September 2009

Brewers try to get on the board

The Brewers’ lineup is already up ahead of Game 3 of a four-game series between Interstate 94 rivals. The Cubs have taken each of the first two games.

Here’s how the Brewers will attack Cubs righty Rich Harden tonight:

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

Macha on his contract: "Not worried about it"

337147_manager.jpgBrewers manager Ken Macha knew the questions about his job security were coming, and he answered them Tuesday with the same calm expression he’s worn on the bench throughout the team’s disappointing season.

Macha insisted that he’s not worried that he’s only under contract through next season, and called his first year working with Milwaukee’s tight-knit core of players, “a growing experience.” 

“I’m not worried about it at all,” Macha said of his contract situation. “My third year [as A’s manager, in 2005] I went a whole season without another year on the other end. At one point, we were 15 games under .500 that year. … 

“I’ve got a contract for next season. That’s the way I look at it.”

Brewers general manager Doug Melvin has said only that Macha, and the rest of the staff, will be evaluated after the season. 

Macha spoke before the second of four games at Wrigley Field against the Cubs, a matchup of underperforming clubs that continues Wednesday night. Both teams find themselves looking up at the St. Louis Cardinals, who bolstered their offense with the midseason addition of Matt Holliday and then ran away with the National League Central. 

For Macha, it’s meant his first non-contending September in 13 years as a manager or bench coach. Eight of those years were in Oakland, including four as skipper in which the A’s averaged 92 wins and twice went to the postseason. 

“I’ve got a little different animal here than I did in Oakland,” Macha said. “In Oakland, I had been there four years [before moving to the manager’s seat] so all of the players kind of knew what to expect from me. This has been a little bit of a growing experience here as far as the relationship with the players.”

There have been trying moments on and off the field. On it, the Brewers lost leadoff man Rickie Weeks in early May just as it seemed he was finally tapping into his long-awaited potential. The Brewers’ starting rotation floundered after Dave Bush and then Jeff Suppan made extended trips to the disabled list, forcing the Brewers to dip to the bullpen and the Minor Leagues for help.

Off the field, Macha said he has tried to keep open lines of communication with players. That has presented its own challenges. 

“I think on any club you have one-third of [players] who really enjoy playing for you, another third just out there playing and then you’ve got another third that’s probably disappointed with playing time or how they’re being used or pitched or whatever,” Macha said. “That’s just how it is. This is professional baseball. They’re getting paid a lot of money to go out and perform, regardless of liking somebody or not liking somebody.”

Meanwhile, a manager who is new to an organization, “has a lot of learning to do as far as personalities. I’m still learning. These guys are a fairly tight-knit group. The players have come up together and everything and they’re used to their structure. Sometimes their structure is not exactly the structure that I’d use.”

Case in point: The running game. Players have grumbled openly to reporters about Macha putting the brakes on stolen base attempts this season, and Macha in turn has pointed out the instances in which runners have given away key outs. During the Brewers’ three-game series in Pittsburgh, for example, the Brewers made outs on the bases in the first inning of each game with Prince Fielder due to hit. The Brewers were swept by the Pirates.

When Macha installed a team-wide stop sign for the opener of a series in Washington, Fielder clubbed a first-inning home run. 

“It’s a growing thing,” Macha said. “I get to the stadium early. Today, I was here at 12:30 [for a 7 p.m. CT game]. The door is wide open. Anybody can come in. I’ve had one player in there about seven times this year.”
Macha did not name the player, but it’s clear that he has had a number of one-on-one talks with All-Star left fielder Ryan Braun. Braun was perturbed on Monday in Chicago and last week in Milwaukee when Macha left him out of the starting lineup. 

Fielder took advantage of the open door policy on July 18, when Braun was out of the lineup for a game against the Reds. Macha posted a lineup with Fielder in the three-hole, and Fielder told the skipper he would rather remain hitting cleanup. Macha agreed to make the change. 

“I want them to tell me what’s going on with them. I’m there to help them,” Macha said. “The last time I had a player in there, I explained to him that the coaching staff and the manager were all on your side. We want nothing but you guys to become excellent players and improve every day. We’re here to help you. …
“There’s always going to be some guys that don’t like the way you do it.” 

Macha told a story from the early years of his coaching career, in Montreal under onetime Brewers manager Buck Rodgers. The Expos had a disappointing season and Macha was surprised that Rodgers never closed the clubhouse doors for a good old fashioned rant. 

When he asked about it after the season, Rodgers explained that he would yell and scream over lack of effort, but not lack of results. The Expos were playing hard, Rodgers said, and that’s all he could ask for. 

“That’s a man right there, who can do that,” Macha said. “The losses ultimately come back to me.”

Parra to have MRI, all but ruled out for Friday

Brewers left-hander Manny Parra will undergo an MRI scan in Milwaukee on Wednesday morning, continuing the search for answers about his stiff neck. He’s extremely unlikely to make his scheduled start against the Astros on Friday, and club officials have righty Mike Burns on standby in the event they decide to end Parra’s season by placing him on the disabled list.

“I’ll wait until after I see [the doctor] to think about any of that,” Parra said. “My arm feels good and my body feels good other than the neck. … It’s stupid. I wake up every morning wondering, ‘Why the heck am I not pitching?'”

Parra woke up with a stiff neck on Sept. 8 but didn’t think much of it until the discomfort forced him out of his start against the Cardinals after one inning. Chris Narveson started in Parra’s place on Sunday in Arizona, and either Narveson or newly-promoted Josh Butler will start if Parra is indeed unable to pitch on Friday.

Dr. William Raasch, the Brewers’ head physician, will examine Parra on Wednesday. Parra has already seen three doctors for his condition and none have provided definitive answers.

“I feel like there’s small progress being made, but at the same time we expected more,” Parra said.

Braun, Gallardo back in action

Ryan Braun is back in the lineup after getting most of Monday off and Yovani Gallardo is back in the rotation after seeing his last turn skipped. It’s a move to protect Gallardo from a sudden spike in workload this season after he missed most if 2008 with a knee injury suffered right here at Wrigley Field.

It was calm on Chicago’s North Side last night, but at least for now the wind is blowing in from left field at quite a clip. Gallardo probably hopes it stays that way.

Felipe Lopez  2B
Corey Hart  RF
Ryan Braun  LF
Prince Fielder  1B
Casey McGehee  3B
Mike Cameron  CF
Jason Kendall  C
Alcides Escobar  SS
Yovani Gallardo  RHP

Brewers open '10 at home, then open Wrigley

V2A6rfeH.jpgFor the first time since 2007, the Brewers will get to open their season in front of the home fans.
Milwaukee will begin next season with a six-game homestand against the Rockies and Cardinals, according to the schedule released by Major League Baseball on Tuesday. Opening Day is Monday, April 5, at Miller Park. The first regular season pitch is scheduled for 1:10 p.m. CT.
The schedule for all 30 teams was unveiled en masse for the second straight year, and Brewers highlights include a trio of home series against the cross-border Cubs, plus Interleague series at Miller Park against the Rangers and Mariners, in addition to the usual matchup against the Twins. Milwaukee will also host the Tigers for a pair of preseason exhibition games, on Friday, April 2 at 7:10 p.m. CT and on Saturday, April 3 at 1:10 p.m.
On the road, the Brewers’ Interleague slate features games at Minnesota from May 21-23 and at the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim from June 15-17.
The Brewers will host the Cubs three times, from April 23-25, June 8-10 and Sept. 10-12. They travel to Wrigley Field just twice, from April 12-15  for the season-opening series at Wrigley Field, plus Aug. 2-4.
Six of those home contests against the Cubs are subject to “marquee game” pricing. The Brewers announced that the slate of marquee games includes Opening Day, plus June 8-10 and Sept. 10-12 against the Cubs and June 22-24 against the Twins.
The team is moving the start of home games five minutes, to 10 minutes after the hour, to accommodate additional radio and television advertising. That means weekday night games will begin at 7:10 p.m. CT while weekday day games will start at 12:10 p.m. in April and May — excluding Opening Day — and 1:10 p.m. in June, July, August and September.  Saturday games will start at 6:10 p.m.  All Sunday home games are scheduled to start at 1:10 p.m.
The Brewers face several long road trips, including one stretch in April and May in which they play 19 of 25 games away from Miller Park. It starts with a nine-game, 11-day junket to Chicago, Washington and Pittsburgh from April 12-22. After a homestand against the Cubs and Pirates, the Brewers head back on the road for a nine-game, 10-day trip to San Diego, Los Angeles and Arizona from April 29-May 9.
May also includes a hectic trip through Cincinnati, Pittsburgh and Minnesota in which the team plays seven games in seven days.
For a quirky week, try the span from Aug. 16-23, when the Brewers have three off-days in the span of eight days. They don’t play on either end of a two-game series in St. Louis on Aug. 17-18, then return to host the Padres for a weekend series from Aug. 20-22 before another day off.
For the second straight year, the Brewers will finish the season on the road. This time, it’s a four-game series in New York against the Mets from Sept. 27-30 followed by the regular-season finale in Cincinnati from Oct. 1-3.
Information about Miller Park ticket prices and availability of season plans and individual tickets will be announced at a later date. Typically, the Brewers begin selling tickets to individual games in February.

Butler replaces injured DiFelice

Mark DiFelice may avoid another shoulder surgery, but he couldn’t avoid a season-ending trip to the disabled list.

The team placed DiFelice on the 60-day DL with the strained right shoulder he suffered on Sunday in Arizona and purchased the contract of another right-hander, Josh Butler, a bright spot in the Brewers’ thin stable of pitching prospects.

Butler, 24, would have been added to the 40-man roster this winter, anyway, because the Brewers would not have risked exposing him to the Rule 5 Draft. Now he’ll get a brief taste of the big leagues before reporting next month to the Arizona Fall League.

In 24 games this season for three Milwaukee afiliates, including 23 starts, Butler was 9-3 with a 2.97 ERA. He missed about a month in the middle of the season with a rib-cage injury but was at his best for Double-A Huntsville, where the 6-foot-5 Californian went 2-1 with a 2.85 ERA and 33 strikeouts versus 13 walks in eight starts.

The Brewers acquired Butler last April in a trade that sent outfield Gabe Gross to the Rays. He will wear No. 62 beginning Tuesday night, when the Brewers and Cubs continue a four-game series. 

DiFelice meanwhile, is done for the year after posting a 3.66 ERA in 59 games. He tweaked his surgically-repaired shoulder on a Ball 4 offering to D-backs pitcher Max Scherzer on Sunday and worried that he had re-torn his labrum, an injury that sent DiFelice to the surgeon’s table following the 2001 season and might have been career-threatening had he suffered it again. An MRI scan on Monday in Milwaukee revealed only “wear and tear,” DiFelice said Monday at Wrigley Field.

With less than three weeks left in the season, Brewers officials apparently determined that DiFelice would not have enough time to return.

Encouraging MRI for DiFelice

Brewers reliever Mark DiFelice appears to have dodged a major bullet on Monday, when he traveled back to Milwaukee for an MRI scan that revealed only wear and tear in his aching right shoulder.

That qualified as good news for DiFelice, who underwent major surgery following the 2001 season to repair a SLAP tear to the labrum in his shoulder and needed 2 1/2 years to feel 100 percent healthy again. DiFelice worried that he might have suffered a similar injury again on Sunday, when he felt pain in the joint and left the Brewers’ game in Arizona. 

Instead, DiFelice will be shut down for at least four days before he’s evaluated again. Brewers manager Ken Macha said he might have further information about the plan for DiFelice on Tuesday, but surgery doesn’t appear to be looming. 

“It doesn’t look like it’s anything too serious,” DiFelice said. 

The timing of the injury is troubling because the Brewers have just three weeks left in their season. DiFelice felt discomfort on his 10th and final pitch in the fourth inning on Sunday on a Ball 4 offering to D-backs pitcher Max Scherzer. After a mound visit from assistant athletic trainer Dan Wright, DiFelice was pulled from the game.

Fellow reliever Chris Smith escaped the inning to avoid further damage to DiFelice’s steadily-climbing ERA. He was one of the Brewers’ most reliable bullpen arms with a 1.64 ERA entering a July 26 outing against the Braves, but in 20 appearances since then he has a 9.45 ERA. 

The shoulder, he said, hasn’t been the issue. 

“After the surgery I’ve had good days and bad days, but over the last four years it’s been absolutely perfect. [Sunday night], I just tweaked it,” DiFelice said. “I think anybody can do that. The worst thing is when something happens at the end of the season. That’s annoying.”

Wth DiFelice out, the Brewers have eight pitchers in the bullpen plus left-hander Chris Narveson, who started on Sunday in place of Manny Parra. Narveson could be called upon to start again Friday if Parra’s stiff neck does not improve.

Again, 'just a day off' for Braun

Mark it down as another mysterious off-day for Brewers slugger Ryan Braun. 

Coming off a 4-for-14 series in Arizona in which he became the sixth player in history to hit 100 homers in his first three seasons, Braun was out of the lineup for Monday’s series opener at Wrigley Field. It was Braun’s third day off in eight days, counting the team’s open date on Thursday, but neither Braun nor manager Ken Macha offered much in the way of explanation.

“Just a day off,” Macha insisted. 

“Not playing,” Braun said. “That’s all I’ve got.”

And that’s all he would say, until he passed through the clubhouse a few minutes later. 

“I don’t mean to be a jerk. I just don’t know what to say,” Braun said, throwing his hands in the air. “Who knows?” 

When Braun was on the bench for the Brewers’ Sept. 7 game against Chris Carpenter and the Cardinals — Carpenter went on to pitch a one-hit shutout — Macha mentioned that Braun was getting treatment for a sore shoulder. Braun does get treatment on his right shoulder, but has refused to acknowledge any physical ailments. He stood by that stance on Monday. 

“I’m fine,” he said.

Even if he were hurting, Braun probably wouldn’t say so because it would present a competitive advantage for the rest of the league’s baserunners and third base coaches. There’s also the possibility that Macha is following orders from the team’s athletic training staff in resting Braun, who does not like to miss games.  

Braun entered this week’s four-game series against the Cubs batting .308 with 29 home runs and 99 RBIs while starting 138 of the team’s first 142 games.  He was only 5-for-23 (.217) in previous at-bats against Cubs starter Ryan Dempster. Frank Catalanotto, a left-handed hitter who was 2-for-4 against Dempster, played left field in lieu of Braun on Monday and red-hot third baseman Casey McGehee served as the three-hole hitter. 

Macha said he spoke to Braun before posting Monday’s lineup. Asked whether Braun might get more days off over the season’s final three weeks, Macha said, “We’re just looking at today. I hope he’d be ready for the games.”

No Braun for series opener in Chicago

The Brewers just posted a lineup for Monday’s series opener against the Cubs at Wrigley Field, and left fielder Ryan Braun isn’t in it. Instead, the red-hot Casey McGehee, who leads the Majors with 17 RBIs this month, is hitting in the three-hole, and Frank Catalanotto is playing left field.

Entering the series, Braun is 5-for-23 (.217) against Cubs starter Ryan Dempster. Catalanotto is 2-for-4. We’ll have to see whether Braun or manager Ken Macha says the decision to sit Braun tonight is health-related.

Prince Fielder is in the lineup as usual. He tied Cecil Cooper’s franchise record with RBI No. 126 on Sunday and will try to break the record this week.

Here’s the lineup:

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

Counsell at shortstop is interesting because it means that both J.J. Hardy and Alcides Escobar are on the bench.  Hardy is 2-for-27 (.074) against Dempster.

Rivas, Schafer top farmhands in '09

The Brewers on Friday named right-hander Amaury Rivas and outfielder Logan Schafer their top Minor Leaguers for 2009. Both players earned a Robin Yount Performance Award, an honor typically bestowed upon home-grown prospects.

That was the case this year with Rivas (who signed as an undrafted free agent in 2005) and Schafer (Milwaukee’s third-round pick in 2008).

From the team’s press release:

Rivas, 23, spent the entire season with Class-A Brevard County where he posted a team-record 13 wins, going 13-7 with a 2.98 ERA (133.0ip, 44er) in 26 games (23 starts).  He finished in the top five in several pitching categories in the Florida State League, including wins (T2nd), strikeouts (T3rd, 123) and ERA (5th).  He was selected to the Florida State League All-Star and Postseason All-Star Teams.
Following the All-Star break, Rivas went 9-2 with a 2.26 ERA, including a 5-1 record with a 2.10 ERA in six starts during the month of August.  He recorded a season-high 10 strikeouts at Dunedin in six innings on August 18. …

Schafer, 23, spent the majority of the season with Class-A Brevard County (.313, 6hr, 58rbi, 16 stolen bases in 113 games) and appeared in seven games with Double-A Huntsville, where he batted .217 (5-for-23).  At Brevard County, Shafer earned the league batting title (.313) and finished among the league leaders in hits (2nd, 143), runs scored (2nd, 76) and doubles (3rd, 31).  He was selected to the Florida State League Postseason All-Star Team.

As the team’s primary leadoff hitter, Schafer batted .334 (125-for-374) from the leadoff spot in the lineup.  One of his best games of the season came against Clearwater on August 26 when he turned in a 4-for-5 effort with a home run, double, 5rbi and three runs scored.

Both Rivas and Schafer will be honored at Miller Park on Sept. 19 before the Brewers-Astros game.