June 2009

Brewers to "take a look" at Backe

The Brewers will do their due dilligence on right-hander Brandon Backe, the former Astro who was designated for assignment last week and refused a trip to Houston’s Triple-A club on Monday.

Backe, 31, missed two months with an oblique injury and then didn’t pitch well in four relief appearances and one start for Houston, allowing 21 hits, 15 earned runs and five home runs in 13 innings. He’s due $1.55 million this season, but his new club would only be responsible for a prorated portion of the $400,000 Major League minimum.

“You have to at least take a look,” Brewers assistant general manager Gord Ash said.

That comment came before Brewers right-hander Mike Burns, one of two new additions to Milwaukee’s starting rotation over the past week, put together a strong outing against the Mets.

The Astros acquired Backe in December 2003 and his best moments came in the postseason over the next two years. In Game 5 of the 2004 National League Championship Series, Backe held St. Louis to one hit over eight scoreless innings in a game the Astros won on Jeff Kent’s walk-off homer in the ninth. He held St. Louis to two hits and one run in 5 2/3 innings in Game 4 of the 2005 NLCS and delivered in the World Series that year, throwing seven scoreless innings against the White Sox in Game 4.

Would Gamel be better off at Triple-A?

Casey McGehee has forced himself into the Brewers’ everyday lineup, in turn forcing club officials to reconsider whether third base prospect Mat Gamel might be better served by a return to Triple-A Nashville.

“We’ll talk about hat internally,” Brewers general manager Doug Melvin said. “That’s not something we would discuss publicly, but you’re always having discussions. It’s probably something you look at from a series-by-series standpoint.”

Gamel , promoted from Nashville on May 14 ahead of Interleague Play, was on the bench for the fifth time in six games on Tuesday, mostly because the Brewers were facing left-handed Mets ace Johan Santana in the second of a three-game series. But Gamel, who bats left-handed, has seen his playing time decrease of late against righties because of the emergence of McGehee, who entered play Tuesday with a .370 average, five home runs and 20 RBIs over his last 20 games.

McGehee, not Gamel, started at third base on Monday against Mets right-hander Fernando Nieve. He dropped a pop-up in the top of the sixth inning and contributed to two unearned runs, then belted a grand slam in the bottom of the inning.

“You have to put the lineup out there you think is going to win, and Casey deserves his time,” manager Ken Macha said. “But you also have to have a view of what the organization is going to look like long-term. [Gamel] has gotten a taste here. We’ll see what happens here from now until the All-Star break.”

Macha hinted that the Brewers could make a decision after their four-game series in Chicago ends on Sunday. If they decide to keep Gamel in the Major Leagues, they could explore sending him to the Arizona Fall League or to a Winter League to get at-bats and innings at third base.

Hart hitting leadoff; Hall starts

I’m late to the party here, but the lineups are out:

Alex Cora  SS
Fernando Tatis  2B
David Wright  3B
Gary Sheffield  LF
Ryan Church  RF
Nick Evans  1B
Fernando Martinez  CF
Omir Santos  C
Johan Santana  LHP

Corey Hart  RF
J.J. Hardy  SS
Ryan Braun  LF
Prince Fielder  1B
Casey McGehee  2B
Mike Cameron  CF
Jason Kendall  C
Bill Hall  3B
Mike Burns  RHP

Macha: Advance scouts do a 'fabulous job'

Brewers manager Ken Macha launched into a passionate defense of the team’s advance scouting department on Monday, a day after outfielder Ryan Braun raised eyebrows in highest levels of the front office by suggesting that limited information about Giants rookie Ryan Sadowski contributed to Milwaukee’s loss.

The Brewers fell to 0-4 in games started by pitchers making their Major League debut.

“You know what?” Macha began. “We did have stuff on that guy. I am going to absolutely defend our scouting department, 100 percent. Some people rely on video, but … unless we called his wife and asked for video, we probably weren’t going to get any video on him.

“Our scouting department does a fabulous job. I can’t tell you how in-depth everything is that they do to help our guys get ready for a game. I got up this morning at 7:30 and I’ve got a portable hard drive that I plugs into my computer, and I was going through the Mets’ hitters. It breaks everything down into as fine of detail as you want. If you want to know what a [pitcher] throws on the 0-and-0 count the majority of the time, how many balls and how many strikes he throws, this is all available to all of our players. We have a number of laptops in the players’ room where they can view the video. We had no video on [Sadowski], but we did have scouting reports. I am going to absolutely, 100 percent defend the people who do a tremendous amount of work to get our club ready.

“I was with Oakland, and one of the things that we prided ourselves on was that we would be either as prepared or better prepared than everybody that we played. Coming here [to Milwaukee] and seeing the amount of information that is available to not only our coaches but our players, it far exceeds what they have in Oakland. [Hitting coach] Dale Sveum spends a lot of time on the video, on preparation. [First base coach] Ed Sedar helps with how we play in the outfield and the moves the pitchers have over to first base. It’s extensive work. Plus, we have three or four guys working on how we pitch to people.

“All of this information is presented to us by the scouting department. Those guys do as much as humanly possible.”

The Brewers are one of a number of Major League clubs that use video to compile, in-house, detailed reports instead of relying on traditional advance scouts. That effort is headed by Karl Mueller, the Brewers’ manager of advance scouting and baseball research, and Mike Schwartz, the team’s coordinator of baseball research and special projects. Coaching assistant and digital media coordinator Joe Crawford assists players in the clubhouse with their video needs. 

The team also employs 11 professional scouts around the country who scout Major League and Minor League games.

Counsell returns to action vs. Mets

After missing a start Sunday with a sore left hamstring, Craig Counsell is back at second base tonight for the opener of a three-game series against the Mets. Frank Catalanotto will make his fifth start in right field, probably because Corey Hart is 1-for-21 on the homestand. It’s not because of Fernando Nieve’s splits; he’s right-handed, but has held left-handed hitters to a .125 average this season. Right-handed hitters haven’t fared much better, hitting .208.

Milwaukee’s favorite former rookie shortstop (no, not Robin Yount) is in left field for the Mets.

Argenis Reyes  SS
Daniel Murphy  1B
David Wright  3B
Gary Sheffield  LF
Ryan Church  RF
Fernando Martinez  CF
Brian Schneider  C
Luis Castillo  2B
Fernando Nieve  RHP

Craig Counsell  2B
J.J. Hardy  SS
Ryan Braun  LF
Prince Fielder  1B
Casey McGehee  3B
Mike Cameron  CF
Frank Catalanotto  RF
Jason Kendall  C
Braden Looper  RHP

Hoffman on Rivera's 500th save

Mariano Rivera joined Brewers closer Trevor Hoffman in the 500-save club last night. Hoffman offered his congratulations.

“He’s had a great body of work,” Hoffman said. “It’s been a strong career from day one for him and I’m sure he’s very proud of his accomplishments.”

Hoffman, like Rivera, has always relied on one exceptional pitch — his a changeup, rather than a cut fastball. And Hoffman, like Rivera, has hardly diminished with age.

Playing in the National League his entire career, Hoffman only saw Rivera up close during All-Star Games and the 1998 World Series, in which Rivera saved three games. But despite saving his 500th game two years ago, Hoffman remains as impressed as anyone in baseball.

“With us being in National League [and Rivera in the] American League, two separate coasts, there’s a mutual admiration from afar, but I haven’t had the opportunities really to touch base with him like we would if we were in the same division,” Hoffman said. “I’ve had conversations with him when we’ve gone through New York and the last trip there I had a nice chat with him and just congratulated him on his career, and vice versa. It’s a mutual respect.

Rivera has pitched 12 times against the Brewers, with three saves, one blown save, a 3.60 ERA and a .196 average against.

Hoffman said he would wait a few days before calling Rivera to offer his congratulations.

“I’m a fan of the game, and I’m in awe of what he’s been able to do,” Hoffman said.

Braun's brother suffers serious ankle injury

Steve Braun, the younger brother of Brewers outfielder Ryan Braun, fractured his ankle in Class A Wisconsin’s extra-inning win on Saturday and could miss the rest of the season, the Appleton Post-Crescent is reporting.

“I’m assuming,” Timber Rattlers manager Jeff Isom told the newspaper. “I don’t know that for a fact. There’s nothing he can do here for us. He’ll be on his way somewhere, some place. I don’t know where – Arizona or back home. There’s not much you can do when you have a fracture.”

From the Post Crescent’s blog:

Braun fractured his ankle during a squeeze play situation in which he broke to the plate and then retreated when the Chiefs called for a pitchout.

He joined the club earlier this month when second baseman Brett Lawrie was placed on the disabled list after undergoing minor nose surgery and performed well enough to keep his roster spot.

Braun hit .265 (nine hits in 34 at-bats) and drove in four in 12 games.

“He came in and exceeded my expectations,” Isom said. “And I think from the organization standpoint, he exceeded their expectations, as well. He was a tough out. He did a very good job in the field for us when Brett had his injury.

“The way he played the game, we had to continue putting him in the lineup. I liked the way he went about his business, a real professional. He played the game hard, and that goes a long way with me.”

The same report updated the status of outfielder Chris Dennis, who also suffered an ankle injury in the game. Dennis’ agent, Josh Kusnick, who just told me that the player has a tendon injury and could miss 4-6 weeks.
Kusnick, many of you know, also represents top pitching prospect Jeremy Jeffress, who faces a 100-game suspension after failing his second drug test. Major League Baseball will probably make the announcement early this week.

Presumably to fill Jeffress’ spot at Class A Brevard County, the Brewers promoted another Kusnick client, right-hander Alex Periard from Wisconsin. Periard started the season late because of a shoulder injury but posted a 3.18 ERA in his three starts for Isom and the Timber Rattlers.

Braun and Dennis remain on Wisconsin’s active roster at the moment while the organization ponders roster moves.

Macha says McClung will stay in rotation

With all of the excitement in the Brewers’ 7-6 comeback win Saturday night against the Giants, the performance of starting pitcher Seth McClung took a backseat to numerous highlight reel play.s

McClung lasted just four innings, throwing 77 pitches (47 strikes) while giving up three runs on six hits, but Brewers manager Ken Macha said McClung will get the start next week against the Cubs.

“He’s going to pitch in Chicago,” Macha said before Sunday’s series-finale. “He threw quite a few pitches. I don’t think the quality of his breaking ball was where it should be [and] he’s got a tendency to over-throw his fastball.”

After Saturday’s game, Macha gave McClung’s start a rating five on a scale of one-to-10. When revisiting McClung’s outing on Sunday, Macha also noted that McClung didn’t throw any changeups, sticking to his fastball, slider and curveball.

Most of McClung’s struggles came in the second inning, when the Giants opened the inning with four straight hits – scoring twice – before he got the next three batters out.

“I really felt sharp to tell you the truth, especially in the second inning. Those guys hit some really good pitches off of me,” McClung said. “There was a time in the second inning when I said, ‘Either get your [butt] in gear or you’re going to get your [butt] out of the game.’ So I put some outs together and got out of there with minimal damage.”

With Dave Bush on the 15-day disabled list with a torn triceps in his right arm and Manny Parra in Triple-A Nashville because of his struggles with the Brewers, Macha said the opportunity is available for McClung to stay in the rotation longer than just one more start if he improves upon Saturday’s performance.

“I think deep down inside, if you asked him, he wants to start,” Macha said of McClung. “He’s been given an opportunity to go out there and take charge. We’re down two starting pitchers and if he has a couple good performances he’s going to [continue to start].”


Gamel leading off in series finale

Craig Counsell is out of the lineup today, even with a rookie right-hander on the mound for San Francisco, so Mat Gamel will become the sixth different player to bat in the leadoff hole for the  Brewers.

Using a cast of characters in that spot isn’t exactly breaking new ground for the Brewers. Last year, managers Ned Yost and Dale Sveum used seven different leadoff hitters. This decade, the fewest came in 2003, when Yost used just different three players to lead off games (Eric Young started there 67 times, Scott Podsednik 59 and Alex Sanchez 36).

No Giants lineup yet, but here is Milwaukee’s:

Mat Gamel  3B
J.J. Hardy  SS
Ryan Braun  LF
Prince Fielder  1B
Casey McGehee  2B
Mike Cameron  CF
Corey Hart  RF
Jason Kendall  C
Jeff Suppan  RHP

Brewers dodge Lincecum

Word from the Giants is that 26-year-old right-hander Ryan Sadowski will take the mound Sunday for San Francisco, not 2008 N.L. Cy Young Award winner Tim Lincecum.

Sadowski will be making his Major League debut. In 13 starts at Triple-A Fresno he was 5-2 with a 4.11 ERA.

Instead of facing the Brewers, Lincecum will take the mound in San Francisco’s upcoming series against St. Louis, who beat the Twins Saturday to overtake the Brewers for first place in the N.L. Central (perhaps only for the rest of the evening).