April 2010

Uecker to undergo heart surgery

Update: You can read my full story about Uecker over at the main site. 

Hall of Fame Brewers broadcaster Bob Uecker will undergo heart surgery at Froedtert Hospital in Milwaukee on Friday and will miss the next 10-12 weeks of games.

The Brewers made the announcement on Tuesday afternoon and plan to provide further details about Uecker’s health in a 3:30 p.m. ET press conference at Miller Park. Uecker and Dr. Jim Klezca of Froedtert Hospital will be present.

Uecker, 75, has been calling play-by-play on Brewers radio broadcasts since 1971 and was inducted into the broadcasters’ wing of the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 2003. He’s better-known nationally for his work in film and television, including appearances on the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. It was Carson who dubbed Uecker, “Mr. Baseball.”

Uecker went on to star in commercials for Miller Lite, in the hit TV series Mr. Belvedere and the Major League series of films. He also hosted a pair of Wrestlemanias and was just inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame last month during Spring Training.

Since the start of last season, Uecker has been paired with Cory Provus on Brewers radio broadcasts.

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'Weird' night for Zaun

Hold your Mackey Sasser quips. Brewers catcher Gregg Zaun missed three throws back to the pitcher’s mound in the first inning on Monday because he was playing with a shoulder injury, not because he had a case of the yips. 
And just for good measure, Zaun made up for what he called an “embarrassing” first inning in the field with a career night at the plate. 
Zaun tied career highs with four hits and five RBIs in the Brewers’ 17-3 win over the Pirates, collected his first two hits of the season from the right side of the plate and, after three misfires that rattled Brewers starter Yovani Gallardo, overcame a knot in his shoulder to make perfect throws back to the pitcher. 
Two of his returns sailed over Gallardo’s head, and Zaun pounded a third throw into the ground, eliciting some groans from the crowd. Zaun’s next throw was a fastball that hit Gallardo right in his glove, and the smattering of boos turned into a loud cheer.
 “It was embarrassing, and I was starting to wonder myself,” Zaun said. “But I couldn’t raise my arm.”
Zaun was hurt during a home plate collision with the Nationals’ Ian Desmond during the Brewers’ April 16-18 trip to Washington and blamed a knot in the back of his shoulder for his poor throws. He experienced muscle spasms in the first inning, but got treatment while the Brewers batted in their half of the frame and was fine the rest of the night. 
The last time Brewers fans were witness to such troubles was in 2008, when Dodgers catcher Gary Bennett — a former Milwaukee backup — lost confidence in his throws. He had a four-RBI game at Miller Park on May 15 that season, but was placed on the disabled list five days later and sent to extended spring training to work on what he described as a “mental block.” Bennett has not played in the Major Leagues since.
Gallardo was rattled by Zaun’s misfires on Monday. 
“I didn’t know what to do,” he said. “That’s never happened before, and it happened three times. I didn’t know what to do or say.” 
Said third baseman Casey McGehee, who committed a throwing error in the inning: “That was probably the weirdest first inning I’ve ever seen without a run being scored. … You just got the feeling that anything could happen. It was a weird day. There were a lot of things you don’t see on a daily basis that happened. That’s the good thing about this game, and the frustrating thing about this game.”
It turned into a very good game for Zaun at the plate. 
The switch-hitting Zaun entered the night 0-for-16 as a right-handed batter but made a mechanical adjustment with hitting coach Dale Sveum and calmly worked a walk from Duke in the second inning before he scored on a close play at the plate. 
In the third inning, with two outs and runners at second and third base, Duke picked around the strike zone against Brewers right fielder Corey Hart for three pitches before throwing an intentional Ball 4. Bases loaded. 
“I know why they were walking Corey to get to me,” Zaun said. “It was obvious they weren’t going to give him anything to hit. They did it in Pittsburgh and I didn’t make them pay.” 
He did make Duke pay this time, with a well-placed double that one-hopped the wall just inside the left-field foul line. The bases cleared, and the Brewers had a 5-0 lead. 
“That was huge, especially for my confidence,” Zaun said. 
Zaun added a single in the fourth inning — again batting right-handed against Duke — then turned around for two more hits batting as a lefty. His final hit was a two-run double in Milwaukee’s nine-run eighth inning, capping his fourth career four-hit game and his fourth career five-RBI game. 
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Report: 'No ongoing negotiations' with Fielder

In a story late tonight about Ryan Howard’s contract extension with the Phillies, USA Today’s Bob Nightengale wrote that there are no ongoing negotiations with three other first baseman on track to reach free agency following the 2011 season: Albert Pujols, Adrian Gonzalez and the Brewers’ own Prince Fielder. 

I ran that characterization past Brewers general manager Doug Melvin, who declined to comment. That’s in keeping with Melvin’s policy of not commenting publicly on what club officials have termed “discussions” with Fielder’s agent, Scott Boras. 
Boras told the newspaper that, “There’s a small list of sluggers in this game who can hit 40 homers and drive in 130 annually. Now, there’s one less available.”
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Howard inks extension with Phillies

fielder-howard.jpg

Elsewhere around baseball on Monday, the Phillies and slugger Ryan Howard agreed to a five-year, $125 million contract extension through 2016. So cross Howard off the list of top-flight first basemen on track to reach free agency after the 2011 season — the Brewers’ Fielder, the Cardinals’ Albert Pujols and the Padres’ Adrian Gonzalez are still among them — and cross the Phillies off the list of potential big-market suitors for said first basemen. 
Brewers general manager Doug Melvin has been adamant about keeping his conversations with agent Scott Boras about Fielder a secret, and things have been equally quiet from the other side but for one SI.com story earlier this month speculating that Fielder could seek a contract above the $200 million threshold. 
It’s notable that Howard, 30, is about 4 1/2 years older than Fielder, who will be 26 on May 9. Howard is due $19 million this season and $20 million in 2011 under his previous contract, and the new deal will pay $20 million in 2012 and 2013 and $25 million from 2014-16 with a $23 million club option for 2017 with a $10 million buyout. So, if you add everything up, Howard is getting $164 million over the next seven years (including this one) or $177 million over the next eight.
Once again, we’ll add this disclaimer: Fielder will be arbitration-eligible one last time at the end of the 2010 season, meaning he is under Brewers control through the end of 2011.
Assuming the talks with Fielder are still ongoing, how do you think the Howard deal will influence them? 
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Gomez back in CF as Brewers go for 22

Carlos Gomez will be back in center field tonight as the Brewers host the Pirates for the start of a three-game series. The Brewers have history on their side; they won all three games against the Pirates at PNC Park last week by a cumulative score of 36-1, and they have beaten the Pirates in 21 consecutive games at Miller Park, a home winning streak that dates all the way back to May 2007. 

Here’s the lineup as the Brewers go for win No. 22 in a row:
Rickie Weeks  2B
Carlos Gomez  CF
Ryan Braun  LF
Prince Fielder  1B
Casey McGehee  3B
Corey Hart  RF
Gregg Zaun  C
Alcides Escobar  SS
Yovani Gallardo  RHP
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Capuano to start Tuesday at Brevard

Former All-Star left-hander Chris Capuano has been added to the roster at Class A Brevard County and is scheduled to make his first start of the season on Tuesday night against Clearwater, according to Brewers assistant general manager Gord Ash. 

Capuano is attempting to make it back to the Major Leagues following a second Tommy John elbow reconstructive surgery. He had his first in 2002 while he was an Arizona D-backs farmhand, then had another in May 2008 with the Brewers. 
He has not pitched in the Majors since 2007 but did pitch in six Minor League games at the end of last season. Capuano was an early bright spot in big league camp this spring before a setback forced him to start from scratch. 
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Suppan surprised, but 'just wants to contribute'

Jeff Suppan, who will move to the Brewers bullpen in favor of left-hander Chris Narveson, spoke to reporters a few minutes ago about moving to the bullpen. Here’s what he had to say:
“I like to go back to the basics, and my best fastball down and away is [the same] whether I’m a starter or in the bullpen,” Suppan said. “So I’m going to work on that. I’ve worked very hard since Spring Training on my mechanics and getting right, and I’m starting to see a lot of benefits to that. But the results haven’t been there, so I’m going to do whatever I can to help the team. … 
“Baseball is a humbling game, and you can’t have too big of an ego because anything can happen. I’ve always tried to be a humble guy. That’s always been the way I’ve lived my life. Whatever way I can help the team, I just want to contribute to wins. If it’s out of the bullpen or in the rotation, whatever.”
Did the decision surprise him?
“I was surprised a little bit, but ultimately I don’t concern myself with it,” Suppan said. “I just need to continue to work on what I need to work on to go out and pitch, and that’s pitch selection and pitch location. My two games I started, I had a lot of missed pitches but I threw a lot of good pitches. The missed pitches were down the middle and that doesn’t lead to good results. It was a situation where they told me today, after two starts, and I’ll go to the bullpen and help out any way I can.”
Did he think two starts was enough of a measuring stick?
“Well, it’s really not up to me. It’s not my decision,” he said. “They have their reasons and they have their thoughts, and I respect that. I’m just a player. I have a locker and they have the big offices. They make the decisions.”
Suppan was asked one final, straightforward question: He he been disappointed with his results so far?
“There’s many different ways you can look at results,” Suppan said. “I feel that I’ve made a lot of good pitches in my two games, and my bad pitches, they cost me runs. I feel that from where I started at to where I am now, I’ve made a lot of improvements. Obviously, you want to go out and get a quality start and get a ‘W.’”
Narveson will take Suppan’s spot in the starting rotation beginning Wednesday against the Pirates. 
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Suppan headed to bullpen, Narveson to start

It took three weeks, but lefty Chris Narveson will finally get his shot as the Brewers’ fifth starter, manager Ken Macha announced before Sunday’s game.

Narveson is slated to start Wednesday’s series finale against the Pirates.
Macha also announced veteran right-hander Jeff Suppan — and his $12.5 million contract — will move to the bullpen.
“I talked to Jeff today and… he was extremely professional about the whole thing,” Macha said. “He said he’d help the club any way that he could.”
“I was surprised a little bit, but ultimately I don’t concern myself with it,” Suppan said. “I just need to continue to work on what I need to work on to go out and pitch, and that’s pitch selection and pitch location. My two games I started, I had a lot of missed pitches but I threw a lot of good pitches. The missed pitches were down the middle and that doesn’t lead to good results. It was a situation where they told me today, after two starts, and I’ll go to the bullpen and help out any way I can.”
Did he think two starts was enough of a measuring stick?
“Well, it’s really not up to me. It’s not my decision,” Suppan said. “They have their reasons and they have their thoughts, and I respect that. I’m just a player. I have a locker and they have the big offices. They make the decisions.”
Narveson earned the spot because of his performance in September 2009 and Spring Training this season, Macha said. Of the three candidates for the fifth starter role — Narveson, Suppan and lefty Manny Parra — Narveson had the best Spring Training by far.  
During the spring, he pitched 13 innings over five games and did not allow a run on 10 hits. Suppan and Parra each finished with an ERA of more than 5.00. 
Narveson has struggled a bit out of the bullpen, including Saturday’s game in which he allowed three runs to score in the eighth on two hits and two walks. In the ninth, however, he came back and retired the side in order.
After Suppan managed only 9 1/3 innings over his first two outings — forcing the bullpen to pitch 8 2/3 in those games — Macha and the Brewers are hoping Narveson can give them more innings and quality starts.
“That kind of stuff hampers you,” Macha said. “When you get a lot of innings out of your bullpen, that has a residual effect, as it did yesterday.”
–Jordan Schelling, Associate Reporter

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Counsell starts series finale

Craig Counsell gets the start for Sunday’s day game after a night game, and it’s a game the Brewers must win to avoid being swept by the Cubs. Here are the lineups:

CUBS

Ryan Theriot SS
Kosuke Fukudome  RF
Derrek Lee  1B
Aramis Ramirez  3B
Tyler Colvin  CF
Alfonso Soriano  LF
Ryan Fontenot  2B
Geovany Soto  C
Randy Wells  RHP

BREWERS

Rickie Weeks  2B
Craig Counsell  3B
Ryan Braun  LF
Prince Fielder  1B
Jim Edmonds  CF
Corey Hart  RF
Gregg Zaun  C
Alcides Escobar  SS
Dave Bush  RHP
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Suppan's rotation spot under review

After only two starts, veteran right-hander Jeff Suppan’s spot in the Brewers’ starting rotation is already under review.
Manager Ken Macha on Saturday wouldn’t commit to whether Suppan would remain in the rotation to start Wednesday’s game against the Pirates. If the team makes a change, Suppan and his $12.5 million salary would probably move to the bullpen.
“There’s been some discussion,” Macha said. 
But as the conversation with reporters continued, Macha cautioned against assuming that a change was in the works, saying, “We’re making a lot of assumptions that something is going to happen.”
Suppan surrendered 10 hits and five earned runs in 4 1/3 innings against the Cubs on Friday night. In two starts this season, he has been touched for 16 hits and nine earned runs in 9 1/3 innings. He’s in the final season of a four-year contract. 
If Suppan is removed from the rotation he would be replaced by either left-hander Manny Parra or Chris Narveson. Both competed for the fifth starter’s spot during Spring Training but were passed over in favor of Suppan, who began the season on the disabled list with neck pain before an April 15 season debut against the Cubs. 
Narveson didn’t allow a run in any of his Spring Training starts and Macha had particular praise on Saturday for Parra, who followed Suppan on Friday night with two scoreless innings. Parra walked one and threw a wild pitch but notched four strikeouts and didn’t allow a hit. 
“I thought he threw the ball extremely well,” Macha said. “Good velocity, command was pretty good. It’s nice having that coming out of the bullpen. … I like the way Manny’s been throwing out of the bullpen. He did give up a couple of sharp hits in Washington, but besides that he’s been [effective].”
The Brewers would probably like to reach a decision by Sunday, when Suppan would throw his usual between-starts bullpen session.  Considering the dollars involved, any decision would presumably include the highest levels of team management. 
Suppan is not the only Milwaukee starter off to a somewhat tough start; entering his Saturday start against the Cubs, left-hander Doug Davis had yet to pitch past the fifth inning in any of his three outings. And the Brewers are not the only team mulling early-season changes; the Cubs just this week moved Opening Day starter Carlos Zambrano and his $91 million contract to the bullpen. Zambrano warmed up on Friday night in the Miller Park bullpen but didn’t pitch, and he was available behind starter Ted Lilly on Saturday. 
“Every team enters the season with a certain plan, OK? And as the season goes on, things work their way out,” Macha said. “So [the Cubs] are trying to work it out. … Things work their way out, trust me. It’s just not our club. Other teams have problems, too, and try to utilize their assets to they can fill-in shortcomings in certain areas.”
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