July 2009

McClung to 15-day DL, Dillard up

The Brewers already needed to add a pitcher. Instead, they had one taken away.

The team placed reliever Seth McClung on the 15-day disabled list with a sprain to his surgically-repaired right elbow, announcing the move minutes before the start of Saturday’s Brewers-Braves game and a few hours after McClung underwent an MRI scan.

Two innings into the game, a spokesperson said that Triple-A right-hander Tim Dillard would take McClung’s spot. Dillard becomes a candidate to fill the Brewers’ need for a starter on Tuesday against the Nationals, though manager Ken Macha offered strong hints that he might use reliever Carlos Villanueva instead. 

“We have a number of candidates for that spot,” Macha said.

McClung, who was injured during his outing against the Braves on Friday night, isn’t one of them. His immediate concern is his elbow, the subject of Tommy John reconstructive surgery in 2003. By definition, a sprained ligament is torn, but for now it appears that surgery is not on the table.

Instead, McClung will rest the elbow until it’s pain-free.

“The timetable is on the elbow,” McClung said. “I don’t want to push back too hard. I want to be a part of this team.”

McClung felt what he termed a “weird” sensation in his elbow while pitching against the Braves and exited with two outs in the ninth inning. McClung was hurt on a change-up to Nate McLouth that sailed to the backstop, and, after throwing 10 more pitches, decided to call it a night.

He said it was the first time in his career that he walked off the field with an injury.

“[Surgery] was not brought up as a possibility for the immediate or for the season,” McClung said. “It wasn’t like that. Obviously, we talked about it because I’ve been through it before. That was my first question. … But they said we’re going to rehab it and take care of it.”

McClung has a 5.03 ERA in 36 relief appearances and two starts this season. With McClung sidelined, deposed starter Mike Burns took over long relief duties on Saturday.

Dillard is 10-4 with a 3.66 ERA in 19 starts this season for Nashville. He was converted back to a starting role after pitching as a reliever in 2007 and 2008, including 13 Brewers appearances last season.

Dillard and Villanueva are options to start Tuesday, but there’s also the possibility that general manager Doug Melvin will be able to swing a trade.

New Brewer Heckathorn: 'It's time to go'

The Brewers made Kyle Heckathorn an offer he just couldn’t refuse.

Heckathorn, a big right-hander from Kennesaw State University and the 47th overall pick in last month’s First-Year Player Draft, passed a physical at Miller Park on Saturday and finalized his first professional contract. It includes a $776,000 signing bonus, plus a rare invitation to big league camp next spring.

The Brewers don’t extend those invitations lightly to recent Draft picks. Matt LaPorta, Milwaukee’s first-round pick in 2007, wasn’t promised a spot, though he later got one. Rickie Weeks, the team’s top pick — second overall — in 2003, got an invitation, but that was because he signed a Major League contract. Prince Fielder was invited to camp after the Brewers selected him in the first round in 2002.

“Doug [Melvin, Milwaukee’s general manager] doesn’t easily give those out,” Brewers scouting director Bruce Seid said. “In this case, we felt that with what Kyle brings — his size, he’s mature, he’s smart — this was an ideal situation.” 

So Heckathorn, 21, who could have returned to college, instead joined a select list of Brewers Draft picks who made quick ascents to the Majors.

“They came up with the money, and then the invite to Spring Training, that was the capper,” said Heckathorn, who planned to splurge on a new pick-up truck. “That’s all I needed. They compromised, I compromised. Now it’s time to go. It’s time to start my professional career.”

He will report to rookie-level Helena on Monday. Heckathorn figures he’ll need a week or two to get back into pitching shape. 

“I’ve been running and throwing a lot,” he said, “trying to keep my arm strength up.”

Heckathorn went to Milwaukee in the supplemental phase of the Draft’s first round, the team’s second selection in the Draft behind first-rounder and fellow right-hander Eric Arnett. Like Arnett, the 6-foot-6, 240-pound Heckathorn is a power arm coming off his junior season in college. Club officials were not shy in the weeks leading up to the Draft in saying they were high on Heckathorn, who can reach 99 mph with his fastball but sits more comfortably in the 94-97 mph range, and also features a hard slider.

He was 4-1 with a 3.44 ERA and 98 strikeouts in 86 1/3 innings for Kennesaw State this season, including a 15-strikeout game. After the Draft, Brewers scouting director Bruce Seid said that the team intended to introduce Heckathorn to Minor Leagues as a starter.

“This is the best place for me,” Heckathorn said. “I’m lucky they got me and I’m fortunate to be a Brewer.”

With Heckathorn in the fold, 27 of the Brewers’ 53 selections are under contract including 14 of the first 17 picks.

Only one of the team’s first six picks remains unsigned ahead of the Aug. 17 deadline: University of Tennessee outfielder and fellow supplemental first-round pick Kentrail Davis, a Scott Boras client.

“Any time you’re dealing with Scott Boras, it’s always going to be a drawn-out situation,” Seid said. “But that’s not a negative; we just know that. We have a relationship with him. We’ll just continue to take steps forward.”

Davis was sophomore-eligible, meaning he could return to Tennessee for two more seasons.

Seid said the Brewers were still working to sign fourth-round pick Brooks Hall, a right-handed pitcher, and Florida State University outfielder D’Vontrey Richardson, the team’s fifth-round selection.

McClung exits with elbow injury

The long scar on Seth McClung’s elbow is proof enough that the big Brewers right-hander knows a thing or two about elbow injuries. But he avoided jumping to conclusions Friday night about a possible setback.

McClung exited an outing against the Braves with two outs in the ninth inning complaining of a “weird” sensation in his surgically-repaired elbow. He expected to know more on Saturday after a visit with a team doctor.

“I’m quite familiar with the elbow,” McClung said, showing off his scar. “But I wouldn’t get too upset. It’s the day of, and it’s just a little weird in there. I’ll show up [Saturday] and talk to all of the doctors, the appropriate people.”

McClung underwent a Tommy John surgery in June 2003, when he was with the Tampa Bay Rays. His surgery and rehabilitation was chronicled by MLB Productions for an episode of This Week in Baseball.

On Friday, McClung had just walked Chipper Jones when head athletic trainer Roger Caplinger trotted to the mound, but the real sign of trouble came two batters earlier, when a change-up to Braves leadoff man Nate McLouth sailed to the backstop for Ball 3. McClung’s next pitch was a 92 mph fastball, but he eventually walked McLouth, too.

Reliever Mitch Stetter escaped the inning without further damage. McClung was charged with a run on two hits in one inning of work. He has a 5.03 ERA in 36 relief appearances and two starts.

Manager Ken Macha has urged McClung — and other Brewers pitchers — to work on their off-speed pitches, and McClung had been heeding that advice of late.

“I’ve worked very hard trying to improve my repertoire,” McClung said. “We’re not there, and I was told to go ahead and throw them, and I threw them. The change-up that went to the backstop, that’s the one that kind of came out of my hand and felt funny. We’ll worry about it tomorrow.”

Brewers still pushing for Halladay

If the Brewers are indeed “basically out” of the running for Blue Jays ace Roy Halladay, as one national baseball writer wrote on Twitter, it would be news to Milwaukee’s general manager.

“I haven’t been told that we’re out,” Doug Melvin said Friday, when the Brewers began a homestand that takes them to within 24 hours of the July 31 nonwaiver trade deadline. “I was never told that we’re in, either.

“I don’t want to get into who we’re talking to and when we’ve talked. It’s all part of the negotiations.”

After acquiring second baseman Felipe Lopez from the Diamondbacks on Sunday — Lopez missed a second straight start Friday because of a hamstring strain but will be installed as the everyday leadoff hitter once he’s healthy — Melvin’s focus is bolstering a shaky starting rotation that ranked 15th of the 16 National League teams and 27th of the 30 Major League teams with a 4.96 ERA entering the weekend.  Young left-hander Manny Parra entered his Friday start against the Braves riding a series of successful starts following a demotion to Triple-A Nashville, but right-hander Dave Bush remained sidelined by a right triceps injury and fellow righty Mike Burns has been too inconsistent.

Burns is lined up to start on Tuesday against the Nationals, but the Brewers are poised to bump him from the rotation. If Melvin doesn’t make a trade before then, right-hander Tim Dillard will be promoted from Nashville.

The Phillies are widely considered the chief suitor for Halladay, a right-hander who started for the Blue Jays on Friday night. Philadelphia ranked just three spots above the Brewers among NL teams with a 4.74 starters’ ERA. The Dodgers and Red Sox have also been mentioned as suitors.

According to CBSsports.com’s Danny Knobler, the Brewers fell out of the running for Halladay because they were unwilling to part with Mat Gamel or Alcides Escobar — considered Milwaukee’s top two prospects — to land Halladay. Knobler also reported that scouts from the Brewers and Red Sox left Toronto ahead of Halladay’s start against the Rays at Rogers Centre while Phillies special assistant Charley Kerfeld stayed to watch.

Asked to characterize the market one week before the deadline, Melvin called it, “quiet.” That’s probably because the top available pitchers either have one year left on their contract or an expensive option following this season — Halladay, Cleveland’s Cliff Lee, San Diego’s Jake Peavy and Arizona’s Jon Garland all fit that category — and thus will command extra in a trade. The list of pending free agents is shorter, and it includes Arizona’s Doug Davis and Seattle’s Erik Bedard and Jarrod Washburn.

Melvin has been in contact with Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik, who until last fall was Milwaukee’s amateur scouting director, but Zduriencik is hesitant to deal because Seattle is a surprising contender; seven games over .500 and 5 1/2 games out of first place in the American League West entering play Friday.

Brewers officials, meanwhile, have debated internally whether it’s worth digging into the farm system for a second straight season — CC Sabathia cost four prospects last year including 2007 first-round Draft pick Matt LaPorta — to acquire a front-line pitcher. That debate is ongoing, Melvin said. 

“It depends what you get, and what you give up,” Melvin said. “That’s what it really comes down to. What you get, what you give up, and how you’re playing at the time that you do it. …

“We’ve still got a good team,” Melvin added. “We just have to put it together. We have to put some consistency together and have a little winning streak.”

Home fans will have to wait for Lopez

If Felipe Lopez makes his home Brewers debut tonight, it won’t be as a member of the starting lineup. The recent acquisition is out of the lineup for the second straight game, probably because of his sore hamstring.

So Jason Kendall will make his eighth start of the year in the leadoff hole. Here are the full lineups:

Nate McLouth  CF
Martin Prado  2B
Chipper Jones  3B
Brian McCann  C
Yunel Escobar  SS
Garret Anderson  LF
Matt Diaz  RF
Casey Kotchman  1B
Javier Vazquez  RHP

Jason Kendall  C
Craig Counsell  2B
Ryan Braun  LF
Prince Fielder  1B
Casey McGehee  3B
Mike Cameron  CF
Corey Hart  RF
J.J. Hardy  SS
Manny Parra  LHP

Narveson to Nashville, McCalvy to Canada

It came as no surprise on Monday when left-hander Chris Narveson cleared waivers and accepted an assignment to Triple-A Nashville. Narveson had the right to refuse and take his chances in free agency, but he made it clear last week that he still saw opportunity in Milwaukee.

Narveson was 3-3 with a 3.38 ERA in 20 relief appearances for Nashville before his promotion to Milwaukee, and he was charged with 10 runs in 10 2/3 innings in the big leagues.

In a completely unrelated roster move, I am being optioned to Ontario for the next week and a half but promise to be out of the canoe and back in the press box by the time the Brewers return to Miller Park to face the Braves.

If I’m not back in the bylines by then, send help.


Hobbled Hart makes Wish a reality

Brewers right fielder Corey Hart was back in the lineup on Sunday after missing three starts with a bruised left foot, but only after he made a young fan’s wish come true.

Six-year-old Sam from Saukville, Wis. was on hand with dad Aaron as part of the 25th anniversary of the Make-A-Wish Foundation of Wisconsin, which grants the wishes of youngsters with life-threatening medical conditions. Hart and Brewers Charities donated $10,000 to the organization before the game.

Sam’s wish was to sing the National Anthem, and he did so after getting a tour of the Brewers’ clubhouse from Hart. Brewers team photographer Scott Paulus sent along a few shots:

Detail04 copy.jpgDetail03 copy.jpgDetail01 copy.jpg 

Hoffman: All-Star invite "a big surprise"

Make it an All-Star trio for the Brewers. Trevor Hoffman was added to the National League roster on Sunday in place of injured Dodgers closer Jonathan Broxton.

“It was a big surprise,” Hoffman said. “It’s nice to come in and have that kind of news get dropped on you. It’s a big honor to be able to represent not only the Brewers, but the Brewer bullpen and what they’ve accomplished in the first half. It’s indicative of putting a guy like myself in position to go.”

Brewers general manager Doug Melvin received a call early Sunday morning from Major League Baseball senior vice president Katy Feeney, asking if Hoffman would consider an invitation. Melvin passed the word to Hoffman via Brewers manager Ken Macha. 

For Hoffman, it was a no-brainer.

“I definitely welcome the opportunity,” Hoffman said. “My kids are really excited, too. They’ve gotten older and they’ve been to quite a few, but they’re starting to understand the dynamics that are a part of it and are really excited for Prince and the Home Run Derby.

“I’m excited for them to have the opportunity to go. They’re at that good age. I think any 11 or 12 year old would love to go to an All-Star Game in that capacity. It was a pretty easy sell.”

Trevor and Tracy Hoffman’s three sons are 10, 11 and 12.

With Ryan Braun, Prince Fielder and Hoffman, the Brewers will send at least three players to the All-Star Game for the fourth straight season.

Hart, Hall in; Hardy out for first-half finale

Trevor Hoffman has occupied most of the morning, but it’s worth mentioning a couple of things about today’s lineup before Yovani Gallardo throws his first pitch.

  • Corey Hart ran in the outfield Sunday morning to test his bruised left foot, and was deemed able to play after missing the last three starts.
  • Bill Hall, as Macha promised, is also back in the lineup against Dodgers left-hander Clayton Kershaw. Hall was defiant yesterday about turning his season around.
  • Shortstop J.J. Hardy was 4-for-7 with five RBIs in the first two games against the Dodgers, but was out of Sunday’s lineup because of soreness near his left collarbone or shoulder. Macha said Hart reported feeling a tweak during a swing Saturday night. It’s a tough injury, because it forces the Brewers to start lefty-hitter Craig Counsell, whose knee might have benefitted from an extra day of rest heading into the All-Star break, against the tough Kershaw.
  • With Counsell at shortstop, Casey McGehee is at third second. He has downplayed his sore right knee, but McGehee did not look himself in the field on Thursday against the Cardinals.

That said, here is the full lineup:

Jason Kendall  C
Corey Hart  RF
Ryan Braun  LF
Prince Fielder  1B
Casey McGehee  2B
Mike Cameron  CF
Bill Hall  3B
Craig Counsell  SS
Yovani Gallardo  RHP

Hall: 'I still consider myself the best 3B in the league'

Brewers infielder Bill Hall emerged from a closed-door meeting with his bosses on Saturday and insisted that he hasn’t given up on turning around his dismal 2009 season. 

“I still consider myself the best third baseman in the league,” Hall said. 

He’ll get another chance on Sunday, when the Brewers mark the season’s unofficial midpoint against left-hander Clayton Kershaw and the Dodgers. Manager Ken Macha said he intends to start Hall at third base in Milwaukee’s final game before Major League Baseball’s All-Star break, which will be broadcast nationally on TBS with Chip Caray and Buck Martinez on the call. 

Hall, who enters the first-half finale hitting .198, would not say much about his Saturday afternoon sit-down with general manager Doug Melvin, assistant GM Gord Ash and Macha. Asked what they talked about, Macha was also mum. 

Hall was clear on two points: He has not asked to be moved out of Milwaukee, and the Brewers have not asked him to go to the Minor Leagues. Because he has more than five years of service time, Hall owns the right to refuse such an assignment. 

“It wasn’t a bad meeting, it wasn’t a good meeting. It was just a meeting,” Hall said. “We talked about baseball. It was just a discussion.”

Hall has had a first half to forget. He began the year as Milwaukee’s starting third baseman but has fallen essentially to third on the depth chart by batting .198 with five home runs and 18 RBIs. He started 23 of the Brewers’ first 26 games, but since then has made just 25 starts in 61 games while batting .124. 

Casey McGehee and rookie Mat Gamel have handled most of the starts since then, with Hall relegated to starting against left-handers. Now even those numbers are on the decline; Hall hit .306 against southpaws last season, but this year he’s hitting .231.

“There’s kind of mixed feelings, I guess,” Hall said. “Obviously, I haven’t played well, but I’m not getting to play very often, either. The lefties I’m facing aren’t exactly easy. [The Mets’ Johan] Santana. [The Giants’ Barry] Zito had been dealing. [The Cubs’ Ted] Lilly is an All-Star. When you don’t get any other at-bats during the week, it’s tough going out there to face guys like that and trying to get some hits.”

Make no mistake: Hall does not see his production as acceptable.

“I have to figure something out,” Hall said, his eyes reddening, “some way to fight through that and try to be productive when I do get a chance to play. 

“I’m here,” he added. “I’m working every day, I’m keeping my mouth shut. I have to find a way to produce when I get in there.”

Hall’s decline is in its third season. He was the Brewers’ club MVP in 2006, when he filled-in for an injured J.J. Hardy at shortstop and batted .270 while leading the Brewers with 35 home runs. That season earned Hall a four-year, $24 million contract that bought out his arbitration years and one season off free agency. 

More than a year remains on that deal. Hall is making $6.8 million this season and is due $8.4 million in 2010. If the Brewers release Hall, they would owe him the remainder of that salary. 

Hall does have value off the bench because he is a quality defender at second base, third base and shortstop, and can also play the outfield if needed. But Hall, the longest tenured player in the entire organization (he was the Brewers’ sixth-round Draft pick in 1998) isn’t sure where he fits on the team at the moment.

“I’m still trying to do things to help this team win,” he said.