March 2009

Brewers-Giants atop MLB Network slate

The Brewers’ April 9 series finale in San Francisco will be televised by the new MLB Network, the first of eight April and May Thursday night broadcasts announced by the network today.  Former Brewers play-by-play man Matt Vasgersian will have the call alongside color man Joe Magrane.

 “It’s important for MLB Network right from the start to establish a national footprint with live games, and we’ve done that with this Thursday night package to complement our ambitious nightly studio show, MLB Tonight,” said Tony Petitti, President and Chief Executive Officer of MLB Network.  “We’re very excited about the mix of games we’ll show in the first two months, and think fans will continue to appreciate the versatility of our on-air talent as they transition seamlessly between the studio and the broadcast booth.”

The Brewers-Giants game, set for a 6 p.m. CT first pitch, will also air as originally
scheduled on FSN Wisconsin with Brian Anderson and Bill Schroeder. Manny Parra, who pitches today against the Dodgers, is lined up to make that start in San Francisco.

Gameday: March 25 vs. Dodgers

With Ryan Braun back in the fold and Trot Nixon out, the Brewers begin a two-game homestand today against the Dodgers and Manny Ramirez, who is slated to start as L.A.’s left fielder. Minus the pitcher’s spot, it’s a preview of the Brewers’ Opening Day lineup:

Rickie Weeks  2B
J.J. Hardy  SS
Ryan Braun  LF
Prince Fielder  1B
Corey Hart  RF
Mike Cameron  CF
Bill Hall  3B
Jason Kendall  C
Manny Parra LHP

Parra had some back spasms earlier in the week, but he threw a bullpen session on Monday with no troubles. It’s worth keeping an eye on him today to see if he can reach his six-inning, 90-pitch quota.

Manager Ken Macha told us this morning that closer Trevor Hoffman is making progress in his return from a strained oblique muscle, “but it’s still slow.” There is no timetable for Hoffman to resume throwing, and it’s more likely by the day that Hoffman will begin the year on the disabled list. The Brewers can backdate that assignment 10 days from the start of the Major League season, which means Hoffman would miss Milwaukee’s first three games, at minimum.

Veteran infielder Craig Counsell developed some swelling in one of his knees after Monday’s game in Tucson and will not play today. Macha expected Counsell to return to action on Thursday.

Brewers release Nixon; option Gamel

The Brewers released veteran outfielder Trot Nixon on Wednesday in their latest round of roster cuts. 

The team also optioned third baseman Mat Gamel, one of its top prospects, to Triple-A Nashville, and announced that recently-acquired reliever Wes Littleton had cleared waivers and been optioned to Nashville. Littleton, though, will remain in camp, ostensibly to compete for a bullpen job. 

Nixon signed a Minor League contract over the winter and the Brewers hoped he would be this year’s Gabe Kapler, a fellow former Red Sox who had a solid 2008 season as a backup outfielder in Milwaukee. Instead, Nixon batted .105 in 20 Cactus League games and fell behind fellow competitors Chris Duffy, Tony Gwynn Jr. and Brad Nelson in the chase for two spots on the bench. 

While the rest of the team warmed up for a game against the Dodgers on Wednesday, Nixon was packing up his belongings in the Brewers clubhouse. Through a club spokesman, he declined to speak to reporters. 

“That was tough for me,” said Brewers manager Ken Macha, who was Nixon’s Minor League skipper from 1995-98 and said he put his “heart and soul” into developing Nixon as a big leaguer. “I explained to him that his career has meant as much to me as to him because I spent so much time with him. I’m proud to say he was a player with me in the Minor Leagues because of his professionalism and the career that he has had.” 

Nixon indicated to Macha that he still wants to play and was not mulling retirement. That’s why Macha encouraged Brewers general manager Doug Melvin to make the move early, instead of waiting for the final week of Spring Training.

Is Nixon's time with Brewers running out?

If Trot Nixon does not win a roster spot with the Brewers, the organization might not have a job for him at Triple-A.

So said general manager Doug Melvin, who met with Nixon last week. Nixon switched from No. 3 to No. 93 on March 14 but it has not helped him shake his spring slump, and with a .108 batting average it appears that he’s behind in the Brewers’ race for backup outfield spots.

“We had a conversation and I let him know where he stood at this time,” Melvin said. “The tough thing about Spring Training is evaluating the numbers, but I told him that if he didn’t make our big club, there wasn’t a guarantee of anything at Triple-A at this point.

“There’s still a lot of time left, though,” Melvin added. “The thing is, as long as you have a uniform on, you have a chance of making the ballclub. Trot is a real pro and he tries hard and he gives his best effort. In Spring Training, a couple of balls fall in for hits and the story is totally different.”

One thing is certain: Nixon is doing everything he can to get on track. He has not started a Brewers “A” game since March 15, but on Friday he asked for at-bats in a Triple-A game.

I tried over the weekend to ask him how he was doing, but he was not in the mood to chat.

“I really feel like talking about it, to be honest with you,” Nixon said with his head down.

Other outfielders are ticketed for Triple-A over Nixon. Prospects Cole Gillespie and Brendan Katin are likely to play in Nashville and the team is mulling whether to send Lorenzo Cain there. Jason Bourgeois, who is in big league camp, will go to Nashville. If Chris Duffy does not make the cut he would probably be assigned there, too. Ditto for Tony Gwynn Jr. or Brad Nelson, though the Brewers would have to pass that duo through waivers first.

So you can see that it’s crowded. Nixon, 34, would have a lot of competition for playing time.

Gameday: March 23 at Rockies

Another start, another trip to Tucson for right-hander Yovani Gallardo. Here’s the Brewers’ lineup against the Rockies today:

Tony Gwynn Jr.  CF
Craig Counsell  2B
Bill Hall  3B
Brad Nelson  RF
Mike Rivera  C
Mike Lamb  1B
Chris Duffy  LF
Alcides Escobar  SS
Yovani Gallardo  RHP

David Riske, who told us yesterday that he was “in shock” about his poor start to the year, is scheduled to follow Gallardo, who is ticketed for six innings or 90 pitches. Jorge Julio and Mitch Stetter are also slated to pitch.

The team is off on Tuesday, but when they return on Wednesday it will mark the return of Ryan Braun to Brewers camp. He went 8-for-21 (.381) in the World Baseball Classic but missed time with a strained muscle at the back of his ribcage. The Brewers would like Braun to pile up some at-bats over the final two weeks of camp, but whether he will be able to do so will obviously hinge on his health. 

Gameday: March 22 vs. Giants

Another day, yet another game against the San Francisco Giants. Doesn’t it seem like the Brewers and Giants have played 100 times this spring, and that Carlos Villanueva has pitched in every one of them? He’s in there again today, scheduled to work in relief of starter Mark DiFelice.

Here’s the starting lineup:

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

DiFelice is slated for two innings and 30 pitches. Besides Villanueva, who is down for three innings and 45 pitchers in an effort to sharpen him up, relievers Todd Coffey and Sam Narron are scheduled to work today.

Some notes from Macha’s morning meeting with reporters:

Bad news on the Trevor Hoffman front. His oblique strain is not getting any better, and the team’s trainers don’t expect him back on the mound until the end of the week at the earliest. It is becoming more and more likely that Hoffman won’t be ready for Opening Day.

– Manny Parra developed some minor back spasms and missed his scheduled bullpen session on Saturday. He’s still scheduled to make his next start on Wednesday and will be working with one extra day of rest because Tuesday is an off-day for the team.

– Macha once again described his bullpen picture as “cloudy,” and met at length Sunday morning with general manager Doug Melvin to discuss the options. Villanueva and Seth McClung remain the leading contenders to fill-in for Hoffman, Macha said. He doesn’t see David Riske as an option until Riske pitches at least one good outing, and Macha also said he’s not at the point of considering former Orioles closer Jorge Julio, who reached 97 mph on the radar gun on Saturday against the Angels. Julio is still competing for a bullpen spot, though.

– Angel Salome (back) took some swings on Saturday and “felt weird,” according to the manager. Just a hunch, but I don’t think we’re going to see much of Mr. Salome during the final two weeks of camp.

– Duffy is rehydrated and back in the lineup after missing parts of three days with a stomach ailment.

– The Brewers considered giving Villanueva this start but instead tabbed DiFelice in what Macha termed a, “manager’s decision.” Macha wants to see how DiFelice, who relies on movement, fares against the Giants’ starting lineup.

– To get DiFelice and Villanueva stretched out in the “A” game, the Brewers moved Jeff Suppan to a Triple-A game against the Salt Lake Bees. It’s a home game for the Nashville Sounds, so Suppan will pitch on one of the side fields at Maryvale Baseball Park.

– No matter where you are in the Valley, it’s a bad day to be a pitcher. The National Weather Service issued a wind advisory today, and wouldn’t you know it, the wind is blowing straight out to center field at the moment. The winds are expected to reach 25-35 mph with gusts up to 45 mph.

Hoffman's Opening Day hopes 'looking dim'

The Brewers’ hopes that closer Trevor Hoffman will recover from a ribcage injury in time for Opening Day are fading quickly.

“It’s looking dim,” manager Ken Macha said.

Macha made that pronouncement after head athletic trainer Roger Caplinger told him that Hoffman won’t be back on a mound for another week or so. Because he would probably need to work a few side sessions before getting into a game, it’s increasingly likely that Hoffman will not be ready to pitch when the Brewers play their regular season opener on April 7 in San Francisco.

Hoffman has not pitched in a Spring Training game since March 13. In the days thereafter he developed a strain to the oblique muscle along his right ribcage, an new ailment for Major League Baseball’s all-time leader with 554 saves.

He played catch on Thursday and Friday but his improvement has since “plateaued,” to borrow assistant general manager Gord Ash’s description.  He was shut down from throwing for a second straight day Sunday and received extensive treatment in the training room.

“I’ve never had one of these, but I’ve been around enough guys over the years who have to know they can be temperamental and take a lot longer than anyone wants,” Hoffman said. “There’s nothing you can do. You just have to wait it out.”

Riske joins list of bullpen concerns

First it was Carlos Villanueva. Now David Riske is among the bullpen arms of concern to Brewers manager Ken Macha.

Riske surrendered a go-ahead solo home run to Kendry Morales in Saturday’s 4-4 tie with the Angels and has allowed at least one run in all five of his Cactus League appearances. In five innings, Riske has surrendered 10 hits including three home runs, and he also surrendered a homer to Bill Hall in a Minor League scrimmage earlier this month.

“I think he’s had enough outings to where he has to get the ball moving a little bit,” Macha said. “Is that a concern? If you ask him, I think he’d probably say the same thing. He feels, and we feel, he’s a better pitcher than what he’s done down here.”

Riske got a late start in the Cactus League because he was rehabbing from right elbow surgery. He and Villanueva are the leading contenders to pitch the eighth inning in front of closer Trevor Hoffman, but Riske has a 10.80 ERA and Villanueva’s is 8.64. On top of that, Hoffman is at a bit of a standstill in his return from an oblique injury.

On a brighter note, Jorge Julio had another good outing against the Angels on Saturday. He issued one walk but otherwise worked a clean eighth inning and preserved a 3-3 tie.

“Until we get the Hoffman situation figured out, we’ve got a lot of variables there,” Macha said.  

Brewers pass on Palmisano

As recently as one year ago, it would have been very difficult to imagine the Brewers declining an opportunity to add a catcher to the system. But that’s exactly what they did on Saturday.

The Astros offered back Rule 5 pick Lou Palmisano, Brewers general manager Doug Melvin said, but Milwaukee declined the offer and Houston was allowed to stash Palmisano in the Minor Leagues. The Brewers received $50,000 when Palmisano was selected in December — Baltimore made the pick, then traded the player to Houston — and would have had to pay back $25,000 to accept him back.

Instead, the Brewers were content to keep their $25,000 and will rely on other catchers in the system. Angel Salome and Vinny Rottino (or perhaps Carlos Corporan, Melvin said) are likely to catch at Triple-A Nashville, and the impressive Jonathan Lucroy is ticketed for Double-A Huntsville.

A mini-setback for Hoffman?

It appears that closer Trevor Hoffman has reached a “plateau” in his recovery from a strained ribcage muscle. Hoffman played catch on Thursday and again on Friday but took a break Saturday.

“Roger [Caplinger, Milwaukee’s head athletic trainer] said it’s not unusual with this type of injury to see some plateauing in the rehab process,” assistant general manager Gord Ash wrote in an e-mail to a club spokesperson. “The plan is to see what develops over the next couple of days before we seek additional testing.”

Hoffman has not pitched since March 13. He has been receiving treatment for a strained right oblique muscle.