August 2009

Hall upbeat as Brewers tenure nears end

Here’s more of what Bill Hall had to say today after the Brewers designated their longest-tenured player for assignment:

“It’s something that just happens, nothing big. I’m happy about the time I spent here. [Last season was the first time in] 26 years we made the playoffs here, so I had a lot of good times and I appreciate everything this organization has done for me and I think it’s time a new chapter in my life. I’m excited about this chapter. Hopefully these guys can pull it together and turn things around. I’m definitely excited about the next chapter in my life.”

On his happy demeanor:  “I was happy when I came back up [from an optional assignment to Triple-A Nashville earlier this month]. This game isn’t going to break me down for the rest of my life. You go through ups and downs, everybody does, and this is one of those bumps and it happens to everybody. It’s not like I’m getting released when I’m at the end of my career when I feel like I can still play. I’m 29 years old and in the prime of my career. I’m going home to Arizona for a couple days — probably won’t be there very long from the looks and the sounds of things — and it’s not the last time you’ll see Bill Hall.”

Was he surprised by the news?  “Yeah, I was kind of shocked this morning when I woke up and got the message to call Doug [Melvin, Milwaukee’s GM]. I didn’t know what it was about and he told me and I was just waking up and I didn’t know what to think at the moment so I had to collect my thoughts, call my agent and figure everything out. Like I said, I’m just looking forward to the next chapter of my life and I appreciate everything everybody’s done [for me] in this organization and it’s going to be fun.”

On his improvement since being sent to Triple-A:  “I definitely feel like I’m getting my swing together, starting to feel the swing again. For the most part, I held my own, had great at bats — I felt like I didn’t give away any at bats — didn’t swing at bad pitches, put the ball in play for the most part and when I had pitches to hit I made good contact on them. It’s all a positive, everything’s going to be a positive. When you have so many positive things going on you don’t want to make you look back, but I’m just looking forward. All I’m doing is looking forward.”

On hitting a home run in his last game: “Yeah, at least I ended on a good note. My last game I hit a home run and that’s something that had been missing in the game in a while and, like I said, I felt that stroke again and got a good pitch to hit and hit it hard.  That’s what made it a little more surprising when I woke up this morning. I felt like I had put together some pretty good games in a row, so it’s kind of shocking but things happen and it’s time to move on.”

- Cash

No regrets for departed Castro

For the first time in nearly 18 years, the Brewers prepared for a game on Wednesday and Bill Castro wasn’t part of it.

The team dismissed Castro earlier in the day, so he spent the day fielding calls from well-wishers — including what Castro called a particularly touching call from former Brewers president Wendy Selig-Prieb — and pondering what went wrong. By the time players were trotting off the field after batting practice, Castro was out on his backyard deck with his family, tending to some chicken on the grill.

“After being there so many years, it’s different,” he said. “There’s a baseball game, and I’m not going. But you have to move on. This is a business, and I was the face of the pitching staff so I was the one to go. That’s how it works in baseball.”

Castro, who pitched 11 of his 14 professional seasons for the Brewers, then spent four years as a coach in Milwaukee’s Minor League chain, had been the Brewers bullpen coach through 17 seasons and six different managers before finally getting a promotion to pitching coach last winter. His tenure lasted only 112 games, during which Brewers pitchers ranked 27th in the Major Leagues with a 4.84 ERA while allowing a Major League-leading 151 home runs.  The staff also issued 421 walks, fifth-most in the Majors.

Injuries to Dave Bush, Seth McClung and Jeff Suppan hurt, and so did the struggles of Manny Parra and Carlos Villanueva. All were holdovers from 2008, and that familiarity was one of the reasons general manager Doug Melvin convinced incoming manager Ken Macha to give Castro a shot.

It just didn’t work out.

“I know Doug feels bad, and I feel worse,” Castro said. “They felt they needed to make a change. I don’t have any regrets. I did the best I could with what I had. The worst thing was losing Bush and Suppan because that had a domino effect.”

He would be open to remaining in the organization as an instructor, and said Melvin suggested getting lunch in the coming days. Castro expressed no regret about leaving the relative security of his bullpen post for the spotlight that accompanies a Major League pitching coach.

“I always wanted to be a big league pitching coach, and it was especially special that it happened for me in Milwaukee,” he said. “This is the only organization that I’ve known, basically. Everything I have done in baseball is thanks to the Brewers. But they had a make a change, and I was the guy.”

In the clubhouse: Player reaction

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div.Section1Brewers general manager Doug Melvin said he
“shocked” manager Ken Macha Tuesday night when he told Macha of the
changes the club was going to make Wednesday morning.

“Shocked” and “surprised” were two of
the main words going around in the Brewers clubhouse Wednesday afternoon, hours
after the Brewers relieved pitching coach Bill Castro, optioned shortstop J.J.
Hardy to Triple-A Nashville and designated Bill Hall.

Here is some reaction from the players:

First, from Hall, the longest tenured Brewer, about
leaving the only team he’s ever known: “It’s something that just happens,
nothing big. I’m happy about the time I spent here. [First time in] 26 years we
made the playoffs here, so I had a lot of good times and I appreciate
everything this organization has done for me and I think it’s time for a new
chapter in my life. I’m excited about this chapter. Hopefully these guys can
pull it together and turn things around. I’m definitely excited about the next
chapter in my life.”

Injured second baseman Rickie Weeks on losing Hall and Hardy, his
long-time double play partner: “Shocked, basically. I don’t have too many
words to say because of disappointment for everyone else. But it was just
one of those things where it’s baseball, it’s a business thing and sometimes it
sucks, plain and simple.”

Craig Counsell on how shakeups like these affect the
clubhouse: “On a personal level you feel for those guys, for sure, we all
do. But the nature of our jobs is that we have to go perform tonight and
frankly it doesn’t matter who’s here, you still have to go perform, that’s your
job. … It doesn’t change the way you go out and prepare or the way you’re
going to go out and do your job. I don’t know what effect it has [in the
clubhouse]. Obviously, Doug felt he had to do something.”

And finally, center fielder Mike Cameron, who was trying to keep the clubhouse light before batting practice, on
whether the moves will light a spark in the clubhouse: “Who knows what could
possibly come about. There are certain things that happen during the course of
the season. You saw Colorado get a spark in a change of their manager, you see
some teams get guys come up and they may provide an extra burst of energy.
There are a lot of things that take place, but the one real thing that’s going
to happen, regardless of everything’s that going on today and different things
and different situations that take place, at 7:05 [p.m.] we still have to
play.”

With that said, here are tonight’s lineups:

San Diego
Tony Gwynn CF
David Eckstein 2B
Adrian Gonzalez 1B
Chase Headley LF
Wil Venable RF
Kevin Kouzmanoff 3B
Henry Blanco C
Everth Cabrera SS
Kevin Correia RHP

Milwaukee
Felipe Lopez 2B
Craig Counsell SS
Ryan Braun LF
Prince Fielder 1B
Mike Cameron CF
Casey McGehee 3B
Frank Catalanotto RF
Jason Kendall C
Carlos Villanueva RHP

-Cash

Burned-out Hardy felt demotion coming

I just got off the phone with departing Brewers shortstop J.J. Hardy, who was optioned to Triple-A Nashville in a surprising move this morning and was looking forward to a few days away from baseball.

The Sounds are in Salt Lake City, so Hardy has until Friday to join the team back home in Nashville.

“Maybe I’ll come by to pick up my stuff tomorrow,” Hardy said. “I’m going to take today to relax a little bit.

“I think these next couple of days are going to be really nice. Just having three days off, that’s going to be exactly what I needed. Triple-A, whatever, I’ll go down there and do what I’m supposed to do, but I’m pretty excited about getting three days to rest.”

Was the roster move a surprise?

“I don’t know. I’ve kind of been feeling it,” Hardy said. “I’ve been feeling like all of the coaches have been staring at me and watching everything I do. It’s been uncomfortable. But it still surprises me a little bit. I think three days off would have been all I needed, and I’ve been going out there every single day and doing what they’ve asked me to do.”

Hardy conceded that he never approached manager Ken Macha and asked for a break.

“Who am I to tell Macha what the lineup should be and who should be playing?” Hardy said. “They’ve been putting me out there every day and I’ve been trying my hardest. It’s not like I haven’t been trying. I like to think of it as the equivalent of a golfer who is a five- or six handicap and they’re going out there for four straight months shooting in the 100s and they can’t figure it out.

“I think a golfer, after that, would take a week off and then come back and shoot in the 70s again. In baseball, you can’t do that. I think there’s different types of players. Some players, when they’re really struggling, they want to keep being out there to battle through it. Then, there are guys who feel they need a day or two off to slow things down. For me, I think that would have been nice.”

General manager Doug Melvin called Hardy on Wednesday morning with the news that he was heading back to the Minor Leagues for the first time since 2004. Hardy was installed as the Brewers’ everyday shortstop on Opening Day 2005.

He was a National League All-Star in 2007 and followed-up by batting a career-high .283 in 2008, but has slumped through most of a disappointing 2009 season. Hardy carried a sub-.200 batting average into May and was still down at .207 on June 15 before going on a relative hot streak. He batted .340 the rest of June, but since July 1 his average was .220.

Overall, Hardy is batting .229 this season with 11 home runs and 45 RBIs.

That wasn’t enough to hold off shortstop prospect Alcides Escobar, who was batting .298 with 42 stolen bases at Nashville.

“It’s a prolonged slump that’s lasted four months for me, and I haven’t
been able to slow it down,” Hardy said. “In the past, when I would have
a few bad games in a row, I would get a day off to slow the game down
and come back strong. It just hasn’t happened this year. A couple of
days off will be nice, and then I’ll go down [to the Minors] and do
what I need to do.”

Escobar wasn’t the only person headed to Milwaukee on Wednesday. The Brewers also designated Bill Hall for assignment and promoted outfielder Jason Bourgeois, and dismissed pitching coach Bill Castro and replaced him on an interim basis with Triple-A pitching coach Chris Bosio.

 

Crew shake-up: Castro, Hall out; Hardy optioned

MILWAUKEE — After his team lost for the 22nd time in 35 games on Tuesday night, Brewers general manager Doug Melvin apparently decided it was time for a shake-up. In a trio of decisive moves Wednesday morning, the team:

- Dismissed pitching coach Bill Castro, an 18-year veteran of the coaching staff who did not make it through his first season as pitching coach. Triple-A pitching coach Chris Bosio will replace Castro on an interim basis.

- Optioned slumping shortstop J.J. Hardy to Nashville and promoted co-top prospect Alcides Escobar to take his place.

- Announced that infielder/outfielder Bill Hall, the organization’s longest-tenured player, had been designated for assignment. Outfielder Jason Bourgeois was promoted from Nashville to replace Hall.

All three moves were likely difficult ones for Melvin, given Castro’s and Hall’s long service to the team and the fact Hardy is two years removed from an All-Star appearance. Melvin was to meet with reporters at 3 p.m. CT at Miller Park.

The GM did address Castro’s dismissal in a statement.

“We appreciate and admire the dedication and tireless work ethic put forth by Bill Castro over the last 18 seasons,” Melvin said.  “A move like this is never easy to make, especially given Bill’s longevity with the organization and considering how hard he worked to reach this position.”

Castro pitched in the Brewers organization from 1970-80, then returned to the club as a Minor League coach from 1988-91 before taking a job on the big league staff. He was the bullpen coach for six different managers from 1992-2008 before realizing a long-time goal and being named pitching coach on Nov. 7, 2008.

But injuries to Dave Bush and Jeff Suppan and inconsistencies throughout the staff have marred the Brewers’ 2009. After the team’s 13-6 loss to the weak-hitting Padres Tuesday night, the Brewers’ pitching staff ranked 27th in the Major Leagues with a 4.84 ERA while allowing a Major League-leading 151 home runs in 112 games.  The staff also issued 421 walks, fifth-most in the Majors.

Bosio, 46, was the Tampa Bay Rays’ pitching coach in 2003. He was in his first season as pitching coach at Triple-A Nashville, a staff that entered Wednesday tied for second in the Pacific Coast League in team ERA (4.05) while allowing the fourth-fewest home runs (83). 

The Brewers’ second-round Draft pick in 1982, Bosio pitched in the Majors for Milwaukee (1986-92) and Seattle (1993-96). He will wear No. 43 beginning Wednesday night.

Bosio’s won’t be the only new uniform number on Wednesday. Escobar (No. 21) and Bourgeois (No. 16) will replace two of the team’s most underachieving players.

Hardy, the subject of trade rumors virtually all season, was hitting a career-low .229 with 11 home runs and 45 RBI, including .220 with 13 RBIs since July 1. That wasn’t good enough to hold off Escobar, who was batting .298 with four home runs, 34 RBIs and 42 stolen bases in 109 games at Nashville.  He’s considered Milwaukee’s co-top prospect along with third baseman Mat Gamel  but already has a taste of the big leagues. Escobar was among Milwaukee’s September call-ups last year, then earned a spot on the playoff roster after second baseman Rickie Weeks suffered an injury.

Bourgeois is more unknown to Brewers coaches and fans because he missed much of Spring Training while recovering from a broken thumb. The right-handed hitting speedster batted .316 in 105 games at Nashville with 36 steals. He appeared in six games with the White Sox last season.

He replaces Hall, who remains stuck in a three-year slump and briefly was optioned to Nashville last month. Hall was quickly called back after Corey Hart underwent an appendectomy, and Hall went 3-for-15 in four games since his return including a start on Tuesday night in which he hit a two-run home run. Overall this season, Hall was hitting .201 with six homers and 24 RBIs.

The team has 10 days to trade Hall, release him or assign him outright to the Minors, an assignment Hall could refuse. For the first time since 2002, he is no longer on Milwaukee’s 40-man roster.

The team stands to take a major financial hit because Hall is making $6.8 million this season and is due $8.4 million in 2010 as part of the four-year, $24 million contract he signed after belting 35 home runs in 2006. The deal also includes a $500,000 buyout of a $9.25 club option for 2011.
 

Is Lopez playing hurt?

Brewers manager Ken Macha seemed a bit baffled by the two ground balls that eluded second baseman Felipe Lopez in Tuesday’s 13-6 loss to the Padres at Miller Park, and Lopez, who has otherwise been excellent since a trade from Arizona to Milwaukee last month, didn’t provide any clarity. Asked by a reporter whether he would answer a question, Lopez simply pointed toward the clubhouse dining room and then walked that way. A team spokesman followed, but Lopez declined to talk to reporters.

So what happened? Is Lopez, who has had hamstring issues this year, playing hurt? Or did he just have a bad night?

Macha wasn’t sure, but said Lopez appeared “disturbed” when he couldn’t get to an Adrian Gonzalez hit in the fifth inning with the teams were tied at 2. Lopez broke to his right and was only a step away from the ball when it bounced past him into center field.

“The fans kind of reacted to that,” Macha said. “I think he was a little disturbed he didn’t get that, either. … I didn’t ask him. He appeared to be disturbed when the ball went through to center field. Maybe he didn’t think he had a chance for it, and then when he got closer to it, he laid up a little bit and realized he did have a chance for it.”

Lopez broke to his left in the first inning for a Chase Headley hit that got through. He didn’t attempt to dive for that hit, either.

Lopez has battled injuries to both hamstrings this season. Are they the issue?

“Not that I’m aware of,” Macha said.

Colome dodges a bullet: Just a bruise

Right-handed reliever Jesus Colome left his Brewers home debut on Tuesday night after he was struck on the pitching hand by a line drive, but x-rays revealed no broken bones.

Colome was diagnosed with a bruised pinkie finger, and he will be evaluated before the Brewers and Padres continue their series on Wednesday night.

“He got hit on the back of the hand, and they just think it’s a bruise,” Brewers manager Ken Macha said.

Colome was in his second inning of work when Everth Cabrera’s RBI hit glanced off Colome’s right hand and deflected into center field for the Padres 20th hit of the game. Colome left the field immediately with head athletic trainer Roger Caplinger.

The hard-throwing Colome was making his second appearance for the Brewers since a Friday promotion from Triple-A Nashville. He was replaced by another bullpen newcomer, David Weathers, who was acquired from Cincinnati on Saturday. Weathers also pitched for the Brewers from 1998-2001.

Colome was one of six Brewers pitchers employed by Macha in Milwaukee’s 13-6 loss, leaving only two completely fresh arms — Mike Burns, who is penciled-in to start on Saturday, and closer Trevor Hoffman — for Wednesday. But Claudio Vargas needed only three pitches to record an out in the sixth inning, and Todd Coffey threw only two pitches while recording the final out in the ninth.
  

Brewers coming up empty in starter search

Since July 31, the Brewers have added three new bullpen arms in Claudio Vargas, Jesus Colome and David Weathers. But general manager Doug Melvin would really like to add a starter, and he’s coming up empty.

Melvin continued to work the phones on Tuesday, when the Brewers returned from a losing road trip 6 1/2 games behind the first-place Cardinals in the National League Central but just one game under .500. Dave Bush (triceps) and Jeff Suppan (oblique) each threw before Tuesday’s game but remain on the disabled list. 

Asked if he felt he had a chance to add another starter, Melvin said, “My gut feeling is probably not. There’s none that are necessarily available.”

Asked whether any pitchers of interest to the Brewers had cleared
waivers in recent days, Melvin responded vaguely, “Not anyone I want to
talk about.”

He was willing to talk about a handful of names that have churned through the rumor mill. John Smoltz is reportedly available after clearing waivers, but Melvin said the Brewers aren’t interested. They are wary of the negative reports about Vicente Padilla’s relationship with his former Rangers teammates that followed his departure from Texas. Reds right-handers Bronson Arroyo and Aaron Harang come with high salaries.

Injuries are the issue with other potantially-available arms. A’s right-hander Justin Duchscherer has a long medical history, perhaps too long for Milwaukee’s taste. Melvin talked to Greg Clifton, the agent for rehabbing left-hander Mark Mulder, about a month ago, and was told that Mulder was getting close to game shape. Similar reports emerged this week, but Melvin has yet to hear back from Clifton.

Melvin has not heard a word from Casey Close, the agent for right-hander Ben Sheets, who is working back from elbow surgery, and wondered whether Close’s silence is a sign that Sheets will not pitch in 2009.

“I think he would call clubs if [Sheets] were going to pitch, wouldn’t he?” Melvin wondered.

Even if Sheets or Mulder were available, Melvin would have to weigh his interest.

“It’s hard to put your eggs in the basket of a guy who hasn’t pitched,” Melvin said. “It didn’t work for Smoltz. It didn’t work for [Tom] Glavine. Guys that haven’t pitched in a year or two, you never know.”

If he’s unable to make any more deals, Melvin and the Brewers would have to count on Bush and/or Suppan contributing.

“If there’s nobody that’s available in a trade, you wait it out,” Melvin said. “If you were able to get somebody, you would have to decide about keeping [Bush and Suppan] on the DL until September because you have roster limitations. …

“If we could find a starting pitcher, we would consider it. They’re not out there. That’s why we went with the reliever route.”

Brewers begin homestand behind Looper

The Brewers are home for the first time since July 30, and time is running out to make a move. They are three games into a stretch of  22 games in a row against sub-.500 teams, and tonight begins a separate stretch in which they play 18 of 28 games at Miller Park.

Bill Hall is in right field tonight against the Padres lefty.

SAN DIEGO
Everth Cabrera SS
David Eckstein 2B
Adrian Gonzalez 1B
Chase Headley LF
Kevin Kouzmanoff 3B
Will Venable CF
Kyle Blanks RF
Henry Blanco C
Clayton Richard LHP

MILWAUKEE
Felipe Lopez 2B
Mike Cameron CF
Ryan Braun LF
Prince Fielder 1B
Casey McGehee 3B
Bill Hall RF
J.J. Hardy SS
Jason Kendall C
Braden Looper RHP

Weathers to join Brewers tonight; Smith optioned

David Weathers will be in uniform No. 20 tonight, when the Brewers begin a three-game series against the Padres at Miller Park. It will be his third number with the Brewers; Weathers wore Nos. 27 and 49 during his first stint with the team from 1998-2001. He wore No. 25 with the Reds, but center fielder Mike Cameron owns that one in Milwaukee.

To clear a 25-man roster spot, the team optioned right-hander Chris Smith back to Nashville. Smith posted a 3.63 ERA mostly in lopsided games (the Brewers were 2-21 when he pitched) but Weathers is more likely to be used in tight situations.

Weathers has a 3.32 ERA this season in 43 appearances with the Reds. He has a 2.50 ERA in 48 career appearances at Miller Park.

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