez stepped behind the microphone, Braun would have to wait to see the exchange in replay.

“It doesn’t do me much good to say anything bad about anybody,” Braun said earlier in the morning. “It will be interesting to see what he has to say. I will say that I think he’s done everything that he should have done [since the story broke] and the best thing he can do is come out, admit to everything and be completely honest. The situation will die a lot faster if he tells the whole truth.”

Was he surprised by events of the past two weeks?

“I don’t know if I would say I was surprised,” Braun said. “I feel like it was so rampant, so prevalent, in baseball during that time period that not much surprises me anymore. If anything, I was surprised he got caught, that it came out this long after he supposedly did it.”

For the record, Braun said he has never been tempted to use performance-enhancing drugs.

“It’s never something that I sought,” Braun said before showing a flash of his sense of humor and his well-documented self-confidence. “I would never do it because if I took steroids, I would hit 60 or 70 home runs.”

Macha: Gallardo probably won't go Opening Day

Brewers manager Ken Macha will not name his Opening Day starter until the final week of March, but he is “over 50 percent” sure that it will not be right-hander Yovani Gallardo.

“I’d rather have this guy go out and start in the middle somewhere,” Macha said of Gallardo, who turns 23 on Feb. 27. “I don’t know where it’s going to be just yet. Who knows, it might be second starter. … I don’t want him going out there thinking he has to throw a shutout every game and now you’re facing [Tim] Lincecum and [Jake] Peavy and [Carlos] Zambrano, guys like that.”

It makes sense that the same thought process would hold true for 26-year-old Manny Parra as for Gallardo. If that’s the case, it would leave a trio of veteran right-handers in line for the Opening Day nod on April 7 in San Francisco: Dave Bush, Braden Looper or Jeff Suppan.

Macha did leave open the door for Gallardo to open the second half, which actually could be the more prestigious assignment. Because there are fewer off-days in July, August and September, whomever draws that game is more likely to face other teams’ top pitchers.

The Brewers have an off-day on March 24, after which Macha intends to line up the rotation for the start of the season. The Brewers’ Opening Day choice should become clear soon after that date.

Emptying the notebook…

Some random items that did not find a home in news stories over the past few days:

– Prince Fielder, Craig Counsell and Hernan Iribarren reported to camp on Monday, leaving only three players absent ahead of Tuesday’s report date for position players: Mike Cameron, Alcides Escobar and Mat Gamel. All three are expected to arrive on time.

Cameron is a veteran so it’s not surprising to see him report on time instead of early, but it’s a bit surprising that Escobar and Gamel, two of Milwaukee’s top prospects, have yet to show. Escobar planned to arrive Monday but he missed a flight out of Venezuela, and Gamel stayed back in Florida because he’s about to become a dad for the first time.

– Speaking of Escobar, assistant general manager Gord Ash said the shortstop prospect was not kicked off his winter ball team, refuting a rumor that has circulated the Internet during the offseason.

– Fielder was in high spirits, and he does appear to have slimmed down over the winter. You can see the change in his face.

– The Brewers have already scheduled a “B” game for the March 10 off-day, and will play the Rangers in Surprise, Ariz. at 9:30 a.m. that day. The team is also working to schedule a “B” game for the March 4 off-day, but has not found any takers.

Those games are intended mostly to keep Brewers pitchers on schedule. All of the regular offensive players will get that day off.

– Manager Ken Macha intends to play left fielder Ryan Braun extensively in early Cactus League games so he is ready for the World Baseball Classic. While players like Fielder get their one or two at-bats and call it a day, Braun could play some full games, Macha said.

– Camp was lively on Monday, when the pitchers were divided into teams for a bunting competition. Mitch Stetter is a surprisingly good bunter and so is Trevor Hoffman, though it’s not all that surprising since Hoffman is a former shortstop. Carlos Villanueva delivered the best bunt, landing the baseball within a small target along a virtual third base line.

On a side note, Villanueva is batting right-handed again. He tinkered as a lefty last season, but since he’s now permanently in the bullpen, he figured it was best to keep things sinple.

– General manager Doug Melvin on catching prospect Jonathan Lucroy: “That kid is going to be a player. He reminds me a little of [former A’s catcher] Terry Steinbach.”

McClung, Macha have their meeting

No surprise here: Seth McClung was still saying all the right things after his meeting with manager Ken Macha on Sunday in which Macha laid out his plans for the starting rotation.

McClung was told that he’ll continue “stretching out” as a starter all spring, but that he’s currently sixth on the depth chart. Assuming all five of the team’s current starters make it through camp without an injury, McClung will begin the year in the bullpen.

He prefers to start, but McClung said he appreciated the “upfrontedness” shown him by Macha, general manager Doug Melvin and assistant GM Gord Ash.

“I’ve got to really commend everyone for being up front with me,” McClung said. “It’s pretty obvious what’s going on, but I’ve been in positions before where it’s obvious, but nobody says anything.

“It’s really professional and classy to come out and break it down for me. They really encouraged me that my role on this team is going to be big, and even though it’s a situation where I’m not going to start [at the beginning of the season], I’ll get an opportunity at some point.”

Provus is radio pick; radio and TV schedule unveiled

The Brewers’ flagship radio station hired Cory Provus of WGN in Chicago to fill the vacancy in Milwaukee’s radio booth on the same day the Brewers unveiled their Spring Training and regular-season broadcast schedules.

Provus, a 2000 graduate of Syracuse University, appeared on AM 620-WTMJ in Milwaukee on Monday morning and will call his first game alongside Bob Uecker on Feb. 25, when the Brewers host the A’s at Maryvale Baseball Park. He handled Cubs pre- and post-game programming for WGN and often spelled play-by-play man Pat Hughes in the fifth inning of game broadcasts.

He replaces Jim Powell, who left in January for a higher-profile job with the Atlanta Braves after 13 seasons in the booth with Uecker.

The Feb. 25 game is one of 36 Brewers Spring Training games and all will be broadcast either on the Brewers Radio Network, MLB.com, FSN Wisconsin or Milwaukee’s WMLW TV. A total of three games will be broadcast on television, 19 on radio and 16 via MLB.com webcast.

During the regular season, Uecker and Provus will call all 162 games on the radio as usual, and a total of 157 games will be televised, with Brian Anderson (who has an excellent MLBlog, by the way) and Bill Schroeder back in the booth. That includes 136 games on FSN Wisconsin, 15 games aired locally in Milwaukee on WMLW and four national broadcasts.

On his blog, Anderson wrote that Telly Hughes will replace departed sideline reporter Trenni Kusnierek on TV broadcasts.

The national games, some with updated start times, include:

April 12 game vs. Cubs at 7:05 p.m. CT on ESPN
May 24 at Twins at 7:05 p.m. CT on ESPN
May 26 vs. Cardinals at 7:05 p.m. CT on ESPN
June 13 vs. White Sox at 3:05 p.m. CT on FOX
June 15 at Indians at 6:05 p.m. CT on ESPN
June 20 at Tigers at 3:05 p.m. CT on FOX
Sept. 5 vs. Giants at 3:05 p.m. CT on FOX

All of those times are subject to change, of course. The team’s complete 2009 broadcast schedule will be online soon.