April 2009

Macha: Heart of the order will hit

Brewers manager Ken Macha insists he’s not worried that the heart of his batting order is in a collective, early-season slump. In fact, Macha found a silver lining.

“They’re gonna hit what they’re gonna hit,” Macha said. “That means they’re getting hot. So I’m not worried; I’m looking forward to them getting hot.”

They’re not there yet. Nos. 3-5 hitters Ryan Braun, Prince Fielder and J.J. Hardy entered this series in Philadelphia hitting a combined .171 (22-for-129). No. 3 hitter Braun was batting .222 and had driven in just two runs outside of his three-run home run on Friday night. Cleanup hitter Fielder was batting .175, though four of his seven hits have gone for extra bases and he was tied for the team lead with seven RBIs. No. 5 hitter Hardy was really struggling, batting .114 (5-for-44) with a .130 on-base percentage.

Braun padded his stats — and gave the Brewers a short-lived lead — in the first inning Tuesday night with a solo home run against Phillies starter Jamie Moyer. Fielder was hit by a pitch before Hardy ended the inning with a fielder’s choice grounder.

Looking for answers about Hardy, Macha compared the shortstop’s spray chart from this season versus last. Macha was wondering if Hardy was pulling everything, but in fact the charts lined up.

“I’m content with J.J.,” Macha said. “He just needs to get some balls to fall in to get him going.”

Coffey and donuts

With his two scoreless outings over the weekend in New York, Todd Coffey set a Brewers record.

He hasn’t allowed a run in his first 16 games as a Brewer, breaking the record set by former closer Francisco Cordero during the second half of the 2006 season. Coffey’s 16 streak includes nine appearances last September after the Brewers claimed him off waivers from the Reds, plus seven games this year.

He’s two innings away from setting another Brewers record for scoreless innings to begin a Brewers tenure. Here is that list:

Earl Stephenson:  18 2/3 innings (April 18-June 1, 1972)
Ray Newman:  18 innings (June 17, 1972 – April 29, 1973)
Coffey: 17 innings (Sept. 13, 2008 – present)

Back in the saddle

I hope the Brewers enjoyed their off day as much as I enjoyed the last four. Here’s the lineup for the opener of a three-game series in Philadelphia. Stop us if you’ve seen this one before:

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

Riske hurt; Swindle on his way up

The Brewers placed reliever David Riske on the 15-day disabled list today with a tight right elbow and called-up lefty R.J. Swindle, who will join the team in time for the start of a three-game series against the Mets at new Citi Field.

What stood out to me about the Brewers’ announcement was that Riske traveled with the team to New York this afternoon but will fly across the country on Monday to visit Dr. Lewis Yocum in Los Angeles for a second opinion. I haven’t covered too many pitchers over the years who traveled to see the renowned Yocum and ended up with nothing more serious than tightness in his elbow. Eric Gagne saw him earlier this spring, but he had “some pathology” in his shoulder, as Brewers assistant GM Gord Ash explained it. In other words, there was more going on in the joint than inflammation.

Riske had surgery last fall to remove a bone spur from his elbow but said this spring, even while allowing at least one run in nine of his 11 Spring Training games, that he felt physically fine. He’s in the second season of a three-year contract that once again illustrates the risks associated with awarding multi-year deals to pitchers.

Hopefully, rest and rehab will be enough. Riske could be a very key member of the bullpen this season if he gets healthy.  

Randolph to visit both NYC ballparks

How this for timing? The Brewers’ off-day will allow bench coach Willie Randolph — who played and coached for the Yankees and then managed the Mets — to be on hand for festivities opening the new Yankee Stadium on Thursday before he gets his first look at new Citi Field on Friday night.

“If it wasn’t for the off-day, it wouldn’t work,” said Randolph, who is in his first season as a member of Milwaukee’s coaching staff.

Randolph scheduled a 6 a.m. CT flight to New York on Thursday and planned to head straight to the new Yankee Stadium, where the Bronx Bombers open their new ballpark against the Indians. Randolph will be among a number of former Yankees players taking part in pregame ceremonies.

He’ll spend the rest of the day with his family, including his granddaughter, Savannah. Then on Friday it’s back to work in Queens, where the Brewers open a three-game set against the Mets. Randolph, who managed the Mets from 2005 through mid-June 2008, is sure to have a crowd of reporters waiting for him.

I’ll have some of Randolph’s thoughts about returning to the Big Apple tomorrow.

Hardy out with back stiffness

Shortstop J.J. Hardy was scratched from the Brewers’ starting lineup Wednesday with mid-back stiffness, a change that wasn’t noticed in the press box until Reds outfielder Chris Dickerson popped out to shortstop for the second out of the first inning.

Craig Counsell, not Hardy, made that catch, and the team announced moments later that Counsell was batting second in the Brewers’ lineup. Right fielder Corey Hart dropped from second in the order to fifth.

That the switch went unnoticed at first was not altogether surprising. All Brewers players and coaches wore No. 42 on Wednesday as part of Jackie Robinson Day festivities across Major League Baseball.

Hardy receives regular treatment for a stiff back but it had not limited him at all this season. He had homered in each of his last two games and had driven in a run in four straight despite hitting just .156 for the young season.

Hoffman could pitch as early as Tuesday

Trevor Hoffman told me that Wednesday’s bullpen session went well, and said he expects to begin a Minor League rehabilitation assignment as early as Tuesday, when Triple-A Nashville begins a series in Memphis.

“Whenever they’re in Memphis, I’ll be there,” Hoffman said. 

First he’ll have to throw another bullpen session on Saturday in New York. Whether the next step is in Memphis or in Philadelphia, where Hoffman could throw a simulated game before the start of the Brewers-Phillies series, is to be determined, according to manager Ken Macha.

The good news Wednesday was that Hoffman got through his work without any setbacks.

“It’s good to be back on the slope,” Hoffman said. “I didn’t throw as many strikes as I would have liked, but I think the key was to come out of it pain-free.”

Uecker on the passing of Merle Harmon – w/ a photo

Merle Harmon, the original radio voice of the Milwaukee Brewers, died Wednesday in Arlington, Tex. He was 82.  

Harmon was also the final voice of the Milwaukee Braves before that team moved to Atlanta in 1966. He called Brewers games beginning in 1970, when the franchise shifted from Seattle to Milwaukee, through 1979, and was the Texas Rangers play-by-play man from 1982-89. Harmon also worked for both ABC and NBC during a broadcasting career that spanned 45 years.

Bob Uecker, who joined Harmon in the Brewers’ booth in 1971 and is still calling games today, issued a statement on Wednesday afternoon.

“Merle was a great friend and a wonderful partner in the booth, and the memories he leaves us with will be cherished forever,” Uecker said. “His dedication to family and broadcasting were second to none, and I will always be grateful for the latitude and direction he gave to me as I was entering the profession.

“My heart goes out to his family, and I speak for everyone at the Brewers in saying that this is a very sad day for all of us.”

ADDED that photo, courtesy of John Steinmiller, Ken Spindler and the Brewers. I recognize Harmon, of course, with the microphone, and that’s Uecker at far right, Robin Yount front right lying next to George Scott with Hank Aaron over Yount’s shoulder. Don Money is in the back row, third from the left. I assume that’s manager Del Crandall with the jacket on. Is that Jerry Augustine next to Uecker?

Help me out, gang.

Hoffman throws 40 pitches

I’m 400 feet away, up in the press box, but if the high-five between Brewers closer Trevor Hoffman and bullpen catcher Marcus Hanel was any indication, Hoffman’s first mound session in more than a month went well.

I counted an even 40 pitches over 13 minutes, and Hoffman threw his full assortment. Assuming that went well, he’ll be off Thursday and could either throw another bullpen or perhaps a live batting practice session on Friday in New York. At some point if he continues making progress, Hoffman will be sent out on a MInor League rehabilitation assignment.

The Brewers would love to have him back. Pitching in a non-save situation Tuesday night, fill-in closer Carlos Villanueva surrendered three runs on four hits. To be fair, two of the hits took tough hops near third base, including one that jumped up and hit Bill Hall in the left collarbone. Still, Villanueva allowed a 3-1 Reds lead to grow to 6-1, and manager Ken Macha hedged just a bit when he was asked whether Villanueva’s role was up in the air.

“We’ll have to see how he’s feeling [Wednesday],” Macha said. “Certainly, [Todd] Coffey and [Seth] McClung and [Mark] DiFelice have king of pitched a little better than he has right now. We’ll see how he’s feeling.”

Weeks back for Jackie Robinson Day

While Trevor Hoffman gets loose in the outfield prior to what’s supposed to be his first mound session in more than a month, here are the lineups for tonight’s game against the Reds:

Willy Taveras  CF
Chris Dickerson  LF
Joey Votto  1B
Brandon Phillips  2B
Jay Bruce  RF
Edwin Encarnacion  3B
Ramon Hernandez  C
Alex Gonzalez  SS
Micah Owings  RHP

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

Weeks is back in action after sitting out Tuesday night against Bronson Arroyo, who has owned Weeks throughout his career. Otherwise the lineup is the same as usual for manager Ken Macha.

I’ll pass along some sort of update on Hoffman after he’s done throwing. He’s long-tossing with bullpen catcher Marcus Hanel at the moment.