March 2009

Was Lamb surprised? 'Yes and no'

We just talked via telephone with Mike Lamb and asked whether he was surprised when informed that he will not be on the Opening Day roster.

“Yes and no,” Lamb said. “Yes, because every indication I had from the off-season leading into Spring Training was that I was going to be on the team and see playing time at third base, depending on how Billy [Hall] did.

“Then, when I got to Spring Training, I started going into games in the seventh and eighth inning. And I went almost a week without playing third. It just wasn’t adding up. I wasn’t totally shocked, but I never dreamed I’d get released again. I don’t think I merited that. I thought I played decent enough. My batting average wasn’t that great but I certainly don’t think I was overmatched.”

Lamb is due $3 million this season but only $400,000 of that was to come from the Brewers. He’s owed the rest by the Twins, who signed Lamb to a two-year, $6.5 million contract prior to the 2008 season but then released him in August.

He did not sound like a player interested in going to Triple-A.

“I need to talk to my agent [Sam Levinson],” Lamb said. “I don’t envision being a Triple-A player. It’s not a money issue. My contract is guaranteed. I don’t want to go to Triple-A to be somebody’s insurance policy. I don’t think I deserve that. I’m only 33.

“Hopefully, something will open up with another team. It’s a tough spot because everybody else is doing the same thing, trimming their roster to get down to 25. It can be difficult to find a job.”

Lamb won't make the cut

A Brewers clubhouse attendant pulled Mike Lamb off the practice field on Tuesday just minutes before the Brewers began their daily stretch, and when Lamb met inside with general manager Doug Melvin and manager Ken Macha, he was told that he will not make the team’s Opening Day roster.

What happens next is up to Lamb. The Brewers will place him on waivers by 1 p.m. CT on Wednesday, but it is unclear whether he will be on release waivers or outright waivers. The answer depends on whether Lamb is willing to accept a job at Triple-A Nashville should he clear.

“There are some things I talked to his agent and to Mike about that will come into play tomorrow,” general manager Doug Melvin said. “We may know tonight and get back to you.”

Lamb was hitting .250 in the Cactus League (13-for-52) with two home runs and 12 RBIs. He racked up six of those RBIs in his last four games, including a pinch-hit, three-run homer on Friday night against the Rangers and another three-RBI performance on Monday against the Mariners. 

Melvin said the final decisions have yet to be made, but the departure of Lamb certainly bodes well for Casey McGehee, who is hitting .370 this spring with six homers and 15 RBIs. He hit a game-winning, two-run homer to beat the Mariners on Monday.

Besides his gaudy Cactus League numbers, McGehee brings to the table a right-handed bat for a Brewers bench stocked with lefties. He had proven an above-average defender at third base and has shown he’s capable at first base, second base and the outfield as well. He also has catching experience, and could give Macha more flexibility at that position. 

Where do Rottino, Iribarren fit?

Triple-A Nashville will have no shortage of utility men this season.

The Brewers optioned Hernan Iribarren to Nashville on Monday and returned Vinny Rottino to Minor League camp. Both players are headed Triple-A, but it’s difficult to pin down exactly where they will play.

Rottino’s fate was complicated by word Monday that the Brewers intend to send Carlos Corporan to Nashville to serve as the backup catcher to Angel Salome. Last year the Brewers installed Rottino as the starting catcher at Nashville with hopes of eventually advancing him to the big leagues as a backup. That experiment has essentially been abandoned, according to assistant general manager Gord Ash.

Rottino will catch “on occasion” this season, Ash said, and, “will be more of a true utility player.”

So will Iribarren, it appears. Assuming the Brewers keep out-of-options players Tony Gwynn Jr., Brad Nelson and Mike Lamb for the bench, the infield will be full with prospects Mat Gamel and Alcides Escobar on the left side, Scott Thorman at first base and probably Spring Training standout Casey McGehee at second. The team wants to play young outfielders Brendan Katin and Cole Gillespie in the outfield, and Chris Duffy would probably man center field. Iribarren presumably would pick up at-bats where he can get them.

Both Iribarren and Rottino have been Brewers farmhands for a long time — Iribarren since March 2002 and Rottino since February 2003. They both have had a taste of the big leagues and would love to get back, but it’s looking tough.

Brewers set pitching staff with latest cuts

The Brewers made another flurry of camp cuts on Monday that essentially set the team’s 12-man pitching staff for Opening Day and further clarified the three bench spots still up for grabs.

Milwaukee optioned infielder/outfielder Hernan Iribarren Triple-A Nashville, returned super-utility man Vinny Rottino to Minor League camp and informed nonroster pitchers Lindsay Gulin and Wes Littleton and catcher Carlos Corporan that they will not make the Opening Day roster. Gulin, Littleton and Corporan will travel with the team to Los Angeles for a pair of weekend exhibitions with the Dodgers and will also take part in team workouts in San Francisco next week before reporting to Triple-A Nashville to start the season.

The moves had a number of implications:

– The subtraction of Gulin and Littleton, combined with the news Monday that closer Trevor Hoffman had been placed on the disabled list with a ribcage injury, left the Brewers with 12 pitchers in camp. That meant roster spots for both Mark DiFelice and Jorge Julio, right-handed relievers who were competing for the final bullpen job.

With no additions from outside the organization over the next week, the staff will consist of starters Jeff Suppan, Yovani Gallardo, Manny Parra, Braden Looper and Dave Bush (in that order to start the year) plus relievers Todd Coffey, DiFelice, Julio, Seth McClung, David Riske, Mitch Stetter and Carlos Villanueva.

– Three bench roles are still up for grabs. The Brewers will chose two outfielders from Chris Duffy, Tony Gwynn Jr. and Brad Nelson and one infielder from Mike Lamb and Casey McGehee. The Lamb/McGehee battle has been a good one, but both will make the cut if Craig Counsell, who was back in the lineup Monday after playing the previous two days in Minor League camp, has a setback and needs surgery to repair the torn meniscus in his right knee. 

– Gulin will join a starting rotation at Nashville also expected to include Chase Wright, Nick Green, Sam Narron and Tim Dillard. Left-hander Chris Narveson will be assigned to the bullpen, and the organization will make decisions on two other Triple-A pitchers — Richie Gardner and Matt Ginter — on Tuesday. Both of those pitchers have bullpen experience, Ash said.

Rosenthal picks Gallardo for NL Cy Young

Saw this posted by my friends at Brew Crew Ball: Ken Rosenthal of picked Brewers right-hander Yovani Gallardo as his preseason favorite for the National League Cy Young Award. Rosenthal thinks Gallardo could have a breakout a’la Indians lefty Cliff Lee, who won the AL Cy Young Award last season.

It’s certainly an interesting pick in a league that features the likes of Brandon Webb and Johan Santana. And if manager Ken Macha did not want Gallardo to be rattled by the pressure of working Opening Day, I’m guessing the skipper won’t be pointing him to this evening. 

(On a totally unrelated note, other than the fact it involves a Brewers fan blog, go check out Al’s Ramblings and consider sponsoring him for charity.) 

Surgery is one option for Counsell

Brewers infielder Craig Counsell was back in the starting lineup Monday after playing a pair of Minor League games, but he might need surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his right knee, assistant general manager Gord Ash said.

That’s just one of the scenarios for Counsell, who is expected to serve as Milwaukee’s primary reserve infielder this season and is particularly important as a backup to starting shortstop J.J. Hardy. There also remains the possibility that Counsell could play through the injury, Ash said.

“He played over on the [Minor League] side the last couple of days and pushed himself pretty good,” Ash said. “He has some pain but still can play through it. What we want to do is move him over here and let him play [in a big league game] to see how he feels. By mid-week we’ll have some decisions on where it goes from there.”

A surgery would sideline Counsell for 2-3 weeks, Ash said.

If Counsell suffers a setback, both Mike Lamb and Casey McGehee would make Milwaukee’s Opening Day roster but the team would be thin behind Hardy. Bill Hall, who played shortstop when hardy was injured in 2006, would probably slide over from third base. The team wants to stick with its plan to send shortstop prospect Alcides Escobar to Triple-A Nashville.

Brewers place Hoffman on DL

A few minutes after Trevor Hoffman told reporters that he was resigned to beginning the season on the disabled list, the Brewers formally made the move.

Hoffman was placed on the 15-day DL Monday, retroactive to March 27, with a strained oblique muscle on the right side of his ribcage. He will miss at least the first four game of the regular season.

“Basically, that’s all that’s left,” Hoffman said of his move to the DL. “You’re talking about not having been off the mound in two weeks and it would be silly to try to rush it [for Opening Day].”

Gameday: March 30 vs. M's (Braun, Counsell back in)

Left Fielder Ryan Braun (ribs) and infielder Craig Counsell (right knee) return to the “A” game lineup today, when the Brewers host the Mariners at Maryvale Baseball Park.

“I’m back,” Braun declared after meeting with manager Ken Macha

Macha set his lineup just before the clubhouse was closed to reporters, and here it is:

Rickie Weeks  2B
Corey Hart  RF
Ryan Braun  LF
Prince Fielder  1B
Mike Cameron  CF
Bill Hall  3B
Craig Counsell  SS
Mike Rivera  C
Manny Parra  LHP

Relievers Carlos Villanueva and Mitch Stetter are scheduled to follow Parra, so Stetter apparently will not head to Minor League camp to face a series of left-handed hitters, after all.

In news this morning, general manager Doug Melvin infomed pitchers Lindsay Gulin and Wes Littleton and catcher Carlos Corporan this morning that they will not make the Opening Day roster. All three players will travel with the Brewers to Los Angeles for a pair of exhibitions against the Dodgers, and will also participate in team workouts in San Francisco on April 5 and 6 before reporting to Triple-A Nashville.

Progress for Hoffman

Brewers closer Trevor Hoffman played catch Sunday for the first time in more than a week, and while he’s still likely to begin the season on the disabled list, at least it was a step forward.

Hoffman had been shut down since March 20 because of a strained muscle on his right side. If he can get healthy in a hurry, the Brewers could backdate a stint on the DL such that Hoffman would only have to miss the first four games of the regular season.

“We still have a long way to go, but we’re making progress,” Brewers manager Ken Macha said.

Hoffman is likely to remain with the team for treatment when the Brewers break camp Thursday night and travel to California for two exhibitions against the Dodgers and then the season-opening series against the Giants. At some point he could be sent out — either to Triple-A Nashville or Class A Wisconsin — for a rehabilitation outing or two.

Gameday: March 29 at Giants

It’s Bullpen Day at Scottsdale Stadium, as both the Brewers and Giants hide their schedule starters in anticipation of the season-opening series in San Francisco. The Giants beat writers just departed for the team’s Minor League complex, where Randy Johnson is starting a Triple-A game at 1 p.m. CT. Milwaukee’s Yovani Gallardo will work a similar game at Maryvale Baseball Park at 3 p.m. CT. The two are scheduled to face each other on April 8 at AT&T Park, Game 2 of a three-game series.

Left fielder Ryan Braun is scheduled to play behind Gallardo in that Minor League game as he continues to test his strained ribcage muscle. I believe that Craig Counsell (right knee) is also scheduled to appear.

Meanwhile, Mark DiFelice is scheduled to work three innings in the “A” game against the Giants. Here’s how they’ll line up:

Rickie Weeks  2B
Tony Gwynn Jr.  LF
J.J. Hardy  SS
Prince Fielder  1B
Corey Hart  RF
Mike Cameron  CF
Bill Hall  3B
Jason Kendall  C
Mark DiFelice  RHP

Todd Coffey, Mitch Stetter, Jorge Julio, Wes Littleton and Lindsay Gulin are also scheduled to work. It’s the Brewers’ fourth game this spring at Scottsdale Stadium, and as any fans who have been here can attest, we’re not complaining.