February 2009

Kendall to catch less in '09?

Jason Kendall led the Majors with 149 starts in 2009 including each of Milwaukee’s final 34 regular-season games. But if his new manager gets his way — and Major League managers tend to get just that — Kendall will spend a bit more time resting his knees in 2009.

Brewers skipper Ken Macha intends to pair his backup, probably Mike Rivera, with one of Milwaukee’s five starting pitchers in an effort to get Rivera more playing time while keeping Kendall fresh for key games at the end of the season. It will be a loose pairing, Macha stressed, and he knows he’ll get plenty of resistance from Kendall, who turns 36 in June.

“I could see him getting at least one day off a week, but he’s not going to be happy about it,” said Macha, who was Kendall’s manager in Oakland in 2005 and 2006. “It’s just too bad.”

Macha installed a similar set-up in 2006, when backup Adam Melhuse caught Esteban Loaiza’s early-season starts. But at some point, Loaiza asked for Kendall, and Kendall ended up starting 141 games that season. In 2005, Kendall started 146 games. He’s the only catcher in baseball to make at least 130 starts in each of the last seven seasons.

“We’ll just have to see how it goes,” Macha said. “I don’t want to go down to the end of the year and have my catcher’s tongue dragging down on the ground. That would be nonproductive.”

Macha will make his decision during Spring Training, but he did say he may prefer to pair Rivera with one of the team’s veteran starters. That could rule out left-hander Manny Parra, though Rivera and Parra were paired often last season, and Rivera caught Parra’s perfect game for Triple-A Nashville in 2007.

Rivera was in the big leagues all of last season but, somewhat remarkably, he played in only 17 games and started only 13. He’s not exactly a huge drop-off; in just 62 at-bats over 21 games, Rivera batted .306 and drove in 14 runs.

Gallardo still mulling Classic

I had a chance to talk with right-hander Yovani Gallardo today about his upcoming decision about the World Baseball Classic, and he’s torn. On one hand, he wants badly to represent his country. On the other, he had two knee surgeries last year and missed much of the season with a torn right ACL.

Rosters must be set by Feb. 24, and it sounded to me like Gallardo is leaning toward passing on the tournament. You can decide for yourself by reading his comments:

“Obviously, my main focus is to pitch the whole year for the Milwaukee Brewers,” Gallardo said Sunday, when Brewers pitchers and catchers went through their first workout at Maryvale Baseball Park.

“It is tough,” he added. “The opportunity to go out there and play for your country, I’ve never had that opportunity. But from here on out, I have to think of what’s best for myself and [the Brewers].

On a sit-down with club officials that will probably take place this week:

“It’s one of those things that we’re going to have to sit down and discuss,” Gallardo said. “Being hurt last year, it’s one of the things I think about most. I’ll have answer here in the next week or so. It’s a difficult decision.”

On a side note, it appears that Brewers pitcher Mark DiFelice and catcher Vinny Rottino will be the starting battery for Italy’s World Baseball Classic opener against Venezuela. 


Hall expects speedy comeback

The official estimate remains 4-6 weeks, but Brewers infielder Bill Hall believes he will return much more quickly from a left calf injury.

“I think two weeks,” Hall said. “It’s definitely not going to be 4-6 weeks.”

Hall suffered a partial tear to his left calf muscle during a private conditioning session on Thursday. He was strapped with resistance bands for sprint drills, and at first thought one of the rubber bands had snapped and hit the back of his leg.

An MRi scan on Friday revealed the damage. Hall is already throwing, and could be taking ground balls by the middle of the week. Because of the extra strain it puts on his calf, hitting will probably come last.

Hart still hopes to avoid arbitration hearing

Unfinished business couldn’t keep Brewers outfielder Corey Hart from the practice fields on Sunday.   

Hart still does not have a 2009 contract, and each day brings him closer to the unpleasant reality of an arbitration hearing that’s scheduled for Wednesday. Yet Hart was among the Brewers position players who reported early for camp, and he’s trying to keep his business separate from baseball.

“I know a lot of guys don’t like to come in before things get settled, but I want to be part of this team from Day 1,” Hart said after taking batting practice and participating in fielding drills at Maryvale Baseball Park. “If I wasn’t here, I’d be sitting at home kicking myself, thinking there was something better I should be doing.”

Hart remains hopeful that a deal will be struck before his hearing on Wednesday at a Phoenix-area hotel. That would be good news for the Brewers, who have not seen a case go that far since before general manager Doug Melvin’s tenure began in September 2002.

In his first year of eligibility, Hart is seeking $3.8 million in arbitration while the Brewers offered $2.7 million. The sides have been talking for nearly a month with little reportable progress.

“I think [a compromise] is going to happen,” Hart said. “I’m trying to stay out of it as much as I can, but I think we’re all hoping that something is going to happen. Obviously, nobody wants a hearing and I love everything about Milwaukee from the owner on down. I have nothing to say to put them down because I’ve enjoyed it, and I think they know that.”

Roster shake-up: Pena, Mendoza out; Rottino stays

Reliever Luis Pena, a longtime Brewers farmhand, was claimed off waivers from the Mariners on Sunday at the same time the team announced that veteran reliever and nonroster invitee Ramiro Mendoza had failed his physical and will not participate in camp.

A third player is staying put. Catcher Vinny Rottino, a Wisconsin native who was designated for assignment Thursday along with Pena, cleared waivers and accepted an outright assignment to Triple-A Nashville. He will continue to compete for a roster spot in big league camp this spring, but Rottino is no longer on the 40-man roster.

Rottino and Pena were both placed on waivers the day the Brewers claimed Angels pitcher Nick Green off waivers and signed free agent pitcher Braden Looper.

Technically, Pena was the one displaced for Green, a right-handed starter. The Brewers had a good idea that Pena would be claimed, and Seattle was a likely destination since new M’s general manager Jack Zduriencik used to be the Brewers’ scouting director. One other team, probably the White Sox, who have an affiliate in the Double-A Southern League and saw Pena during his excellent 2007 season, also had some interest.

“You can look at it as a trade [of] Nick Green for Luis Pena, a starter for a reliever,” general manager Doug Melvin said. “We need starters and Nick is only 24. Luis is 26, but you have to give up on power arms.”

Mendoza’s Brewers tenure was much shorter than that of Pena, who originally signed with the team out of Venezuela in 1999. Mendoza signed about two weeks ago, and hoped to pitch in the Majors for the first time since 2005 with the Yankees.

The Brewers were aware of Mendoza’s checkered medical history, and spent the last two weeks trying unsuccessfully to obtain records from a hip surgery. When Mendoza underwent his physical exam on Saturday, the extent of that major surgery was revealed, and the Brewers decided to pass.

“The hip surgery was much more extensive than we thought so our doctors don’t want to take the risk with it,” assistant general manager Gord Ash said. “That’s not to say he can’t pitch. He pitched all winter with it. These things are all based on the level of risk that you are willing to take.”

Same story for Hall; Gwynn slowed by shoulder pain

Five players, including third baseman Bill Hall and outfielder Tony Gwynn, Jr., will be restricted from activity when Brewers pitchers, catchers and the handful of position players already in camp take part in the team’s first Spring Training workout on Sunday.

A rundown of the injury updates that emerged from physical exams on Saturday:

– Head team physical William Raasch confirmed the original diagnosis for third baseman Bill Hall, who has a partially torn left calf muscle and will be sidelined about 4-6 weeks. Club spokesperson Mike Vassallo said Raasch was “encouraged” by Hall’s improvement from Friday, when Hall underwent an MRI scan.

Hall was injured on Thursday while working out at a private facility in the Phoenix area. If he progresses on schedule, he could be fully rehabilitated by Opening Day on April 7.

– Gwynn, a left-handed hitter but a right-handed thrower, is  restricted from throwing because of a right shoulder impingement . Gwynn is out of Minor League options and has a great chance of making the Opening Day roster for the second straight season, assuming he gets healthy.

– Speedy utility man Jason Bourgeois is restricted from activity because of a fracture of the fifth metacarpal of his left hand. In other words, he has a broken left pinkie.  The 26 year-old spent most of the 2008 season at Triple-A Charlotte in the Chicago White Sox system, hitting .286 with a .335 on-base percentage, nine home runs, 83 runs scored and 30 stolen bases in 41 attempts.

– Right-hander Alex Periard, who was just added to the 40-man roster over the winter, is restricted from throwing because of tightness in his right shoulder. Periard, 21 and one of the Brewers’ recent Canadian imports, was a 16th round pick in 2004 who almost certainly will begin the year in the Minors. During the 2008 regular season, Periard was 11-10 with a 4.06 ERA in 26 starts and one relief appearance between Class A Brevard County and Double-A Huntsville.

– Right-hander Mark Rogers and left-hander Chris Capuano, as expected, will begin camp on closely-monitored throwing programs.

Rogers, another recent addition to the 40-man roster, has missed the past two seasons because of shoulder issues and Capuano, who is back with the Brewers on a Minor League contract, is rehabbing from his second career Tommy John surgery. The Brewers hope Capuano is ready to pitch by May 1 or so.

Because so many Brewers position players have reported to camp early, only nine players will have to undergo physicals on Wednesday, prior to the team’s first full-squad workout.

Brewers, Hart still at a stalemate

Just landed in sunny Phoenix, where I hope to broker peace between the Brewers and arbitration-eligible outfielder Corey Hart. They appear to need all the help they can get right now.

Here’s some of a story I just filed:

PHOENIX — Asked whether there was anything new to report on negotiations between the Brewers and arbitration-eligible outfielder Corey Hart, one of the team’s top officials gave a short-and-sweet response.

“Not a thing,” assistant general manager Gord Ash said on Friday afternoon.

That’s not a good sign for the Brewers, who have not gone to an arbitration hearing with a player since general manager Doug Melvin took over in the fall of 2002. That could change on Wednesday, when the team faces a hearing with Hart.

According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, the Brewers made their latest offer to Hart and his agent, Jeff Berry, on Friday and it was rejected. Hart, who is arbitration-eligible for the first time, is seeking $3.8 million for 2009 and the Brewers countered at $2.7 million.

If the sides cannot reach a compromise, Hart’s arbitration hearing is scheduled for Wednesday, a few miles away from the site of the Brewers’ first full-squad workout at Maryvale Baseball Park.

An interesting test case could be heard on Tuesday, when the Dodgers and outfielder Andre Ethier are scheduled for a hearing. The Dodgers face the same $1.1 million gap with Ethier as the Brewers do with Hart, and Either is somewhat comparable to Hart, with a better career batting average but slightly lower home run and RBI totals.  

Ethier asked for $3.75 million and the club offered $2.65 million.

Hall suffers Crew's first spring injury

The Brewers did not get through Day 1 of Spring Training without the first injury news of the year.

Bill Hall, the frontrunner at start at third base, was diagnosed with a partial tear of his left calf muscle on Friday and will be sidelined 4-6 weeks for rehabilitation. Hall was injured while doing conditioning work before the start of Spring Training.

Assuming his rehab progresses on schedule, Hall still could be ready in time for the Brewers’ April 7 season-opener in San Francisco. Hall underwent offseason Lasik surgery and was hoping for a bounce-back season after two down years. His best season was 2005, when Hall mostly played shortstop and belted 35 homers while hitting .270 and driving in 85 runs.

Third base is a position of relative depth for the Brewers, who have Mike Lamb back for 2009 as well as utility man Craig Counsell, who started 38 games at third in 2008. Both bat left-handed, as does prospect Mat Gamel, though the Brewers may prefer to send Gamel to Triple-A Nashville to continue work on his defense. The top right-handed option is Casey McGehee, an offseason waiver claim from the Cubs.

UPDATE at 1:48 p.m. CT:  Just got off the phone with assistant GM Gord Ash, who said Hall felt a “pop” in his calf during a working Thursday at a private training facility in the Phoenix area. He called head athletic trainer Roger Caplinger and underwent an MRI scan on Friday morning.

Asked about Hall’s availability for Opening Day, Ash said this: “We’ll know better about that [Saturday] when we see him for his physical. He’s recovered fast from injuries before, but to recover enough from this injury to get onto the field could be 30-45 days, so he might be touch and go.”

As for Plan B should Hall miss the start of the season: “We have a lot of choices. … These things will sort themselves out. You don’t like to start camp with an injury, but it is part of the game, no question, and we’ll adjust.”

Ash said Hall was the team’s only health concern that came to light ahead of Saturday’s physicals.


Was Brian Shouse a victim of the market?

Al over at Al’s Ramblings, one of my favorite Brewers blogs, pointed out what I forgot to amid all of the Brewers pitching moves this week. Brian Shouse, everyone’s favorite 40-year-old left-hander, officially signed his contract with the Rays and it was only a one-year deal.

We were told all along by Brian and by Brewers officials that the thing preventing his return to Milwaukee was Shouse’s wish for a two-year deal. Then, for the week or so that he reportedly had terms in place with Tampa Bay and was waiting for the deal to become official (I was told the Rays’ corresponding roster move contributed to the hold-up) it was reported that Shouse had, in fact, agreed to a two-year deal.

Instead, Shouse, who earned $2 million with the Brewers in 2008 and posted a 2.81 ERA, his best mark since 2004, took a pay cut to $1.35 million in 2009 and the Rays hold a $1.9 million option for 2010 with a $200,000 buyout. Remember that he declined the Brewers’ offer of arbitration to seek a two-year deal on the open market. I can’t imagine that a guy who put up such solid numbers over the last two years would have been in line for a pay cut in arbitration, so it appears Shouse settled for a one-year contract for less than what he could have earned from the Brewers.

Add Shouse to the list of players who got burned by the economic conditions this winter. When I talked to him in November, Shouse was very optimistic about his options and was getting serious interest from a number of teams including the Tigers and Cardinals. Then his name seemed to vanish from the rumor mill as the free agent market froze up. Another quality lefty reliever, Joe Beimel, is still looking for a job. (Our Dodgers reporter, Ken Gurnick, wrote an interesting story about Beimel this week.)

The Brewers will be going with a young guy in Shouse’s place. Mitch Stetter and R.J. Swindle will compete during Spring Training for a spot in the bullpen.

Pitchers and catchers reported today but do not take part in their first formal workout until Sunday. I’ll be heading down to Phoenix on Saturday morning and will try to hit the ground running.

– Adam 

Looper signs; Rottino let go

Right-hander Braden Looper passed a physical exam and formally became a Brewer on Thursday when he inked a one-year contract with a mutual option for 2010.

Looper, a 34-year-old former reliever who moved to the St. Louis Cardinals’ starting rotation for the past two seasons, is expected to bolster a Brewers starting five with talent but little depth. To make room for him on the team’s full 40-man roster, Wisconsin native Vinny Rottino, a catcher, was designated for assignment.

Looper will earn $4.75 million in 2009 and at least $6 million in 2010 if both sides exercise the option. The 2010 base salary will bump to $6.5 million of Looper starts at least 30 games in 2009.

The Brewers have until 10 days after the end of the World Series to decide on their half of the option, and Looper then must make his own decision three days after that. If the Brewers decline the option, they must pay Looper a buyout.