July 2009

Braun, Brewers back to work

We’ll see if Ryan Braun addresses reporters today about his two-day spat with general manager Doug Melvin, but it makes sense that both men would sit down at some point today to clear the air.

Hopefully, the subject can then turn back to baseball and the Brewers’ crucial homestand against the NL Central-leading Cardinals and the NL West-leading Dodgers. Here is Milwaukee’s lineup for Game 1:

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

Fielder confirmed for Home Run Derby

Prince Fielder will swing for the fences at next week’s State Farm All-Star Home Run Derby.

Major League Baseball announced on Monday that the four first basemen on the National League All-Star team will participate in the event: Fielder, Albert Pujols of the Cardinals, Adrian Gonzalez of the Padres and Ryan Howard of the Phillies.

The Brewers were off Monday, but Fielder confirmed his interest in the Derby on Sunday, after the All-Star teams were unveiled. He was eliminated in the first round of the event in 2007 in San Francisco.

“If they wanted me to, I would do it,” Fielder said. “That’s what the fans want.”

The Home Run Derby, part of Gatorade All-Star Workout Day, will be broadcast live on ESPN, ESPN HD, ESPN Deportes and ESPN Radio in the United States beginning at 8 p.m. ET on Monday, July 13. The 80th All-Star Game will be held the following day on Tuesday, July 14.

Brewers GM fires back at Braun

Brewers general manager Doug Melvin had strong words for left fielder Ryan Braun on Monday, a day after the player called for club officials to acquire pitching help ahead of the July 31 nonwaiver trade deadline.

The Brewers were off on Monday, but Melvin told the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel’s Tom Haudricourt that Braun’s comments were “inappriopriate” and “irresponsible.”
a9iI78yM.jpg“We all work every day from 9 a.m. to midnight, and basically 12 months a year,” Melvin told the newspaper. “I’ll be glad to have Ryan help if he wants to. I’ll give him a badge and he can be my deputy.

“I don’t know his motivation for saying it. It demoralizes the people in the organization at a time when we should be pulling together. It puts a bad taste in our mouths. That’s a pretty strong statement
“I understand that maybe he thinks it’s taking a leadership role. I don’t know if he’s trying to tell me I’m not doing my job. We need to stick together as an organization. We’re all trying to win.”

Braun, to review, said it, “would be important for us to go out there and acquire somebody,” and that, “We need to find a way to throw the ball a little better to have success. When you’re constantly behind in games, it’s not easy. It’s not fun. [The Cubs’] starting pitching was clearly a lot better than ours this series.”

It was a typically unfiltered moment for Braun, who spoke out during the Brewers’ last homestand about the difficult hitting conditions at Miller Park. Melvin and other club officials werern’t happy about those comments, either.

(They are beginning to act, though. Crews cleaned the center field “batter’s eye” of dust while the Brewers were in Chicago, and were considering cutting down the ivy underneath it. Players say the ivy contributes to the glare.)

Melvin would prefer that his left fielder confine his statements to the field. 

“I don’t like criticizing players; it’s out of character for me,” Melvin told the Journal-Sentinel. “But I’m tired of it and I need to protect the people under us. Everybody’s working as hard as they can to make this a winning organization.

“He’s too talented a player to be doing this so early in his career. He just has to be careful about what he says.”

Braun and Melvin will have to clear the air. Melvin earned a contract extension last fall that keeps him under contract through 2012. Braun signed an eight-year contract last season thatkeeps him under contract through 2015.

Braun outspoken after series loss to Cubs

Perhaps it’s best to let Ryan Braun’s words speak for themselves after the Brewers’ 8-2 loss to the Cubs on Sunday. Chicago took the series, three games to one.

Here is Braun, unfiltered:

“Their starting pitching is a lot better than ours. They threw the ball a lot better than our starters did, and they swung the bats better than we did as well. Clearly, they were the better team. It’s nice to get one win, but they clearly outperformed us in this series….

“We’re at the point right now where it would be important for us to go out there and acquire somebody. I think [Brewers officials] would be more inclined to do that if we’re winning. …

“We need to find a way to throw the ball a little better to have success. When you’re constantly behind in games, it’s not easy. It’s not fun. Their starting pitching was clearly a lot better than ours this series.”

Does Braun think general manager Doug Melvin will be able to make a deal before the July 31 nonwaiver trade deadline?

“I wish I got to make decisions like that,” Braun said. “I know he’s looking to make our ballclub better. I know he recognizes the importance of making a move and making it soon, but at the same time a lot of teams are in the race and there aren’t a lot of teams willing to give guys up. If they do, the asking price is high.

“That being said, it would be nice to make a move. It would be nice to do something to help us out for the time being. The sooner we do it, the better.”

On Milwaukee’s upcoming homestand against the National League-Central leading Cardinals and NL West-leading Dodgers:

“It’s crucial. We don’t want to dig ourselves too big of a hole. It’s always important to have some momentum going into the second half to show everybody that we’re for real and that we can make a move and improve our ballclub. We need to be headed in the right direction and not the wrong direction in order to do that.”


Early All-Star thoughts…

My two cents on Selection Sunday:

1.  Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder are certainly deserving. Braun was the top vote-getter among National League outfielders for the second straight year, and Fielder was one of NL manager Charlie Manuel’s picks. That duo had 133 RBIs entering Sunday’s games, tops of any teammates in Major League Baseball.

2.  Fielder is also one of four first basemen on the NL squad (Albert Pujols, Adrian Gonzalez and Ryan Howard are the others) so it will be interesting to see how/if Manuel is able to get all of those guys into the game. Fielder is second in the Majors in RBIs, but might he be the low man on this impressive totem pole? Here’s why I suggest that:

  • Pujols won the fan vote and will start in front of his hometown fans in St. Louis.
  • Gonzalez made the cut via the player ballot, and that carries some weight.
  • Howard, of course, is a Phillie, and Manuel is his manager.

3.  It has been pretty clear for weeks that Braun would make the cut, so I asked him whether he would participate in the All-Star Home Run Derby for the second consecutive year. Remember that Braun developed some back problems last August that have been a bother from time to time this year.

“I would probably wait to see if I was even invited before I thought about it,” Braun said the other day. “I would want to see where I’m at, physically, before I committed. Having that extra day of rest would obviously be nice.

“But it was a lot of fun last year, I really enjoyed it. If I’m fortunate enough to be invited, I’ll cross that bridge then.”

Braun said he would consult with Brewers head athletic trainer Roger Caplinger before making his decision. He declined the notion that participating in last year’s Derby — he reached the semifinals — had anything to do with his physical woes later in the year.

Fielder took part in the event in 2007, and he finished third this year in a poll sponsored by State Farm Insurance that allowed fans to pick who they would like to see participate in the Derby. Pujols finished first, followed by Howard and then Fielder.

4.  Trevor Hoffman and Yovani Gallardo are having All-Star-type seasons, but missed the cut. Gallardo has the sixth-best ERA among qualifying NL pitchers (2.75) and is tied for fifth in the league with 114 strikeouts. Hoffman, a six-time All-Star, didn’t allow a run until his 18th Brewers appearance and is tied for eighth in the NL with 18 saves despite missing most of April with a rib-cage injury.

I asked Hoffman last week for his favorite All-Star memory.

“Probably when they named the All-Century team [in Boston in 1999],” he said. “I had a chance to go to Fenway Park when I was in high school and Glenn [his brother] was with the Red Sox and take ground balls and batting practice there. To me, that was kind of cool to go back there.”

Hoffman would have appreciated the opportunity to appear in a seventh Midsummer Classic.

“It’s a tremendous honor to be recognized in that regard,” he said.   

Brewers face decisions on pitching, Gamel

General manager Doug Melvin and manager Ken Macha will have another of their Miller Park meetings on Tuesday, and two questions will dominate the discussion:

– Who will join the starting rotation this week?

– Is it time to send Mat Gamel back to Triple-A Nashville so he can play?

First, the pitching.

Yovani Gallardo will start Tuesday’s series opener against the Cardinals but the Brewers’ could introduce a new arm to the rotation as early as Wednesday. It appears that Seth McClung, who surrendered 10 runs in 7 1/3 innings over his two starts, will return to the bullpen, meaning that Melvin must fill the vacancy either via a trade, a signing or a promotion.

The promotion may be the most likely scenario, and left-hander Manny Parra threw his name back into the hopper when he pitched seven scoreless innings for Nashville on Friday. Parra has been sharp in three of his four starts in the Minors since the Brewers demoted him last month, and his next scheduled start is on Wednesday.

Because of Monday’s off-day, Macha does not need another starter until Saturday. Macha expected to have his decision by Tuesday.

“If we need to make an adjustment we need to let [the staff at Nashville] know by Tuesday,” Macha said.

Then, Gamel.

The emergence of Casey McGehee as an everyday member of Milwaukee’s starting lineup has left Gamel twiddling his thumbs on the bench. He walked as a pinch-hitter on Saturday, but has only four plate appearances this month and 15 plate appearances in the Brewers’ last 12 games.

“I’ve thought about that,” Macha said Saturday. “I thought about playing him today but this guy [Cubs starter Rich Harden] has a real good change-up. They’ve been throwing [Gamel] a lot of slow stuff. Casey’s emergence here has stumped that. It’s something that Doug and I will talk about. We’ve already talked about it.”

They have discussed the same question being asked by many Brewers fans: Would Gamel, considered along with Triple-A shortstop Alcides Escobar to be Milwaukee’s top prospects, be better off playing every day in the Minors?

Melvin was mum on the topic.

“If we have a roster move, we’ll let you know,” Melvin said. “It’s not good to talk about players or roster moves while they are still here. Nobody likes to know their fate ahead of time.”

If the Brewers do indeed return Gamel to Nashville, they would promote another position player, Macha said.

“It is a tough call,” Macha said. “You look for balance in your lineup, and [Gamel] is a left-handed hitter. We’re breaking him into the big leagues, and you don’t want to bury him. You try to pick a spot where he can be successful, get some confidence, and yet you’re trying to contend for a pennant.

“It gets to be a jam. You’re developing a guy, so do you put the pressure on him that he’s going to be up there with guys on base all the time? …  In a way, I was put into a little bit of a ‘zim-zam.’ It’s got me flummoxed.”

Brewers, Cubs set for Saturday matinee

Regular lineup for the Brewers on Saturday but the Cubs, as promised, made some changes. Lou Piniella installed Kosuke Fukudome as his leadoff man and dropped the struggling Alfonso Soriano to sixth.

It’s a cloudy day and a light rain was falling as the Brewers began batting practice. Hopefully we’re not interrupted today by Mother Nature.

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

Kusuke Fukudome  CF
Ryan Theriot  SS
Derrek Lee  1B
Milton Bradley  RF
Jake Fox  3B
Alfonso Soriano  LF
Geovany Soto  C
Mike Fontenot  2B
Rich Harden  RHP

Bush won't return before All-Star break

The Brewers may need a starter next Saturday, but manager Ken Macha said this morning that it will not be Dave Bush, who is on the disabled list with microtears in his right triceps and is technically eligible to return as early as Monday.

Instead, Bush is scheduled to make a Minor League rehabilitation start for Double-A Huntsville at Mississippi on July 15. If that goes well, Bush would return to the Brewers for their July 20-22 series in Pittsburgh.

Bush ramped-up his rehab on Friday, playing catch from 120 feet in the Wrigley Field outfield before moving in to “pitch” on flat ground to bullpen coach Stan Kyles.

“I’m trying to find the delicate balance between letting it rest and also finding out how it feels,” Bush said. “I have to use a certain amount of effort to determine just to see if I feel good enough. I moved a little further back today and put a little more effort into it. I feel good.”

Bush is on the disabled list for the first time in his career. Before his current injury, caused by a Hanley Ramirez line drive that struck his arm on June 4 in Florida, Bush had never missed a single outing.

“I’m starting to get a little anxious,” he said. “It feels a little like Spring Training.”

Kendall back in leadoff hole

Catcher Jason Kendall, who had two hits last night and is 10-for-33 in his career against Cubs starter Carlos Zambrano, will make his third start of the season in the leadoff hole as the Brewers continue their four-game series at Wrigley Field. Shortstop J.J. Hardy falls all the way from second to eighth.

Here it is:

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
Jeff Suppan  RHP

Up next for McClung? It's up in the air

Seth McClung surrendered seven runs on seven hits including a trio of Cubs homers in the Brewers’ series-opening loss on Thursday, leaving his status up in the air.

In two starts since moving from the bullpen, McClung has been charged with 10 runs on 13 hits and has only delivered 7 1/3 innings.

“It is disappointing on my end to know I’ve been given an opportunity to show what I can do,” said McClung, who hinted that he was also disappointed by plate umpire James Hoye’s strike zone. “Last year, I think I showed what I could do. It’s disheartening. I know I’m better than the statistics say the last couple of times. I work very hard at what I do, and when you work hard at what you do and you put your heart and soul into it and you get results that aren’t desirable, it’s kind of disappointing.

“The only thing I know to do go back out there and continue to work hard,” he said. “I don’t give up. I don’t say die. I know I’m a good pitcher, and I know I can start. If I continue to get my turn, which as far as I know, I will, I’m going to turn this thing around very quickly.”

Manager Ken Macha, though, would not commit to giving McClung another start.

“We have an off-day Monday, so we’re going to need a pitcher for [July 11],” said Macha, who otherwise is set with Jeff Suppan, Braden Looper, Mike Burns and Yovani Gallardo.  That meant he will skip McClung’s next start, which could have come as early as Wednesday, and use Suppan on regular rest instead.  

“It all starts with the starter, and Seth didn’t do a very good job today,” Macha said.