August 2009

Macha: "Have to be realistic" about place in standings

If the Brewers want to shock the world with a late-season run for the ages, it will have to start this week in St. Louis. Milwaukee begins a three-game series at Busch Stadium on Tuesday.

“When you’re 12 out, with every game you’re kind of hanging on the cliff,” Brewers infielder Craig Counsell said. “If we want a chance, obviously, we have to sweep.”

Then they’ll have to sweep the Giants the following weekend. And then sweep the Cardinals again, when they visit Miller Park from Sept. 7-9.

That’s the kind of mad dash it will take for the Brewers, who are coming off a weekend sweep of the Pirates that didn’t help them one bit in the National League Central standings. The Cardinals grew their commanding lead over the second-place Cubs to 10 games, and the Brewers remained 12 games back with 32 to play.

Manager Ken Macha knows that it’s unlikely his club will get back in the race. That’s partly why he chose to use Monday’s off-day to give his starters an extra day of rest, meaning the Brewers’ best pitcher — righty Yovani Gallardo — will miss the St. Louis series. He’ll start instead on Friday against the Giants.

“You have to be realistic,” Macha said. “You have to look forward. If we do continue to pitch him and [Manny] Parra all these pitches and they blow out with two weeks left in the season, what good is that, anyway? We just try to win as many games as we can. …

“After all, we went two months without [Dave] Bush and [Jeff] Suppan in there, and we put extra duty on the other guys as a result of that. Pitching is the most valuable thing. If we win the next 10 games and we’re there, we’ll see.”

The Brewers are 9-3 at Busch Stadium over the last two years. They swept a three-game series in St. Louis in May.

McClung, Colome make strides in bullpen

Brewers relievers Seth McClung and Jesus Colome finished mound sessions on Sunday feeling confident about pitching before the 2009 season is over.

McClung threw 30 pitches and Colome 35 in the Miller Park bullpen before Sunday’s series finale against the Pirates in their first mound work since going to the disabled list with injuries. McClung has been out since July 25 with a sprained right elbow, and Colome since Aug. 18 with a strained right forearm. 

“It felt great to go out there and throw off a mound, especially after more than a month,” said McClung, who underwent Tommy John surgery on the elbow in 2003. “Getting out there on a mound, it kind of puts you in a different mindset. I’m not just going out there to play catch, I went out there to make pitches.” 

McClung threw all fastballs during his session. It marked an informal reunion with Brewers interim pitching coach Chris Bosio, who was Tampa Bay’s pitching coach in 2003 when McClung was on that team. 

Colome is eligible to be activated on Wednesday and probably won’t need a Minor League rehabilitation assignment if he is able to return on that date or soon thereafter. McClung, though, has requested that he pitch an inning for a affiliate before returning to the big leagues. Double-A Huntsville is one candidate because the Stars are headed to the playoffs. 

“I would like to pitch in a game, at least once, somewhere,” McClung said. “I hate to burden guys when they’re trying to win something, but you have to do what you have to do.”

Cameron gets a break in series finale

It’s 20 straight home wins over the Pirates and counting for the Brewers, who won’t have their fabulous center fielder for Sunday’s series finale. Jody Gerut, who has been hot at the plate (13-for-39 over his last 26 games) starts in place of Mike Cameron, who is almost certainly just getting a day off, his first since July 26.

The Pirates’ lineup is posted, and it includes catcher Ryan Doumit. He was benched on Friday and Saturday for an undisclosed offense.

PITTSBURGH
Andrew McCutchen  CF
Delwyn Young  2B
Garrett Jones  1B
Ryan Doumit  C
Lastings Milledge  LF
Brandon Moss  RF
Andy LaRoche  3B
Ronny Cedeno  SS
Ross Ohlendorf  RHP

MILWAUKEE
Felipe Lopez  2B
Craig Counsell  SS
Ryan Braun  LF
Prince Fielder  1B
Casey McGehee  3B
Jody Gerut  CF
Jason Kendall  C
Frank Catalanotto  RF
Jeff Suppan  RHP
 

Tidbits: Rotation, McClung/Colome, Parra, Escobar, Hart

Some tidbits from manager Ken Macha’s pregame chat with reporters:

– Macha will announce his probable pitchers for the upcoming St. Louis series on Sunday. He’s considering ways to monitor right-hander Yovani Gallardo’s workload, but bumping him back a day in this case would mean Gallardo would miss the series against the Cardinals. Since the Brewers still publicly consider themselves contenders, that would be a tough move.

“Maybe some guys will get extra time and some guys won’t,” Macha said.

– Injured relievers Seth McClung (elbow) and Jesus Colome (forearm) are scheduled to throw 30-pitch bullpen sessions on Sunday morning. McClung has been on the disabled list since July 25 and is trying to rehab his elbow without succombing to a second career Tommy John surgery.

– Left-hander Manny Parra is introducing a cut fastball to his array of pitches, Macha said. It’s a work in progress; Pittsburgh’s Steve Pearce hit one Friday for a two-run double.
Macha offered some words of support for Parra, who is 6-2 over his last nine starts despite a 6.49 ERA and a .341 opponents’ batting average.

“He does have nine wins, and he has a chance to get into the teens,
too,” Macha said. “Everybody has hopes for him to take a couple steps
forward. But looking at the cup half-full, he has nine wins.”

– For now, Macha has scrapped batting the pitcher eighth and shortstop Alcides Escobar ninth. Escobar batted eighth on Saturday for the second straight game.

“If we’re going to have [a position] player batting ninth, he needs to get on or you don’t have any benefit from it,” Macha said.

Escobar entered the weekend with a .292 on-base percentage.

– Corey Hart, recovering from his Aug. 2 appendectomy, threw in the outfield on Saturday and took batting practice. He appears to travel with the Brewers to St. Louis next week before joining postseason-bound Double-A Huntsville for a rehabilitation assignment. The Brewers don’t yet know how many Minor League games Hart would need to be ready for the big leagues.

Brewers try to stay rolling vs. Bucs

The Brewers enter Saturday’s game with 19 consecutive home wins over the Pirates, matching the longest streak in baseball since the Indians beat the Browns/Orioles 27 consecutive times in Cleveland from 1952-54. The 19-game streak matches the Orioles’ run of success over the Blue Jays at Memorial Stadium from 1978-81.

The lineups:

PITTSBURGH
Andrew McCutchen  CF
Delwyn Young  2B
Garrett Jones  RF
Andy LaRoche  3B
Steve Pearce  1B
Lastings Milledge  LF
Jason Jaramillo  C
Brian Bixler  SS
Kevin Hart  RHP

MILWAUKEE
Felipe Lopez  2B
Craig Counsell  3B
Ryan Braun  LF
Prince Fielder  1B
Mike Cameron  CF
Frank Catalanotto  RF
Jason Kendall  C
Alcides Escobar  SS
Yovani Gallardo  RHP

Escobar moves up to eight-hole

At least for today, when Alcides Escobar imoves up a spot against Zach Duke and the Pirates in the opener of a three-game series. I’m guessing that manager Ken Macha’s decision to bat the pitcher in the more conventional nine-hole has something to do with Jason Bourgeois making the start in right field and batting second.

Second baseman Felipe Lopez, who returned to action Thursday after missing one start with a right foot injury, was walking extremely gingerly around the clubhouse yesterday afternoon, but he’s back in action tonight. And so much for seeing more of Mike Rivera; the backup catcher had been paired with Manny Parra of late, but Jason Kendall is catching tonight.

Here’s the lineup:

Felipe Lopez  2B
Jason Bourgeois  RF
Ryan Braun  LF
Prince Fielder  1B
Casey McGehee  3B
Mike Cameron  CF
Jason Kendall  C
Alcides Escobar  SS
Manny Parra  LHP

Report says Giants claimed Hoffman

The San Francisco Giants were the mystery team that claimed Brewers closer Trevor Hoffman off waivers in recent days, according to ESPN.com, perhaps a move to block a fellow contender with bullpen needs from adding baseball’s all-time saves leader via a trade.

Brewers general manager Doug Melvin has been uncharacteristically unavailable during the the past 24 hours, but said earlier in the week that he was unlikely to make a deal ahead of the Aug. 31 deadline for teams to acquire players and have them available for postseason rosters.

Still, the Brewers reportedly placed six veterans on waivers this week, a necessary step before making trades after the July 31 nonwaiver deadline. According to a FOXSports.com report, four of them cleared: Mike Cameron, Craig Counsell, Jason Kendall and Braden Looper. Hoffman appears to have been claimed, but the report made no mention of second baseman Felipe Lopez, another pending free agent who was exposed to waivers.

Lopez projects as a Type B free agent, meaning he would net the Brewers a compensatory pick in next year’s Draft if the team offers him arbitration but he declines and signs elsewhere. Hoffman projects as a Type A, so he could reap a pair of high picks. He turns 42 on Oct. 13.

Hoffman responds to waiver rumors

Trevor Hoffman would prefer to remain a Brewer, but conceded that Thursday that it’s not out of the realm of possibility that he could be traded to a contender before the end of the month.

“I don’t know,” Hoffman said. “We’re 12 out.”

As in, the Brewers remained 12 games behind division-leading St. Louis in the National League Central after getting swept by the Reds at Miller Park this week. Cincinnati finished its three-game sweep with an 8-5 win over the Brewers on Thursday, just as FOXSports.com reported that a rival club had claimed Hoffman off the waiver wire.

If true, the Brewers and the mystery team would have 48 hours to work out a trade. If the sides cannot strike an agreement, the Brewers would pull Hoffman back.

Hoffman said he had no idea whether the report was true, and Brewers general manager Doug Melvin, who is technically barred from discussing waivers, did not return a pair of phone calls on Thursday.

“I’m starting to learn that this is part of it,” said Hoffman, who mostly avoided late-season waiver rumors during his 16-year tenure with the Padres. Players with at least 10 years of service time including five years with their current team have the right to refuse trades, and it was well understood that Hoffman had no desire to leave San Diego.

Now he’s on a one-year contract with the Brewers and faces the prospect of re-entering free agency at season’s end. As the FOXSports.com report suggested, a deal seems unlikely. Hoffman projects as a “Type A” free agent in the mysterious Elias rankings. That means that if the Brewers keep him for the rest of this year, offer him salary arbitration over the winter and then let him sign elsewhere, they would reap two compensatory picks in next year’s First-Year Player Draft before the end of the second round.

Since the claiming club is not likely to offer much in return for five weeks of Hoffman’s services, Melvin could be more inclined to hold out for the Draft picks.

Another hurdle, according to various recent reports that have speculated about Hoffman’s availability, could be baseball’s all-time saves leader’s desire to be a closer. Asked for his stance on Thursday, Hoffman said, “I’m not going to discuss any of that stuff.”

Hoffman pitched a perfect ninth inning in Wednesday’s extra-innings loss to the Reds and has been excellent in his first season away from San Diego in 16 years, posting a 1.85 ERA and 27 saves in 29 chances this year. But he has been gathering dust in the bullpen as the Brewers have fallen out of the pennant race, with only four save opportunities this month and only four appearances over the past two weeks.

“I’m about settling in,” Hoffman said. “I’ve been fortunate to have that comfort level here in Milwaukee from Day 1. Our focus is to try and climb back in this thing. I did say that we’re 12 out, but we have nine [games] left with St. Louis and Chicago is in the mix. We just got our starting rotation back. Hopefully, we can make a run. I’m a consummate optimist, and this is my team.”

Earlier this week, FOXSports.com reported that the Brewers had placed at least six players on waivers, a necessary step before making trades after July 31. Those players, according to the report, were Mike Cameron, Craig Counsell, Hoffman, Jason Kendall, Braden Looper and Felipe Lopez.

Cameron, Kendall, Looper and Lopez all project as “Type B” free agents who would net one compensatory Draft pick. Looper’s contract includes a mutual option for 2010 that the Brewers are likely to exercise. Counsell does not qualify for Draft compensation should he sign elsewhere next year. 

Earlier this week, Melvin expressed an unwillingness to trade away his veterans, even the Brewers have remained 10-12 games behind the first-place Cardinals in the National League Central.

“I can’t imagine that a team would give up a good player for one month, unless there is a key injury,” Melvin said Tuesday. “I don’t anticipate anything.”

Bush active, Burns to Nashville

The Brewers optioned right-hander Mike Burns to Triple-A Nashville on Thursday morning to make room for right-hander Dave Bush, who returns from the disabled list to start against the Reds.

The Brewers must win to avoid a Cincinnati sweep, and Felipe Lopez is back in the lineup after missing a start Wednesday with a right foot injury. Jody Gerut is also back for a second straight start after hitting a home run from the leadoff hole last night.

Felipe Lopez  2B
Jody Gerut  RF
Ryan Braun  LF
Prince Fielder  1B
Casey McGehee  3B
Mike Cameron  CF
Mike Rivera  RHP
Dave Bush  RHP
Alcides Escobar  SS

"Sign" of frustration in Crew clubhouse?

After a 10-inning, 4-3 loss to the Reds on Wednesday, the Brewers’ second extra-inning letdown in as many nights, there was at least one sign of frustration in the clubhouse at Miller Park.

Coaches post the next day’s schedule on a board by the door, and this time it read, “Since we haven’t performed well in day games this season, let’s try something different tomorrow.” It called for an 11:30 a.m. “mandatory team stretch” and promised that, “Attendance will be taken!!!”

The Brewers are 15-25 in day games this season. Thursday’s series finale begins just after 1 p.m. CT.

The schedule had obviously been torn down and then taped back up. One by one, players did double-takes as they passed the posting before heading home for the night.

Braden Looper, who started Wednesday and took a tough-luck no-decision, insisted that players are all still pulling in the same direction.

“We played hard today and we played hard yesterday against a really good bullpen,” Looper said, referring to the first two games against the Reds. “I haven’t seen anybody quit, and that’s a positive thing about this team. We have a bunch of guys who are grinding it out.”

The Brewers dropped to 12 games behind the first-place Cardinals in the
National League Central with Wednesday’s loss.

“We haven’t looked at the
standings for a while,” said left fielder Ryan Braun, whose misplay in the 10th inning hurt the Brewers’ cause. “There’s no reason for us to focus on anything
like that. We just focus on ourselves. I think everybody here has
enough pride and integrity that we want to come out here and perform
every day to win as many games as possible. We recognize the situation
we’re in.”

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