July 2009

Cameron up to two-hole for Villanueva's start

Brewers manager Ken Macha continues to tinker with the lineup, bumping center fielder Mike Cameron up to the two-hole. Here’s how they’ll hit tonight:

Nyjer Morgan CF
Cristian Guzman SS
Ryan Zimmerman 3B
Adam Dunn 1B
Josh Willingham RF
Willie Harris LF
Alberto Gonzalez 2B
Wil Nieves C
Collin Balester RHP

Felipe Lopez 2B
Mike Cameron CF
Ryan Braun LF
Prince Fielder 1B
Casey McGehee 3B
Corey Hart RF
J.J. Hardy SS
Jason Kendall C
Carlos Villanueva RHP

Dillard: No hard feelings about bullpen assignment

Tim Dillard is happy to be back in the big leagues, no matter his role.

The Brewers essentially passed on Dillard when they decided to pull Carlos Villanueva out of the bullpen to make Tuesday’s start against the Nationals at Miller Park. Dillard, a starter all season at Triple-A Nashville with very good results — 10-4 with a 3.66 ERA in 19 starts — said there were no hard feelings.

“I’ve been starting the whole year, but, obviously, they know what’s best for the team,” Dillard said. “‘Villa’ has been a guy who can do it all. He’s got four pitches he can throw for strikes at any one moment.”

Dillard, meanwhile, is a fastball-slider guy. His best pitch is a low 90s fastball with considerable sink.

“Dillard is kind of limited in his pitches,” said Brewers manager Ken Macha, adding
that he expected Dillard to pitch on Tuesday in relief of Villanueva. “His secondary pitches
aren’t as refined.”

The 26-year-old Dillard — he celebrated a birthday last week — had pitched exclusively as a reliever from midway through the 2007 season through the end of 2008, including 13 big-league appearances with the Brewers last year. But he was asked to convert to a starting role at the end of 2009 Spring Training.

In his most recent outing for Nashville, Dillard allowed one hit in an eight-inning complete-game shutout. Many — including Villanueva himself — expected that Dillard would be tabbed to start Tuesday.

Instead, Dillard will be in the bullpen. He was prompted from Nashville on Sunday and arrived just before game time.

“You’d rather be here [in the Major Leagues],” he said. “If this is what they want me to do, than this is what I’m going to do. I’m going to be happy doing it. No matter what my role is, I’m going to do whatever I can to help this team. It’s a good team, and I’m kind of privileged to be here, actually.”

Villanueva surprised by start

“You don’t have to be a brain surgeon,” Brewers reliever-turned-starter Carlos Villanueva just told reporters, to figure out that he could be a placeholder while team officials work behind the scenes to bolster the starting rotation ahead of Friday’s nonwaiver trade deadline.

Villanueva was the Brewers’ surprising choice to start Tuesday’s game against the Nationals after the team demoted the right-hander who had previously occupied that spot — Mike Burns — to Triple-A Nashville. For now, Villanueva, who has made his last 81 appearances in relief since making what was expected to be a permanent switch to the bullpen last May, is viewing it as a one-time assignment.

He knows that general manager Doug Melvin has been burning up the phones trying to work a sensible trade for a starter.

“I know what we’re doing. I know we’re trying to improve our team,” Villanueva said. “Whatever I can do to help [on Tuesday], I’ll be glad with that. After that, I can’t really worry about the future right now. You don’t have to be a brain surgeon to feel like if they can find a way to improve the team, it’s a possibility.

“Right now, they chose me. I’m ready for the opportunity.”

Some of Villanueva’s fellow bullpen mates told him Sunday that they read online he was a candidate to start, but Villanueva didn’t believe it. He thought manager Ken Macha was just “taking some heat” off newly-promoted righty Tim Dillard, who was 10-4 with a 3.66 ERA in 19 starts for Triple-A Nashville.

Villanueva’s tune changed on Monday afternoon, when he was summoned to Macha’s office and handed the assignment.

“Yeah, it was [a surprise],” Villanueva said. “I really thought that [Dillard] was going to start. But he called me into the office and told me I was going to go tomorrow, and I’m just thankful for the opportunity.”

Villanueva’s longest outing this season was his 56-pitch, three-inning stint against the Pirates on July 20. He has thrown one inning or fewer in 37 of his 43 appearances.

“I haven’t heard anything about a pitch count,” Villanueva said. “It’s going to be interesting to see” how deep he can work into the game.

Villanueva drew a comparison to 2007, when he made 52 of his first 53 appearances in relief before moving to the starting rotation on Sept. 4 because of injuries to Claudio Vargas and Manny Parra. In that start against the Astros, Villanueva threw 95 pitches and allowed only one run on five hits in six innings of a 7-3 Brewers win.

It’s unclear whether Macha will let him throw that many pitches on Tuesday.

“I always knew I could [start],” Villanueva said. “I was able to help out more in the bullpen last year, but with [Dave] Bush on the DL and now [Seth] McClung on the DL … I just think, ‘give me the ball.'”

In 43 games, Villanueva is 2-7 with a 6.18 ERA. He posted 15 consecutive scoreless appearances from May 5-June 6, but since then has allowed 20 earned runs in 16 2/3 innings over 17 games for a 10.80 ERA. Most of the damage in that span was done over six bad outings in which he allowed 16 earned runs in 2 2/3 innings.

“Obviously, it’s been an up-and-down season,” Villanueva said. “I’ve been staying strong, mentally. I’m feeling the same confidence in myself I’ve had every single year I’ve been here. … I think I can help the team out. I’ve helped the team out before, and it’s been disappointing not to help recently.”

You can read Macha’s comments about the decision to go with Villanueva in Cash’s blog post.

Villanueva to start Tuesday

In a move that raised eyebrows and led to numerous follow-up questions from reporters, Brewers manager Ken Macha announced Monday that reliever Carlos Villanueva will start on Tuesday against the Nationals.

“[Villanueva’s] the starter,” Macha said. “We’ve had other options, we’ve put the other options in there and they have not worked out. Our people feel that he’s going to give us the best chance to win.”

Villanueva is 2-7 with a 6.18 ERA in 43 relief appearances this season, but has struggled as of late.

Even though he held Pittsburgh to one run in three innings on July 20 – an outing Macha was quick to point toward – Villanueva has given up 10 runs in his last 4 2/3 innings.

In the top of the 10th inning in a tie game against the Dodgers on July 10, Villanueva gave up six runs, including a grand slam.

In his last appearance on Friday against the Braves, Villanueva gave up a solo home run in the sixth inning to Braves third baseman Chipper Jones with the score tied, 4-4, and earned the loss.

“I understand your point,” Macha said in the response Villanueva’s recent struggles. “We’ve got a hole in our rotation at that starter right there. We’re trying to fill it the best we can. We’ll see how this works out. It may work out very well, hopefully it does.”

Right-hander Tim Dillard, who was recalled from Triple-A Nashville on Tuesday, also was an option to start, but Macha preferred Villanueva’s pitching repertoire compared to Dillard’s.

“Dillard is kind of limited in his pitches,” said Macha, also adding that he expected Dillard to pitch on Tuesday. “…His secondary pitches aren’t as refined.”

Different pitchers have had the opportunity to throw in the rotation slot vacated when Dave Bush went on the 15-day disabled list with right triceps tear on June 23, but while the name in the slot has changed, the production – or lack thereof – has remained consistent.

Long reliever Seth McClung earned two starts in that slot before being removed for ineffectiveness. He went 0-1 with a 12.27 ERA in those starts, failing to make it out of the fourth inning in both outings.

Mike Burns, who was optioned to Triple-A Nashville on Monday, also got a crack in the rotation after putting up successful numbers in the Minors. Burns had more opportunities than McClung, but he too struggled, going 2-3 with a 7.20 ERA in five starts.

“We’re looking at who we put out there,” Macha said. “[Villanueva] is where that’s put us. We didn’t feel the Burns option was there anymore, so we had to figure out who our option is. McClung went out there, [and] didn’t get it done.

“Putting McClung in was a gamble, so was putting Burns in, so [Villanueva is] not that much more of a gamble.”


Regular lineup for opener against Nats

Business as usual for the Brewers today:

Nyjer Morgan CF
Cristian Guzman SS
Ryan Zimmerman 3B
Adam Dunn LF
Nick Johnson 1B
Josh Willingham RF
Josh Bard C
Alberto Gonzalez 2B
Craig Stammen RHP

Felipe Lopez 2B
Craig Counsell 3B
Ryan Braun LF
Prince Fielder 1B
Mike Cameron CF
Corey Hart RF
J.J. Hardy SS
Jason Kendall C
Jeff Suppan RHP

Swindle called back up; Burns demoted

You can officially scratch Mike Burns’ name off the list of possible Brewers starters for Tuesday.

The team optioned the right-hander back to Triple-A Nashville on Monday ahead of a four-game series against the Washington Nationals and promoted reliever R.J. Swindle, giving manager Ken Macha two left-handed specialists to play with in the bullpen.

Swindle allowed four runs in 2 2/3 innings over two brief stints with the big-league Brewers this year but has been nearly unhittable at Nashville. In 31 relief appearances there, he has a 1.03 ERA and a 0.98 WHIP. Left-handed hitters are hitting .148 against Swindle, who elicits oohs and ahhs with his super-slow curveball.

Burns was largely ineffective after promotion to the starting rotation. He was 2-3 in five starts with a 7.20 ERA, prompting the Brewers to remove him from the rotation. As of this morning, Macha still hasn’t named his starting pitcher for Tuesday, prompting all sorts of trade speculation.

Macha will almost certainly have to offer an answer today.

Bush out until mid-August, at best

Even the most optimistic of projections doesn’t have injured right-hander Dave Bush back in the Brewers’ starting rotation until the middle of August, manager Ken Macha said Sunday.

That jived with what Bush said earlier in the morning, after playing catch in the Miller Park outfield. Asked whether another Minor League rehabilitation assignment was scheduled, Bush said, “I don’t know yet. There might be, but it’s not going to be in the next week.”

“I’m still a ways away from where I need to be,” added Bush, who hasn’t pitched since June 20 because of a right triceps injury that has drifted into his elbow. “But with each step, I guess there’s progress.”

A more complete story is already available on Brewers.com.

Brewers' Macha hints of pre-deadline trade

Tim Dillard joined the Brewers from Triple-A Nashville on Sunday, when manager Ken Macha wondered aloud whether the team, strapped for starters, might get even more help ahead of Friday’s nonwaiver trade deadline.

“The trading deadline is coming and Doug [Melvin, Milwaukee’s general manager] is trying to help the club,” Macha said. “I don’t want to try to create expectations, but he’s trying to make the club better and I’m sure if he finds a starting pitcher who can help out, it’s something he would do.

“Here again, the starters that are available are kind of limited, and expensive.”

Macha was asked whether he’d be surprised if the Brewers failed to make an addition before the July 31 nonwaiver trade deadline.

“I just know how much effort has been put into trying to look at our needs as a whole and fill those needs,” Macha said. “Typically, when you get into this, the further away you are from the deadline, the higher the price is. The closer you get to the deadline, [prices drop]. It’s a bit of a waiting game.”

Of principal owner Mark Attanasio, who was in Milwaukee over the weekend to participate in trade talks, Macha said, “I think Mark is a very competitive guy, and he wants to win. Not only that, but we have a tremendous fan base here and the fans are supporting us. [Attanasio] is very appreciative of that. He showed last year that he’s willing to go out there [and make a trade].”

At the same time, Macha cautioned, Attanasio and Melvin want to field a perennially competitive team, and thus they are hesitant to gut the farm system.

“It’s a balancing act,” Macha said.

The Brewers have been linked oin published reports to all of the supposedly available arms, from Toronto’s Roy Halladay and Cleveland’s Cliff Lee at the top of the list to Arizona’s Doug Davis and Jon Garland, Seattle’s Erik Bedard and Jarrod Washburn and Kansas City’s Brian Bannister.

The deadline is at 3 p.m. CT on July 31. Teams can still make trades after that, but players must pass through waivers first.

UPDATE at 2 p.m. CT, when I noticed that Bedard went back on the disabled list with inflammation in his left shoulder. Will that make Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik, whose club is a surprising contender, more or less likely to trade Wisconsin native Washburn? 


Possible relief help in Colome?

The Brewers quietly made an intriguing pick-up on Saturday.

The team signed former Nationals reliever Jesus Colome to a Triple-A contract Saturday, but he has not pitched since July 3 so will report to rookie-level Helena to build back to full strength. Colome, designated for assignment by Washington on July 4, was 1-1 with a 8.40 ERA in 16 games this season but he was useful in the previous two seasons. Colome made 61 appearances in each of his first two years with the Nationals, posting a 3.82 ERA in 2007 and a 4.31 ERA in 2008. He pitched the six seasons before that with the Tampa Bay Rays.

Obviously, he isn’t an immediate help. But Colome is not too far removed from a pair of nice years in the National League, and could be someone to keep an eve on, especially if Seth McClung is sidelined long-term.

Sausage Race 5K results available online

Congratulatins to West Bend’s Andy Ruffalo and Milwaukee’s Leslie Lawton, the overall men’s and women’s winners in Saturday’s Brewers Charities 5K Sausage Race. Ruffalo covered the 3.1 mile course in 15:38.18 and Lawton covered the course, which snaked around — and through — Miller Park in 19:01.40.

The sausage race group, because this is Milwaukee and we have that sort of thing, was won by the hot dog, who ran in 23:33.75. As Brewers Charities president Lynn Sprangers pointed out, that’s not bad for a guy in a heavy sausage costume.

My buddy Nick Olson did our fantasy football league proud by finishing fifth in our age group and 13th overall among the more than 1,500 timed runners. I swear I finished, but my name, thankfully, to be honest, didn’t show up on the list.

If you’re curious about your own time, check the online results. Brewers Charities raised more than $75,000 with the event.

Photographer Jeff Hanisch was kind enough to send along some evidence: