March 2010

Melvin won't comment about Lofgren

The Brewers announced Saturday that infielder Hernan Iribarren had been claimed off waivers by the Rangers, confirming the Internet rumor that he had been waived. The same website — Brewerfan.net — caught wind that the Brewers had begun the process of offering Rule 5 Draft pick Chuck Lofgren, a left-handed pitcher, back to the Indians.

General manager Doug Melvin had little to say on that front Saturday.

“There’s nothing to report on it,” Melvin said.

Teams must run such players through waivers before formally offering them back, and if the player clears, his new team and his original team have 72 hours to work out a trade. If trade talks don’t go anywhere, the original team — Cleveland, in Lofgren’s case — must decide whether to take him back in exchange for half of the original $50,000 Draft fee, or to let the Brewers keep the player.

Even if Lofgren had cleared waivers, Melvin said, the club would not be able to tell reporters about it.

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Iribarren claimed by Rangers

Infielder Hernan Iribarren’s long Brewers tenure came to an end on Saturday when the Texas Rangers claimed him off waivers. 
Iribarren, 25, a left-handed hitting second baseman, was out of options and the Brewers obviously did not see a spot for him on the Opening Day roster. Texas had a need for infielders since free agent pick-up Khalil Greene opted not to report to Spring Training. 
The Brewers signed Iribarren out of Venezuela in March 2002, making him the second- or third-longest tenured player on the team’s current 40-man roster, depending how you count. Outfielder Corey Hart was drafted and signed in 2000, and pitcher Manny Parra was drafted in 2001 but he was a “draft and follow” player who didn’t sign until summer 2002, when Iribarren was already working at the Brewers’ complex in the Dominican Republic.  
In his eight professional seasons, Iribarren is a .316 hitter in the Minor Leagues and a .185 hitter (5-for-27) in two brief stints in the Major Leagues. He has some speed (147 career stolen bases in the Minors) and has tried to develop defensive versatility by trying center field, third base and shortstop, but his true position is second base.  
The Brewers feel they have better options for the final bench spot. Joe Inglett, claimed off waivers <i>from</i> the Rangers in January, is also a left-handed hitting second baseman but Inglett has much more Major League experience. Third base prospect Mat Gamel also still has a chance to make the team, manager Ken Macha said Saturday morning.  
Iribarren was supposed to play all nine innings of Saturday’s split-squad game against the White Sox at shortstop, but he was scratched about two hours before the first pitch when the roster move was made official. Luis Cruz started instead.  
The Brewers’ 40-man roster is down to 39 players, and 52 players remain in Major League camp.
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Narveson trivia

Narveson.jpg

Chris Narveson delivered three scoreless innings against the Reds this afternoon and is making quite a bid for an Opening Day roster spot. So let’s brush up on some trivia about the soft-spoken Brewers left-hander:
1. He has Wisconsin ties. 
Narveson’s father, Bruce, is originally from Twin Lakes, Wis. and was a very good athlete for Dodgeville High School. Until several years ago, the family owned a restaurant in Dodgeville called Narvey’s. Bruce Narveson married Sally, who hailed from Wauwatosa, Wis., a suburb of Milwaukee next to Miller Park. Narveson has family that still lives there. 
“When I signed with the Brewers, my mom’s side of the family was pretty fired up,” he said.  
2. He goes way back with one of his competitors for the rotation. 
The Narvesons eventually moved to North Carolina, and when Chris went for an official visit to Wake Forest University, the Bush family served as his hosts. Dave Bush was a catcher for Wake Forest and then converted to closer. 
College was put on hold after the Cardinals made Narveson their second-round pick in the 2000 First-Year Draft, but Narverson promised his mother that he’d eventually get his education. Which takes us to the fact that… 
3. He was busy this winter. 
On Feb. 15, the same day he reported to Maryvale Baseball Park for Spring Training, Narveson completed an undergraduate degree from the online University of Phoenix with a major in business management and a minor in finance. It was a gratifying achievement, considering that he began working on his degree in 2003 and continued taking courses online, even in 2007 and 2008 while he was playing winter ball in Mexico.  
“As long as I had Internet access, I could work on it,” Narveson said. “It took a little bit of discipline, but it’s a great feeling to know I have that degree hanging on my wall for when I’m done playing baseball. I would like to get my MBA, eventually. I like to challenge myself intellectually.”  
 For now, he’s focused on challenging himself physically.  
Narveson has been in Milwaukee’s system for more than two years but he made his mark last September, when he was Milwaukee’s pitcher of the month with a 2.73 ERA, including a 3.38 ERA in four starts from Sept. 13-29. It put Narveson into the mix for 2010.  
“This game is all about opportunity,” he said. “You have to seize it when you have it. They’ve treated me like family here, so I know that the opportunity is real.” 
Beginning next week, the Brewers will have to make some decisions.
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Braun stays home

Ryan Braun didn’t head out on the road Thursday, after all. Instead of traveling to Goodyear, Ariz. to play the Reds, Braun stayed home and was in the starting lineup for the Brewers’ other split-squad game, against the A’s. 

Chalk it up to Brewers manager Ken Macha being ultra-cautious with his start left fielder. 
“That was a ‘this morning’ decision. Not that this has been a problem, but he said his hamstrings have been a little tight,” Macha said. “Not that it’s going to keep him out of the game, but [by staying at Maryvale Baseball Park] as soon as he gets out of the game he can go get his treatment.” 
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Jody Gerut swapped with Braun and took the trip to Goodyear. So did I, because it will be my first opportunity to see Chris Narveson pitch. Look for a story about Narveson — and his Wisconsin connection that I didn’t know about — later on Brewers.com. 
Here is the lineup for the game against the Reds:
Jody Gerut  LF
Joe Inglett  2B
Corey Hart  RF
Jim Edmonds  CF
Casey McGehee  3B
Steffan Wilson  1B
Matt Treanor  C
Luis Cruz  SS
Chris Narveson  LHP
Carlos Villanueva, Chris Capuano and Mark Rogers are also on the travel roster for the game.
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Meanwhile, this is the lineup that will face the A’s at Maryvale:
Rickie Weeks  2B
Alcides Escobar  SS
Ryan Braun  LF
Prince Fielder  1B
Carlos Gomez  CF
George Kottaras  C
Adam Heether  3B
Adam Stern  RF
Randy Wolf  LHP
LaTroy Hawkins, Mitch Stetter, Chris Smith and Kameron Loe are on the list to pitch in that game. 
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The Brewers' Latin American strategy

When the Brewers signed him to a club-record bonus in 2005, right-hander Rolando Pascual was supposed to stand as a symbol of an innovative new approach to international scouting and player development. Nearly five years later, Pascual’s career is stalled, and he instead has become a symbol of why the system didn’t work.
It’s Rolando Valles’ mission to make sure the next generation of Brewers prospects from Latin America follow a smoother path. Valles’ official job title is Latin Liaison, but his daily duties run the gamut from baseball coach to English teacher to father figure.
As the Brewers once again shift their strategy in Latin America, Valles might just be the most important club official whose name you’ve never heard.
“More and more organizations are coming to the realization that it’s important to create a position like Rolando’s,” said Brewers’ special assistant Dan O’Brien. “There are 1,001 reasons why a Latin player may not succeed, and it may have nothing to do with ability. So his role is very significant.”
Valles is in overdrive this week. The Brewers’ Minor League camp officially opened for business on Wednesday, when pitchers and catchers, including a handful from the team’s new academy in the Dominican Republic, reported to Maryvale Baseball Park. Position players will follow on Friday.
You can read much more about Valles’ role in the organization and the Brewers’ new academy in the Dominican Republic in my story on Brewers.com. There are some photos over there, but some others did not make the cut so I thought I would post them here. Thanks to Reid Nichols, Zack Minasian and Doug Melvin for the shots.
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Macha: Axford has been 'talked about'

John Axford put together his second straight strong outing on Wednesday against the Padres. Don’t count him out for a spot in the Brewers’ bullpen. 

“We talked about a whole bunch of things this morning,” manager Ken Macha said after his team’s 5-4 loss in Peoria. “We had Rick [Peterson, Milwaukee’s pitching coach] and [bullpen coach] Stan Kyles and Doug [Melvin, the GM], Gord [Ash, assistant GM] and myself, and there’s … so many options out there which could happen. 
“He’s a name [Axford] who has been talked about. He’s been impressive. If he can continue to throw strikes, he can be effective [with] a plus fastball and a real good, hard curveball. There’s not too many arms like that.”
Axford retired all three Padres hitters he faced, on a pair of pop-ups to the catcher and another to second base. Two days earlier, he struck out the side in a “B” game against the Reds. 
The Brewers’ bullpen field is crowded. Entering camp, six spots were essentially spoken for by Trevor Hoffman, Todd Coffey, LaTroy Hawkins, Mitch Stetter, Claudio Vargas and Carlos Villanueva. That would leave only one opening.
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Gomez working on his swing (with some data)

Brewers manager Ken Macha said Carlos Gomez has been tweaking his swing to produce more ground balls. The key for the speedy center fielder is keeping his lead elbow low, and thus keeping the bat head from dropping down.
“Yesterday’s batting practice, I thought he swung the bat as well as he has this spring,” Macha said. “We want him to get it on the ground, but I don’t want him to conscious about it. … A lot of the balls he hit in batting practice were hard and low.”
Macha asked his statistical gurus to prepare a report of Gomez’s success on fly balls, line drives, ground balls and bunts. It bore out what Macha suspected, that he would be well-served to avoid hitting everything in the air. 
Here’s the data, courtesy of Brewers manager of advance scouting and baseball research Karl Mueller:
Career batting average by batted ball type… 
Ground Balls – .268 (306 put in play)
Line Drives – .631 (123 put in play)
Fly Balls – .195 (261 put in play)
Bunts – .446 (102 put in play, 10 of which were sacrifices)
It’s no surprise that the line drive average is so high. The Major League average is about .700.
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Macha repeated what closer Trevor Hoffman said Tuesday, that there’s no reason to worry about the fact he has yet to appear in a Cactus League game. Hoffman is taking it easy this spring to avoid a situation like the one that emerged last year, when he strained a rib-cage muscle. 
Hoffman threw a bullpen session on Monday and said he could debut in a game at some point next week. 
“Myself, personally, it’s not a concern for me right now,” Macha said. “He’s got plenty of time to get ready.”
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Third baseman Mat Gamel remained a “non-participant,” to borrow Macha’s phrase, on Wednesday as he tries to quiet a sore shoulder. Outfielder Trent Oeltjen (wrist) has been taking swings in the batting cage at 75-80 percent, Macha said, and was to see one of the team’s doctors on Wednesday. So was right-hander Josh Butler, who has a sore right elbow or triceps. 
Butler had a cortisone shot several days ago and conceded that unless he gets back to throwing very soon, he might miss out on Cactus League action. 
“It’s going to be close,” Butler said. “Hopefully I can [pitch in a game] but the biggest thing right now is getting healthy.”
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The Brewers play split-squad games on Thursday and again on Saturday, so third base coach Brad Fischer made a point in the team’s morning meeting of telling players to make sure they know where they are going over the next few days. 
This early in camp, the extra games are a good thing, at least from a pitching perspective. The Brewers say they are considering seven men for the starting rotation, and this week lines up such that Chris Narveson can pitch on the road against the Reds on Thursday while Randy Wolf works against the A’s at home, and Dave Bush and Manny Parra can each start a game on Saturday, when the Brewers play at home against Colorado and on the road at the White Sox. 
“We’ve got a large number [of pitchers] in camp and we’ve got a big competition in the starting [rotation] so we’ve been able to slot guys,” Macha said. 
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Inglett's job to lose?

Joe Inglett, an offseason waiver claim trying to win a spot on the Brewers’ bench, made a statement Tuesday with a ninth-inning, go-ahead home run for a 5-3 win over the Cubs in Mesa. 

Inglett is out of Minor League options, has played 211 games over four seasons in the big leagues and can play all over the diamond. Does that mean he has a leg up to open the season as the Brewers’ 25th man?
“I think we’re going to have to just wait until we get some numbers down to see where everything sits,” manager Ken Macha said. “He said he can play all over the place, although it looks like second base is the most comfortable place for him. He’s played left [field] and right and done all right there. He had a game at third, and I think he’s done better at second base than third. I may have to see if he can play shortstop.”
In other words, Macha is reserving judgement until more cuts have been made and he can better assess some finalists.
Craig Counsell has a lock on the primary backup infield spot, leaving Inglett in a group that also includes Adam Heether, Luis Cruz and perhaps Mat Gamel, a top prospect. Heether, Cruz and Gamel all have options remaining. 
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More praise for Peterson

Peterson.jpgHey Brewers pitchers, raise your hands if they have been a topic of conversation with Rick Peterson this spring.

Veteran right-hander Jeff Suppan on Tuesday became the latest Brewers pitcher to say that Peterson had made a welcome suggestion about his hand positioning and movement. Peterson has suggested to many pitchers in camp that they lower their hands and move them along with their legs during their delivery.

The goal is creating rhythm, and a more natural arm slot. Yovani Gallardo, Dave Bush, Manny Parra and Chris Capuano have all said previously that they made a similar tweak at Peterson’s urging. Suppan said Tuesday that he has been thrilled with the results.

“I think I had gotten to being stagnant with them and he added some movement,” Suppan said. “It is really helping. I have seen better movement on my pitches than I’ve seen in a long time. It’s still an adjustment throwing out of the stretch because my timing is off with my hands going up in my leg lift, but I’m working on that every day.”

That was evident on Tuesday, when Suppan surrendered three Cubs runs on five hits in three innings. Much of that damage came in the second inning, when Suppan worked from the stretch after Marlon Byrd led off with a double.

Parra was talking about the same topic after his outing against the Mariners on Monday. Parra, too, has been working with Peterson to find a rhythm by moving his hands a bit more during his delivery.

“I know there were times last year that I was a little stiff,” Parra said. “[On Monday], my rhythm was still a little off. I think I attribute that to adrenaline.”

Suppan said he was thinking of a tweak along these lines over the winter but that Peterson “hit the nail on the head” on the first day of Spring Training.

“I just knew my pitches weren’t having action, and the hitters were letting me know that as well,” Suppan said. “With that little adjustment, getting my hands moving with my leg, it got my arm in a better position and my fingers on top of the ball. I was very excited about that.

“I think I was doing that in the past. I just wasn’t aware that I was doing it of late.”

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Hoffman still taking it easy

Brewers closer Trevor Hoffman told me this morning that he is still a week or so away from appearing in his first Cactus League contest. Hoffman has been working closely with the team’s medical staff this spring on a plan to avoid a repeat of last spring, when Hoffman developed a rib-cage strain that sent him to the disabled list for the start of the season. 

At 42, Hoffman obviously knows what he needs to be ready for Opening Day. He ramped up to a bullpen session on Monday and will probably only pitch in a handful of Spring Training games.
“It’s 3 1/2 weeks until we start [the regular season], so it’s probably time to get going,” Hoffman said. “We’re still where they want me to be.” 
If Hoffman indeed waits into next week to make his spring debut, the Brewers are at Maryvale Baseball Park on Monday to face the Indians (a TV game on FS Wisconsin). Then they are away for three days until returning for four straight home games from Friday, March 19 to Monday, March 22. 
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Photo courtesy of Scott Paulus/Brewers
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