May 2010

Packers draft pick Bulaga impresses in BP session

MILWAUKEE — When he got the opportunity to take batting practice at Miller Park before Saturday’s game, Bryan Bulaga — the Green Bay Packers’ top draft pick — just hoped he could hit a few balls hard into the outfield. He did a lot better than that.
Bulaga, who played baseball into his high school years, took batting practice pitcher Dale Sveum deep 14 times out of roughly 50 swings. With the Brewers’ position players looking on during their pregame stretch, Bulaga even hit a few into the second deck in left field.
“It took me about 10 pitches to even start hitting the ball,” Bulaga said. “I was hoping just to hit a couple solid ones, maybe just not make myself look like an idiot. But I did pretty well I guess.”
Not only did the offensive tackle out of Iowa impress those in attendance, he blew a few of his Packers teammates’ numbers out of the water. 
When they took their swings two weeks ago, quarterback Aaron Rodgers and offensive tackle Mark Tauscher combined for just three home runs. Linebacker A.J. Hawk had two home runs a year ago when he had a similar opportunity.
Bulaga, who brought his girlfriend, brother and brother’s girlfriend with him to the ballpark, said having the Brewers players watching gave him some added motivation.
“I had to step it up,” he said. “I couldn’t not hit one out with everyone watching.”
As a native of Crystal Lake, Ill., Bulaga admitted he was a Chicago White Sox fan first and Milwaukee Brewers fan second. 
“No Cubs fans in this family,” Bulaga said. “The Brewers are my second favorite team. I can’t lose faith in my White Sox though.”
— Jordan Schelling, Associate Reporter


Macha responds to Fielder's frustration

Brewers manager Ken Macha does not mind that first baseman Prince Fielder vented some frustration about the team’s struggling pitching staff after another blowout loss Friday night. You can check out those comments by clicking here
But Macha would prefer that his players focus on their own job and let him worry about the big picture. 
“My thought about baseball is that everybody has got a job to do,” Macha said. “So you have to pay attention to your job and do that well, and when the day is done you have eight position players and the number of pitchers you used, and you add up what they did in their boxes and you either win or lose the game. 
“One thing that’s great about Prince is he takes it to heart when we lose. He really wants to be on a winning team, a winning organization. He strives to win. So as long as guys are paying attention to their little boxes and doing them properly, I think the wins and losses are going to be my responsibility in the end. He needs to continue to work to get to the numbers that he wants to, and if he does that, that’s taking care of his box and he’s going to help us win games. I think our pitching will get better.” 
Macha pointed to the Brewers’ three losses to the Braves, saying the team got “adequate” starting pitching. Before that, the starters pitched well in a three-game Brewers sweep of the D-backs. The bullpen has not pitched well of late, prompting the Brewers to add reliever John Axford on Saturday. 
“That’s my responsibility, and I will be held accountable for us winning or losing games,” Macha said. “I’m glad that I have a player on the field who’s my cleanup hitter and has a tremendous amount of concern about is winning or losing games. … That’s the manager’s job. It’s inherent to this position.
“I don’t want hitters looking at the pitchers or pitchers looking at the hitters. I said last night about the finger-pointing, there should be none of it going on. Everybody take care of what they can take care of. Let me worry about the other stuff.”
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Axford up, Stern back to Minors

The Brewers are still in their sixth week of playing regular season baseball, and they already need reinforcements for an overworked bullpen. 

The team on Saturday optioned outfielder Adam Stern back to Triple-A Nashville and promoted right-handed John Axford in time for an afternoon game against the Phillies. Axford gave the Brewers a 13-man pitching staff, and manager Ken Macha said it would remain that way for the “near future.”
“Whether that’s a week or 10 days, something like that,” Macha said. 
Axford was excellent in Spring Training and continued to pitch well at Nashville, where he was 3-2 with a 2.03 ERA (13 1/3 innings, 3 earned runs) and two saves in 12 games. 
Brewers relievers had combined for a 5.68 ERA entering Saturday’s game, the second-worst mark of all 30 Major League teams to Arizona’s 7.49, and a league-worst .292 batting average against. They had also been called upon to work 117 1/3 innings, the seventh-highest total of the 30 teams. 
Milwaukee’s struggles at the back end of the bullpen with usually-reliable veterans have exacerbated the problem. Closer Trevor Hoffman already has four blown saves, matching his total from all of last season, and a 12.00 ERA in 12 appearances. Setup man LaTroy Hawkins was hit to the tune of a 9.23 ERA in 13 appearances while pitching with weakness in his right shoulder before finally succumbing to the disabled list. Hawkins will be re-evaluated on Monday. 
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Counsell starting at SS, Hart drops in order

With Alcides Escobar struggling at the plate lately, batting just .217 on the season, veteran infielder Craig Counsell will get the start today at shortstop. Counsell, who is second on the team wit a .309 average, will bat second, bumping right fielder Corey Hart from that spot.
Hart, who went 0-for-5 last night in the two hole, will bat eighth today, behind catcher Gregg Zaun and ahead of pitcher Chris Narveson.
Here’s the rest of the lineup:

Weeks  2B

Counsell  SS
Braun  LF
Fielder  1B
McGehee  3B
Edmonds  CF
Zaun  C
Hart  RF
Narveson  P
And the Phillies lineup, which remains the same as last night:
Victorino  CF
Polanco  3B
Utley  2B
Howard  1B
Werth  RF
Ibanez  LF
Valdez  SS
Hoover  C
Blanton  P
— Jordan Schelling, Associate Reporter


Interesting postgame with Prince

The Phillies scored early and often in Friday’s 9-5 win over the Brewers at Miller Park, continuing a trend that might be getting to Prince Fielder and the rest of the hitters. It marked the Brewers’ sixth straight home loss, and opponents have scored at least six runs in all of those games including at least eight runs in each of the last four.

Here was the postgame exchange between reporters and Prince Fielder:
“We’ve been hitting well. We’ve been doing the best we can. It’s tough, but unfortunately we didn’t score enough runs tonight.”
Everybody understand? OK, next question: Is it frustrating at times?
“Yeah. You don’t like losing but it is what it is. We have to come back tomorrow and see what happens.”
Is it a matter of getting timely hits?
This one made Fielder smile.
“I guess we need to get more timely hits. Yup, we just have to keep getting more hits. Just try to outscore the other team, that’s all we can try to do and unfortunately, we came up a little short.”
Is there more pressure at home considering the poor record?
“I don’t think so, It’s just how it is. Unfortunately, it’s always the offense that gets blamed. I think we have to keep doing what we’re doing. We scored five runs tonight. Tomorrow, hopefully, we get more than they do.”
Are there any signs that the day is coming that they don’t need to get so many hits?
“I don’t know. I think we just need to keep doing our job; keep hitting the ball, try to play good defense and see what happens. After that, its out of our control.”
So, there you go. Very interesting stuff. Randy Wolf certainly stood up and took the blame for what he called an “embarrassing” outing against the Phillies, but you have to wonder whether there’s a danger of the clubhouse becoming divided between pitchers and hitters. That’s never a good thing.
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Braun back in lineup

We’re a bit delayed because of the Bob Uecker press conference, but Ryan Braun is back in the Brewers’ lineup for tonight’s series opener against the Phillies at Miller Park. He will be playing for the first time since Monday, when Braun was struck in the left elbow by a Tommy Hanson pitch. 

Here’s the lineup:
Rickie Weeks  2B
Corey Hart  RF
Ryan Braun  LF
Prince Fielder  1B
Casey McGehee  3B
Jim Edmonds  CF
Alcides Escobar  SS
George Kottaras  C
Randy Wolf  LHP
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Welcome to Kennywood!

Here’s a little preview of a story set to hit tomorrow:
Who could have guessed that Ken Macha, the self-proclaimed “boring” manager of the Milwaukee Brewers with zero ejections in his season-plus with the team, was such an adrenaline junkie? The Pittsburgh native is a big fan of Kennywood, a huge amusement park in his home state that features three wooden roller coasters. 
“The Jack Rabbit, the Thunderbolt and the Racer,” Macha said. “I love that place. Love it.” 
Good thing, because his ballclub is baseball’s version of a thrill ride. Up one week, down the next, and the only difference is that those downs have not been quite as fun as those dips and dives at Kennywood. 
As of Thursday the Brewers had scored 186 runs, most in the National League and less than only the Yankees (190 runs) and Rays (189) in all of Major League Baseball. The Brewers’ 798 OPS also led the NL and trailed only the powerhouse Yankees (.805) and Red Sox (.799). 
So Milwaukee is one of the most potent offensive clubs in the league, right? Yes, but only when they are not conjuring memories of the second-tier Brewers teams of seasons past, and there have been plenty of those games so far. Consider that the 2010 Brewers have already scored at least eight runs in a game 10 times, but have scored two or fewer runs 11 times and are 1-10 in those games. That’s only the start of the extremes; they have scored at least 17 runs in three big games, but have been shut out four times. 
They have swept two series in dominating fashion, both on the road — from April 20-22 in Pittsburgh by a cumulative score of 36-1 and from May 7-9 in Arizona by a cumulative score of 26-6. But they have been swept in each of the subsequent series, both times at home — outscored 25-4 by the Cubs from April 23-25 and 27-7 by the Braves just this week. 
“It’s extremely weird,” said Brewers left fielder Ryan Braun. “I don’t think there’s any logical explanation. I wish we could say, ‘Let’s score five today and then save five for tomorrow.’ It just doesn’t work that way.” 
For more, including GM Doug Melvin’s take on this up-and-down season, see my story on Friday. In the meantime, which Brewers team do you think will shot up this weekend? 
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Melvin happy for Yost

Former Brewers manager Ned Yost is back in the big leagues, replacing ousted Kansas City Royals manager Trey Hillman this afternoon. Yost, who joined the Royals over the winter as a special advisor, is the 16th skipper in Royals history. The move was made after a Royals win today, and for now you can read about it in this club press release

Yost managed the Brewers from 2003 until he was dismissed with 12 games remaining in the 2008 regular season. The Brewers were off to a 3-11 start to September at the time and had squandered a 5 1/2-game edge in the National League Wild Card Standings.
“I’m happy for Ned and I think everybody deserves a second chance in this game,” said Brewers general manager Doug Melvin, who was dismissed as GM of the Rangers in 2001, joined the Brewers in September 2002 and hired Yost a month later.
“I got a second chance myself, and I’m appreciative of that,” Melvin said. “I don’t know everything about the situation there in Kansas City, but I know Ned has as much energy as anybody.”  
That trait should serve Yost well in Kansas City, where the Royals are 12-23 including their win over the Indians on Thursday. They haven’t had a winning season since 2003, when Yost was the rookie manager of a Brewers club that had lost a franchise-record 106 games the previous season and undergone a major front office reorganization.  
From 2003 until his dismissal on Sept. 15, 2008, Yost’s Brewers were 457-502, including 166-146 in his final two seasons. But they were off to a 3-11 start in September 2008 and had squandered a 5 1/2-game lead in the National League Wild Card standings when he was let go.  
Under interim manager Dale Sveum, the team won on the final Sunday for its first postseason berth in 26 years. 
“I still think Ned was a big part of the ’08 season for us,” Melvin said. “I think he’ll do a good job for the Royals. I don’t know exactly what the expectations are and I don’t know their entire organization, but I know that in 2008 we didn’t have a closer with 30 saves, we didn’t have a 14-game winner and we didn’t have a .300 batting average. For all the people who were critical of him using CC [Sabathia] on three days’ rest, he helped CC get the biggest pitching contract in history, and he hasn’t worn down yet.”  
At the time of Yost’s dismissal and again on Thursday, Melvin had particular praise for Yost’s patience with young players. The best example was shortstop J.J. Hardy, who was in the lineup on 2005 Opening Day and struggled badly in the first half, hitting below .200 all the way through June 17. Amid pressure from above to play somebody else, Yost championed Hardy, and two years later, Hardy was an All-Star.  
Melvin also credited Yost for getting career years out of some mid-level players. Scott Podsednik, who is with the Royals now, jump-started his career under Yost in 2003 and 2004. Ditto for Brady Clark, who had never played more than 89 games before he played at least 128 in four straight seasons from 2003-2006 and got a two-year contract. Lyle Overbay emerged as an everyday player under Yost beginning in 2004. Dan Kolb and then Derrick Turnbow came out of nowhere to become All-Star closers. 
“He got a lot out of players in those early years while we were waiting for our younger players,” Melvin said.  “He had patience. A lot of good things happened for us while Ned was here.”  
Melvin said he last spoke with Yost during Spring Training, after Yost had been hired by the Royals as a “special advisor to baseball operations.” Yost was out of baseball in 2009, but he drew a salary from the Brewers for the final year of his contract. 
The Royals play a pair of National League Central teams — the Reds and Astros — in Interleague Play this season, but not the Brewers. 
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Braun, Hawkins updates

As expected, Brewers left fielder Ryan Braun is out of the lineup for a second straight day while getting treatment on his bruised left elbow (the full lineup follows). Brewers manager Ken Macha said he expects Braun to get more treatment on the off-day Thursday before potentially returning to action on Friday against the Phillies. 

One more injury update: Reliever LaTroy Hawkins has been completely shut down from throwing since being placed on the 15-day disabled list before this homestand, and will not pick up a baseball until Monday at the very earliest. That’s the day he’s scheduled for another strength test, at which point the team’s medical staff will determine how to proceed. 
Macha spent a significant amount of Wednesday morning behind closed doors with general manager Doug Melvin and assistant GM Gord Ash for a roster “review.” They probably spent most of their time discussing the bullpen, which is weakened in Hawkins’ absence and has surrendered a slew of runs in the first two games against the Braves. There are plenty of options at Triple-A Nashville for Melvin & Co. to consider. More on that when the “Brewers Beat” hits the site a bit later. 
One more thing: Macha mentioned when center fielder Carlos Gomez went on the DL that he would be eligible to return for the Brewers first game in Pittsburgh next week. Actually, he will not be eligible until two days later, May 21, when the Brewers begin an Interleague Series against Gomez’s old team in Minnesota. I should have double-checked — thanks to Kyle Lobner for the tip.
Better late than never, here’s the lineup:
Rickie Weeks  2B
Jody Gerut  LF
Jim Edmonds  CF
Prince Fielder  1B
Casey McGehee  3B
Gregg Zaun  C
Corey Hart  RF
Alcides Escobar  SS
Yovani Gallardo  RHP
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Former Milw. Braves honored at Miller Park

Hall of Famer Eddie Mathews and former Milwaukee Braves outfielder Felix Mantilla were added to the Braves Honor Roll on Tuesday afternoon at Miller Park during an afternoon ceremony. Mathews’ son, Eddie Jr., were on hand for an event organized by the Brewers and the Milwaukee Braves Historical Association. 

Next time you’re at Miller Park, stop by the exhibit on the ballpark’s field level, to the third base side of home plate. It’s worth the time. 
Some photos follow, but I also wanted to pass along this clipping from the April 14, 1953 edition of the Chicago Daily Tribune, from one of my colleagues here at Miller Park. It arrived in doorsteps the morning after baseball’s ’54 Opening Day, when Mathews hit a pair of home runs in a loss to the Reds in Cincinnati. 
Irving Vaughan’s game story is tremendous. Here’s a taste:

Cincinnati, O., April 13 — Milwaukee’s Braves, surprising second place finishers in last year’s race, didn’t get away from the post suitably in their 1954 opener at Crosley field today.

In a daffy free-for-all, marked by 13 doubles because the crowd of 33,185 overflowed the playing arena, the Redlegs blew down Charlie Grimm’s lads, 9 to 8, by blasting two of the four enemy pitchers granted employment. 

And, along with the beating, the Braves’ Andy Pafko was beaned but, wearing a batter’s helmet, was not seriously injured, according to first reports.

Mathews Hits 2 Homers
The one thing that can be said in defense of the Braves was that they were the producers of seven of the 13 two baggers dropped among the field customers. Also that the day’s only homers were hit by Ed Mathews, the lad who padded 47 beyond reach last season. This afternoon, in his favorite shooting gallery where he registered seven bull’s eyes last year, he hit a pair, both after the Milwaukeeans had let an earlier 4 to 0 bulge escape.

The Braves started off as batting terrors by bouncing Starter Bud Podbielan into the discard inside of two innings, but Bob Buhl soon fell apart and was yanked in the fourth in favor of Chet Nichols. Mathews’ first homer put Nichols in a tie, but he was routed in a three-run sixth, Rookie Ray Crone and Lew Burdette keeping things orderly therafter.
For the rest, you’ll have to head to the Tribune archives. 
Here are some photos from the event, courtesy of Brewers photographer Scott Paulus:
Felix Mantilla
Eddie Mathews Jr.
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