March 2009

Gameday: March 21 at Angels

While Braden Looper works a Triple-A game, the A-team Brewers travel to Tempe to take on the Angels. As expected, Tony Gwynn Jr. will get his first start in the outfield today:

Jason Kendall  C
Tony Gwynn Jr.  CF
Corey Hart  RF
Prince Fielder  1B
Bill Hall  3B
Brad Nelson  LF
Casey McGehee  2B
Mike Lamb  DH
Alcides Escobar  SS

Right-hander Dave Bush will start for Milwaukee, and there was a bit of news about Bush today from manager Ken Macha, who is planning to pair Bush with Kendall’s back-up, Mike Rivera, to start the season. It’s a move to rest Kendall a bit more often this season, and is based on the small sample of success for Bush while Rivera is behind the plate.

David Riske, Jorge Julio and Wes Littleton are scheduled to work an inning apiece behind Bush, who is slated for six innings or 90 pitches.

In other morning notes:

– Trevor Hoffman (oblique) played catch the past two days and has today off. He will be evaluated again on Sunday.

– Catcher Angel Salome was cleared to take some “dry swings” on Saturday but he’s still out with a stiff back.

– Outfielder Chris Duffy returned to camp after missing part of Thursday and all of Friday with a stomach ailment. He took batting practice and should be available to play again on Sunday.

– Carlos Villanueva was originally penciled in to start Sunday against the Giants but instead Mark DiFelice will start and Villanueva will work in relief. The Brewers are trying to stretch Villanueva out a bit to sharpen him up. 

Gameday: March 20 at Mariners

Rickie Weeks returns to the leadoff hole and Casey McGehee makes his first appearance at first base for the Brewers today, when the team travels to Peoria to face the Mariners. McGehee has played extensively this spring at third base and second base, but first is a first.

“If he shows he can play there,” manager Ken Macha said, “it’s another mark in his column.”

Here’s the lineup:

Rickie Weeks  2B
Craig Counsell  3B
J.J. Hardy  SS
Casey McGehee  1B
Mike Rivera  C
Brad Nelson  RF
Jason Bourgeois LF
Mat Gamel  DH

Seth McClung gets the start and is scheduled to be followed by lefties Mitch Stetter and Lindsay Gulin.

Couple of injury notes to pass along:

– Closer Trevor Hoffman is still getting treatment for an oblique injury, but he played catch on Thursday and “it’s very encouraging,” Macha said. Hoffman was to play catch again on Friday.

– Braden Looper, also sidelined by the dreaded oblique strain, is scheduled to throw 45 pitches in a Minor League scrimmage on Saturday morning. If he passes that test successfully, he should be slotted into an “A” game next week.

– Didn’t see Chris Duffy in the clubhouse this morning, and I am guessing that the medical staff told him to stay away. Duffy exited Thursday’s game complaining of stomach cramping, and if he’s sick the Brewers would want to prevent the illness from spreading through the clubhouse. 

Morlan shipped back to Rays

“Disappointment” might not have been the right word, but right-hander Eddie Morlan was certainly feeling something as he packed his bags at Maryvale Baseball Park. 

The Brewers decided Morlan did not fit their bullpen plans so they slipped the 23-year-old Rule 5 right-hander through waivers and offered him back to the Tampa Bay Rays, who accepted on Thursday morning.

“I don’t have anything to be disappointed about,” Morlan said. “Other than one bad outing, I don’t think I did bad here. I did my best. One bad outing, that’s all it takes. They didn’t think I was ready to make the team. They needed to get some better players out there.”

Brewers officials said as much to reporters when the team designated Morlan for assignment on Tuesday, at least the part about Morlan being talented but not quite big-league ready. But as of Thursday morning, Morlan said no one from the team had said anything to him other than, “Tampa took you back and you have to go back.”

That part, he said, was a bit disappointing.

“They didn’t say anything,” Morlan said. “I read in the papers the other day that I was put on waivers but I don’t know what they base the decision on. I really don’t know.”

Gameday: March 19 vs. Indians

Reliever Wes Littleton arrived in camp today and the Brewers will waste no time in evaluating his chances for a bullpen spot. Little is one of the relievers scheduled to work behind starter Manny Parra today against the Indians.

The lineup:

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

Relievers David Riske and Todd Coffey — who showed up today with his red hair dyed jet black — are scheduled to work in relief ahead of Littleton.

Gameday: March 18 at D-Backs

Mike Rivera returns to the lineup today after missing the last two weeks with a hamstring injury. The lineup for the Brewers’ first game this spring in Tucson:

Lorenzo Cain                  CF
Chris Duffy                     LF
Casey McGehee             2B
Bill Hall                          3B
Mike Rivera                     C
Brad Nelson                    RF
Mike Lamb                     1B
Alcides Escobar              SS
Yovani Gallardo               RHP

Jorge Julio and Mark DiFelice are also scheduled to pitch. DiFelice has been impressive, including his four-inning start for Italy in the World Baseball Classic, but Julio needs to string together a few good appearances to make the team.

Villanueva still a question mark for Macha

Brewers reliever Carlos Villanueva was charged with five runs on five hits in 1 1/3 innings against the Giants on Tuesday, and, especially given the injury to closer Trevor Hoffman, remains one of manager Ken Macha’s chief concerns.

One of San Francisco’s two home runs off Villanueva was an inside-the-park shot aided by Minor League left fielder Brendan Katin, who failed to converge on a ball hit off the center field wall. But the other was more than legitimate, a booming, two-run homer in the bottom of the ninth inning by Jesus Guzman that cleared the 30-foot tall batter’s eye that sits 430 feet from home plate and gave the Giants a 7-5 win.

“This guy here, Villanueva, has had one good outing all spring, as far as I’m concerned,” Macha said. “The other outings he’s pitched just a single inning and been mid- to high-20s with his pitches. … He’s throwing a lot of pitches and not being able to put the guy away. Now, when you get to pitch 25, 26, you’re going to leave something over the plate and that’s what happens.

“I’ll talk to him [Wednesday], maybe talk to Billy [Castro, the pitching coach] and see what our plan of attack is. With Hoffman down, I asked Billy, ‘Who’s your closer if he can’t go?’ He answered, [Villanueva]. I said, ‘Well, he hasn’t had any good outings this spring. Now you have to look at what your alternatives might be.”

Suppan gets back on track

Jeff Suppan blanked the Giants on one hit through five solid exceptional innings on Tuesday.  Hopefully he saved something for April 7.

Three more Cactus League starts separate Suppan from his likely Opening Day start against the Giants at AT&T Park.  Manager Ken Macha does not intend to announce his pitching plans for another week, and Suppan danced around a question about the possibility.

“It’s definitely a big honor, and we’ll wait and see what happens,” said Suppan, who has three Opening Day starts to his credit. “Everyone is very capable of starting that game and they haven’t told us anything. It’s not even a concern of mine. My basic goal is to get ready for the season. Wherever that start falls, it falls.”

He carried a 7.36 Spring Training ERA into Tuesday’s start but no-hit the Giants through the first four innings without a single ball hit out of the infield. Pablo Sandoval broke up the no-hitter with a single leading off the fifth.

“Today I was working on my tempo,” Suppan said. “In other games before I was working on my pitches; fastball, change-up, introducing my slider, introducing the curve ball. Today I really worked on my balance and tempo and getting ahead. That was important today.”

The day was more adventurous at the plate and on the bases. In the third inning, Suppan thought he had struck out after failing to drop a bunt and retreated to the dugout, only to be called back by plate umpire Jim Reynolds because there were only two strikes.

Then, after working a walk in the fifth, Giants pitcher Madison Bumgarner showed a great pick-off move that might not have fooled Suppan but certainly fooled first baseman Travis Ishikawa, who had to make a diving/stumbling grab to prevent an overthrow.

Hoffman down with rib injury

Baseball’s all-time saves leader is the latest Brewer to be shut down with a ribcage injury.

Trevor Hoffman was bumped from a scheduled appearance over the weekend and will miss a few more days with a strained muscle in his right side, Brewers manager Ken Macha revealed on Tuesday. The news came a day after starter Braden Looper, Milwaukee’s other big off-season pick-up pitched a Minor League game for the first time since he suffered his own rib injury.

Togethher, Hoffman and Looper will take up at least $10.75 million of Milwaukee’s payroll, which projects for the neighborhood of $85-$90 million. But Looper is back on track to be ready for the start of the season, and pitching coach Bill Castro believes Hoffman will be, too.

“[Hoffman] doesn’t need that many innings,” Castro said. “He knows what he’s doing to get ready and when the bell rings, I think he will be ready. We’re only halfway through Spring Training right now. We forget that there are 10 extra days. I think he’ll be fine.”

Gameday: March 17 at Giants

Not sure if Jeff Suppan has any Irish blood in his veins, but he could use a little luck today against the Giants since he’s carrying a 7.36 ERA into his fifth Cactus League start. The lineup:

Rickie Weeks  2B
Craig Counsell  3B
J.J. Hardy  SS
Prince Fielder  1B
Corey Hart  RF
Mike Cameron  CF
Brad Nelson  LF
Jason Kendall  C
Jeff Suppan  RHP

Carlos Villanueva, David Riske and Mitch Stetter — three key members of this year’s projected bullpen — are scheduled to follow Suppan today.

Brewers swap bullpen arms

The Brewers added one new arm to the bullpen competition Tuesday and subtracted another when the team claimed right-hander Wes Littleton off waivers from the Boston Red Sox.

To make room for Littleton, a 26-year-old who has made 68 career relief appearances for the Texas Rangers, the Brewers designated Rule 5 pick Eduardo Morlan for assignment. Morlan, 23, posted a 6.43 ERA in five Cactus League appearances and it had become clear to club officials that he was not going to win a spot on the Opening Day roster.

The side-arming Littleton has been awful in Spring Training games, allowing 11 earned runs and eight hits, including three home runs, in just 5 1/3 innings over six appearances. The Red Sox acquired him from the Rangers in an offseason trade.

To be perfectly honest, I don’t have the faintest idea what happens next for Morlan. There has been some talk about the Brewers working out a trade with Tampa Bay that would allow them to stash him in the Minors this season, but I need to check with GM Doug Melvin about the procedure for a Rule 5 pick who is designated for assignment.