September 2009

Agent: Jeffress "in tremendous spirits"

Suspended Brewers pitching prospect Jeremy Jeffress celebrated his 22nd birthday Monday with his agent, Josh Kusnick, amid a 100-game suspension. Kusnick posted an update about Jeffress on his Twitter account, @39ontheline.

with Jeremy Jeffress for his Bday,” Kusnick wrote. “All is very well and he is in
tremendous spirits. Thanks to all for the support. 2010 will be big.”

If my count was correct when Jeffress was suspended in June, his suspension for a drug of abuse will cover the first 34 games of next season. The Brewers will have to add Jeffress to the 40-man roster following the 2010 campaign or expose him to the Rule 5 Draft.

Because of that roster consideration, had Jeffress not been suspended he could have been a strong candidate for a September call-up next year. The flamethrowing right-hander, Milwaukee’s first-round Draft pick in 2006, began the 2009 season two steps away at Double-A Huntsville before a demotion to Class A Brevard County, where he was pitching well when the suspension came down. Assuming he would have made it back to Huntsville by the end of this year, he might have started there again in 2010 and been promoted at some point to Triple-A Nashville, one step away from the Majors.

Now, after missing nearly a year, Jeffress might have to start over at a low-level affiliate and work his way up. With one more suspension, he would face a lifetime ban from baseball.

UPDATE — Talked with Josh yesterday afternoon, and he said Jeffress’ sister will be with him next year in Spring Training. I’m sure the family support will be helpful for a young man trying to get back on track.

It's official: Brewers are out

No one in a Brewers uniform had seriously discussed the postseason since the team’s trip to Pittsburgh from Aug. 17-19, when pitchers Yovani Gallardo and Carlos Villanueva said separately that the team still had a chance. The Brewers were nine games back in the National League Central entering that series, but all they needed was a history-making hot streak, like the Rockies put together in 2007 to charge into the postseason and ultimately to the World Series. 

Instead, the Pirates swept, and the fate that had loomed over the Brewers for weeks finally became reality late Tuesday night. Milwaukee won’t be repeating as a playoff team. 

The Brewers were officially eliminated about 90 minutes after their 7-2 loss to the Cubs at Miller Park, when the Rockies endured a four-run Padres ninth inning but closed out an 11-10 win in Denver. It left the Brewers 12 games back in the NL Wild Card race with only 11 games to play. 

“It’s a letdown, just because [last year] was so much fun,” said first baseman Prince Fielder, who is having one of the best seasons in Brewers history but would trade it for another postseason ticket. “It’s a good experience to feel what that feels like. It makes you, every year, want to go out and play hard.” 

Now they’ll be relegated to spoilers over the last days of the season. After finishing their series against the Cubs on Wednesday, the Brewers face a trio of contenders in the Phillies, Rockies and Cardinals to end the season. The Cardinals will likely have clinched the NL Central long before the Brewers get to St. Louis. 

“It’s unfortunate,” Fielder said. “All we can do is play the last games and see what happens. If we’re out of it, that’s fine, but we get paid to play hard. We’re going to do that, regardless.” 

The Brewers reported to Spring Training on the heels of their best season since losing Game 7 of the 1982 World Series. Bolstered down the stretch by sensational starter CC Sabathia, the Brewers won the NL Wild Card on the final day of the regular season before falling to the eventual World Champion Phillies in the Division Series. 

It was a significant step forward for the Brewers, especially since they returned all eight of their positional starters for 2009 and four of their five starting pitchers including Yovani Gallardo, who had missed almost all of 2008 with a knee injury.

Yet most of the focus was on two pitchers who left via free agency. The Brewers made an offer to Sabathia that would have more than doubled the richest contract in franchise history, but he instead took an even richer megadeal from the Yankees. Ben Sheets, the longest-tenured Brewer, was poised to sign with the Rangers when he failed a physical and needed surgery that would cost him the entire year.

Still, the Brewers thought they had enough, and as late as July 4 they led the NL Central. But midseason injuries to Dave Bush (triceps) and Jeff Suppan (rib cage) taxed the team’s pitching depth and sent them on a downward spiral. 

“We were depleted in the pitching for two months,” said first-year Brewers manager Ken Macha. “That kind of pushes you out of there.”
ap-cubs-brewers-baseballa(3).jpgBush, the pitcher of record in the Brewers’ only NLDS win last year, took the loss in Tuesday’s elimination game. He was tagged for five earned runs in 1 1/3 innings in his shortest start this year.

“I can obviously speak for myself and for the team as a whole, it’s been disappointing,” Bush said. “We had hoped to be better this year. You don’t always know why it happens, but everybody in this room came into Spring Training confident that we had the team to be more successful than we’ve been.” 

It came down to the pitching. 

“Yeah,” Bush shrugged. “We definitely haven’t pitched as well as we wanted to. I remember saying back in the spring that instead of trying to make up for the guys that we lost, we all had to try to do a little bit better. No one in particular was going to have to be incredible. 

“It’s happened at times, but over the course of the season, speaking in particular for myself, it hasn’t been nearly as consistent as we need it to be. We started off well, and had some good stretches here and there, but we didn’t have nearly a good enough season.” 

The offense couldn’t overcome the team’s deficient pitching, and down years for shortstop J.J. Hardy and outfielder Corey Hart didn’t help. The bright spot has been Fielder, who belted his 41st home run on Tuesday and was tied with the Cardinals’ Albert Pujols for the NL RBI title. 

Fielder has already set franchise records for RBIs and walks, but he would rather be winning. 

“It’s all about winning,” Fielder said. “We’ll try as a team to figure out how we can get back to where we were. We have to finish the season strong and try to win as many games as we can. By the time the season’s over, we can at least go home with a good taste in our mouths.”

Healthy Parra to start on Friday

Manny Parra is healthy again, and he’s returning to the Brewers’ starting rotation.

Parra, who hasn’t pitched since exiting a Sept. 8 outing against the Cardinals after one inning because of a stiff neck, is slated to start Friday against the Phillies. The left-hander will take the spot vacated by Yovani Gallardo, who was shut down by the Brewers as a precaution against overwork.

“I’m excited,” Parra said. “It’s not so much relief, because I knew [the neck] was going to get better, although for a minute there I didn’t know how long it was going to take. I almost feel re-energized. I feel real fresh, and hopefully I’ll finish strong.”

Assuming he gets through Friday’s game without a setback, Parra would be in line for one more start on Sept. 30 or Oct. 1 in Colorado, depending on how manager Ken Macha chooses to use Monday’s off day.

Parra is 10-10 this season despite a 6.42 ERA, the highest ERA in the National League for a pitcher with at least 80 innings of work. His season included a three-week demotion to Triple-A Nashville.

“I want to finish off strong because I know I’m better than I’ve pitched this year,” Parra said.

First, he had to get healthy. Parra didn’t think he would miss his next start after exiting early against the Cardinals, but fellow left-hander Chris Narveson will make a third start in Parra’s place on Wednesday against the Cubs. When Parra’s neck stiffness didn’t subside, the Brewers sent him home from a road trip last week for an MRI scan seeking answers.

It didn’t reveal any, but Parra noticed dramatic improvement beginning Friday, when the Brewers returned to Miller Park for their final homestand. By Tuesday, when Parra threw his final side session in preparation for his start against the Phillies, he was “100 percent healthy.” He even took batting practice with the rest of the starters.

“It’s completely out of my mind,” he said.

Will two starts be enough for Parra to feel good entering the offseason?

“I hope so,” Macha said. “I’m just glad that he’s able to come back to pitch.”

Parra’s status may prompt the Brewers to send righty prospect Josh Butler home early. Butler made his Major League debut in relief on Tuesday night and was a candidate to take Gallardo’s spot in the rotation, but instead he may depart when the Brewers finish their homestand on Sunday. That would give Butler a healthy break before he reports for duty in the Arizona Fall League.

Brewers general manager Doug Melvin said he would make sure Parra made it through Friday’s outing before making a decision about Butler. 

Brewers face formal elimination

It could be the official end of the road tonight for the Brewers, who would be officially eliminated from postseason contention with a loss to the Cubs plus a Rockies win over the Padres in Denver. Of course, the Brewers haven’t had serious postseason aspirations for some time. The last time I can remember anyone mentioning the playoffs was Aug. 19 in Pittsburgh, when both Carlos Villanueva and Yovani Gallardo said the team might have a chance if they got hot like the Rockies did at the end of 2007.

Casey McGehee gets the night off and, as promised, Jody Gerut is in right field against Randy Wells. Gerut hit a grand slam off Wells last week in Chicago.

Felipe Lopez  2B
Craig Counsell  3B
Ryan Braun  LF
Prince Fielder  1B
Mike Cameron  CF
Jody Gerut  RF
Jason Kendall  C
Alcides Escobar  SS
Dave Bush RHP

Melvin sounds off on September call-ups

Brewers GM Doug Melvin is about as mild-mannered as they come, except for two subjects: The First-Year Player Draft and expanded September rosters. Our fine Braves beat writer, Mark Bowman, wrote about the latter subject today and gave Melvin an opportunity to state his case.

It’s an interesting topic, and one that doesn’t get a lot of discussion because the focus is on pennant races. Melvin has some ideas to fix what he views as competitive imbalances. The Brewers, for the record, have 16 pitchers and 16 hitters on the active roster, though that includes a few extra arms to insure Yovani Gallardo, who has been shut down for the season, and Manny Parra, whose status remains in limbo because of a stiff neck.

Check out Mark’s story when you have a moment this evening and let me know what you think.

Bullpen tries to stay hot as Crew, Cubs meet again

Brewers relievers have a 0.52 ERA (one earned run in 17 1/3 innings) in the team’s five-game winning streak, and will look to make it six wins in a row as the Cubs come to town for a rematch of last week’s series at Wrigley Field. The Brewers need to sweep the three-game set to win the season series, which they currently trail, 8-6.

Here’s the lineup for Monda’s opener:

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

Gallardo anxious for "ace" role in 2010

After a fine finale to his 2009 season, Yovani Gallardo said he was looking forward to serving as the Brewers’ bona fide ace next season.

“I’ll be able to accept that role,” he said after pitching five innings of Milwaukee’s 6-0 win over the Astros on Sunday. “I go out there and give my team all I’ve got every start and I feel I
have that kind of stuff. Obviously, there’s little things I
need to work on, which will only make me better. To be in a role like
that at my age, it shows what the organization thinks of me.”

After a disappointing at Wrigley Field last week the Brewers granted him one more limited start, a move to protect the 23-year-old from a huge spike in workload this year. He delivered a quality finale, tossing five scoreless innings with seven strikeouts, becoming the fourth pitcher in Brewers history to pass the 200-strikeout barrier.

Gallardo finished 13-12 with a 3.73 ERA in 30 starts and 185 2/3 innings.

“Going out there, I knew it was the last start and I was going to go at the most five innings,” Gallardo said. “It’s tough, but to end on a good note is always good. We got a win and I finished the year strong.”

Gallardo caught Astros pitcher Felipe Paulino looking at a fastball in the second inning for his third strikeout of the game and his 200th of the season. He struck out Michael Bourn for the second time to end the inning, and a sleepy crowd of 30,024 acknowledged Gallardo’s achievement when it appeared on the scoreboard. 

He finished the season with 204 strikeouts to join Ben Sheets (who set a franchise record with 264 strikeouts in 2004), Teddy Higuera (who notched a pair of 200-strikeout seasons) and Doug Davis as the only pitchers in club history to break 200. 

“It’s important to me,” Gallardo said. “I’m sure every guy in here has goals, whether that’s hitting .300 or getting 20 wins or 200 strikeouts. With not being able to pitch last year, being able to achieve [the strikeout milestone] is a big jump for me. Getting numbers like that, it helps you be more confident and prepared for next year.” 

Gallardo will remain with the team for the rest of the year to throw side sessions. Presumably, he’ll make his next “real” start for the Brewers when they open the 2010 season at home against Colorado. 

Brewers manager Ken Macha didn’t think Gallardo was ready for the Opening Day honor earlier this year. Now, he thinks he’s ready for that step. 

“He’s done some very good things,” Macha said. “But there are some things that need to get worked out with him if he’s going to reach the potential that he does have. The stuff is there — he’s got No. 1 starter stuff — but the command is not always there, he struggles with his release point and he’s leading the league in walks.

“So there are things that can be ironed out. When your No. 1 starter walks out of that bullpen it’s kind of like guys take the rest of the day off. [Gallardo] is not there yet, but after missing almost all of last year, he’s thrown the ball very well.”

Cameron, Kendall, Lopez all sit

The Brewers will go for a sweep of the Astros today behind Yovani Gallardo, who said he expects to throw 75-80 pitches in his final 2009 start.

Craig Counsell  2B
Corey Hart  RF
Ryan Braun  LF
Prince Fielder  1B
Casey McGehee  3B
Jody Gerut  CF
Mike Rivera C
Alcides Escobar  SS
Yoavni Gallardo  RHP

Fielder sets Brewers' RBI mark

ap-astros-brewers-baseball(7).jpgPrince Fielder is the Brewers’ new king of run production. 

He was denied in the first inning on Saturday and again in the seventh, but not in the eighth, when Fielder lifted a sacrifice fly off Astros closer Jose Valverde to break Cecil Cooper’s 26-year-old franchise record for RBIs. Cooper drove in 126 runs in 1983; Fielder drove in No. 127 with 14 games left to play. 

“It’s about time,” said Fielder, who had been tied with Cooper since Sunday, six days earlier. “I’ve had so many opportunities over the past week and I haven’t been able to get the job done. I finally was able to come through.”

Fielder’s RBI put the finishing touches on the Brewers’ 7-2 win over the Astros and snapped his five-game drought without an RBI. It was his longest spell all season, and he’s started all 148 of Milwaukee’s games.

Cooper had a front-row seat for the record-breaking RBI. He’s now the Astros’ manager. 

“It’s a cool achievement, just to be lumped with a guy like ‘Coop,'” Fielder said. “He’s a great player, and this organization has had a lot of great players.” 

Said Cooper: “My congratulations to him on it, but I’m thinking more about wins and losses right now.” 

Fielder nearly broke the record an inning earlier, when he singled up the middle with runners at first and second base. But Jody Gerut got a late break from second and was held by third base coach Brad Fischer. When Fielder saw the stop sign go up, he hopped near first base in frustration. 

An inning later, he broke through. Felipe Lopez held at third on Ryan Braun’s single despite Fischer waving him home, and Fielder followed with a long fly ball to center field. After Lopez scored, Fielder answered a curtain call from the fans in the stands. 

When you consider that Fielder entered the day batting .299 with 39 home runs, the slugging first baseman is having one of the finest seasons in franchise history. Fielder entered the night with an on-base plus slugging percentage (OPS) of 1.003, and only twice has a Brewer logged enough at-bats to qualify for the batting title and finished a season with an OPS above 1.000. 

Fielder did it in 2007, when he set a franchise record with 50 home runs and finished with an OPS of 1.013, good for third in National League MVP balloting. Paul Molitor posted a 1.003 OPS in 1987, when he finished second in the American League with a career-best .353 batting average and led the league with 41 doubles. Molitor ran fifth in the American League MVP race that year. 

Cooper’s 1983 season must also be on the list. He tied Boston’s Jim Rice that year for the AL RBI crown while batting .307 with 30 home runs and 37 doubles. It was an especially-remarkable season considering that Cooper essentially matched his numbers from a fabulous 1982, when he hit .312 with 30 homers, 38 doubles and 121 RBIs. 

Tough lesson for prospect Gindl

e5KvMwip.jpgOutfielder Logan Schafer and right-hander Amaury Rivas were all smiles
on Saturday when they visited Miller Park to be honored as Milwaukee’s
Minor League player and pitcher of the year. The duo enjoyed a much
happier end to the season than one of their Class A Brevard County

Brewers farm director Reid Nichols said Saturday
that Caleb Gindl, an outstanding outfield prospect who missed the
Florida State League playoffs because of a broken right hand, was not injured
during his first at-bat of the regular-season finale but just after it.
Gindl grounded into a double play and then punched a door leading to
the clubhouse, suffering a non-displaced fracture.

The good news was that he led with his
non-throwing hand. The very bad news was that Gindl was placed on the
disabled list and missed the Manatees’ first-round playoff series
against Tampa.

“He said he didn’t hit it hard, but it was
enough,” Nichols said. “He was really embarrassed about it. That team
was such a cohesive unit and they supported each other so much that he
felt really bad about it.”

Gindl was upset, Nichols said,
because he needed at least two hits in the game to bat .280 for the season, a
personal goal. The outburst, Nichols said, was out of character.

not a hot-head,” Nichols said. “I told him that we don’t want him to
change the fact that he’s setting goals; we want him to have high
ideals. What’s important is how you deal with failing when you don’t
meet those goals. He knows it.”

Even though he finished below
.280 — the double-play left him with a .277 average — Gindl had a
great season. He hit 17 home runs in an extremely pitcher-friendly
park, second in the league, tied for second in the league with an .822
OPS and tied for fifth with 71 RBIs. He also stole 18 bases.
Brewers picked Gindl in the fifth round of the 2007 Draft. He was rated
the Brewers’ 11th-best prospect in the most recent installment of the
excellent’s Power 50.