February 2011

Brewers say Hart out two weeks

ANOTHER UPDATE postgame — Ron Roenicke’s understanding is that Hart should be back in game shape in two weeks, not that he’ll be shut down for two weeks. There’s a distinction there. The bottom line is that oblique injuries are tough to predict, so let’s just see how Hart progresses.

UPDATE at 2:10 p.m. CT — The Brewers just announced that Hart would engage in “rest and recovery” for the next two weeks, so that’s a somewhat more serious take on his injury. Here’s an update to the earlier note:
Brewers right fielder Corey Hart will miss about two weeks of exhibition games while recovering from a strained muscle along his left rib cage, the club announced Monday. 
That marked a somewhat more serious diagnosis than the one Hart gave a few hours earlier, after he was examined by Dr. Craig Young at Maryvale Baseball Park. Hart said he only expected to be shut down “a few more days.” 
“I think it’s hard to tell exactly how long it’s going to be,” manager Ron Roenicke said. “But [assistant GM Gord Ash] said there is a strain there, and he wants to be overprotective of it. I was a little bummed when I heard two weeks.” 
Roenicke’s understanding is that Hart could be back playing in games in two weeks, not that he would be entirely shut down for that entire period. 
Hart was hurt during a throwing drill Saturday. He said it was the first time he’d tweaked an oblique muscle in his career. 
“[Young] said we would probably push it a little harder if we were in the middle of the season, but there’s no reason to push it right now,” Hart said. “We’re going to try easing in so we don’t have any setbacks at all.”
Hart’s duties on Monday were limited to receiving treatment in the training room. He was among the handful players on the injury report as the Brewers kicked off their exhibition schedule:
— Relievers John Axford (illness), Manny Parra (back), Zach Braddock (blister), LaTroy Hawkins (shoulder) and Mitch Stetter (undisclosed) were not on the list to pitch against the Giants of Cubs. Axford suffered a bout of food poisoning early in camp and has slowly been working back. Parra had some minor back stiffness last week and was scheduled to throw a live batting practice session on Monday. Braddock had a small blister last week that should not keep him out long, and Hawkins remains on schedule in his return from last year’s shoulder surgery. Manager Ron Roencike said only that Stetter was being brought along slowly this spring.
— Top pitching prospect Mark Rogers was very encouraged by a throwing session on Sunday and hopes to get back on the mound by mid-week. Rogers, who has a long injury history, shut down a live batting practice session last week because of some stiffness in his right shoulder. 
“I felt great yesterday playing long toss,” he said. “It’s the best I’ve felt all spring. We’re slowly working our way back into it. I’m sure a bullpen is in the near future. I’d guess in the next few days. So far, it’s responded better than I expected it to.” 
It’s difficult to sit around with the exhibition schedule underway. 
“I’ve got the itch,” Rogers said. “I want to pitch.”
— Infielder Mat Gamel remains restricted from hitting because of his own rib-cage strain. He’s been able to take part in fielding drills during his layoff. Catcher Jonathan Lucroy is out with a fractured right pinkie finger. He has a doctor’s appointment for late this week to set a plan for rehab.
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Some small ball from Fielder

Big Brewers first baseman Prince Fielder drew hoots and hollers when he bunted for a base hit in Sunday’s intrasquad game. Don’t be completely shocked if he tries it again during the regular season. 
Most clubs vacate third base when the left-handed-hitting Fielder is at bat and shift the defense around to right field. He’s been encouraged before to drop an occasional bunt to foil that strategy. 
“They’ve always encouraged it, I’ve always been a little stubborn,” Fielder said. “I’ve given it a half [hearted] try, maybe. Not that I’m going to be [former big league speedster] Brett Butler, but why not? … Especially against a tough pitcher. When you have a tough pitcher on the mound, and you have a shift, and you smoke a ball to the right side, you get defeated at times. If I can help the team, I might try [bunting] a couple of times.” 
Fielder’s bunt on Sunday came right after shortstop Yuniesky Betancourt hit a solo home run. Fielder pushed the baseball right along the third-base line. 
“It was a little too close to the line,” Fielder said. “I don’t have to be too perfect, that’s the thing. [Carlos] Gomez helps me. Sometimes I try to be too perfect, because sometimes I think they’re still going to throw me out if I bunt it.” 
The key, manager Ron Roenicke said, is picking the right spot to bunt. 
“Especially if he’s leading off an inning and they want to over-shift, the score is going to tell when it’s a good time,” Roenicke said. “if we’re down a couple of runs in the eighth or ninth inning and we need a baserunner, I’m fine with him bunting anywhere there.”
Anything to avoid those frustrating line-drive outs that are hits for everybody else. 
“That hurts my feelings,” Fielder joked. 
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Hart to sit a few days with sore side

Right fielder Corey Hart will miss the Brewers’ Cactus League openers Monday while a doctor determines whether his sore left side is anything to worry about. 
Hart tweaked a muscle along his rib cage in a throwing drill on Saturday, and planned to take Sunday off before a visit Monday morning with one of the team’s physicians. Hart wasn’t listed in either of the lineups for split-squad games against the Giants and Cubs on Monday.
“It’s just a precaution kind of thing,” Hart said. “There’s no bruise or anything. I just slipped when I was making a throw — my foot kind of gave and I still threw it. It was more panic than anything.”
He’s been lucky to avoid oblique injuries in his career, but has seen how that can linger. 
“I don’t want to mess with anything and all of a sudden you’re out a week or a month,” Hart said. “I got nervous and came in [to the training room]. I’m just going to hang out for a few days.”
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Lineups for Cactus League openers

In bench coach Jerry Narron’s fancy script, the lineups for the Brewers’ split-squad Cactus League openers were posted on a clubhouse bulletin board Sunday morning. Here’s a look:

Home vs. Giants
Rickie Weeks  2B
Jeremy Reed  RF
Yuniesky Betancourt  SS
Prince Fielder  1B
Casey McGehee  3B
Brandon Boggs  LF
Grorge Kottaras  C
Chris Dickerson  CF
Brendan Katin  DH
Shaun Marcum  RHP
at Mesa vs. Cubs
Carlos Gomez  CF
Craig Counsell  SS
Ryan Braun  LF
Mark Kotsay  1B
Luis Cruz  2B
Wil Nieves  C
Erick Almonte  DH
Caleb Gindl  RF
Zelous Wheeler  3B
Tim Dillard  RHP
You’ll notice that right fielder Corey Hart is not in either game. He will visit with a team doctor on Monday after tweaking a muscle along his ribcage in throwing drills Saturday. Hart said he had no bruising a day later — a good sign, since bruises would indicate tearing of muscles — but planned to take it easy until a diagnosis from the doctor. 
The Brewers are planning to use the same lineups, minus the starting pitchers, in a very brief intrasquad game today at about 11 a.m. local time. 
You’ll also notice the designated hitter, something Roenicke intends to use into the second week of March. Roenicke followed protocol by calling Cubs manager Mike Quade and asking whether the Brewers could employ the DH; Quade approved. 
“We probably won’t use the pitchers hitting for the first 10 days,” Roenicke said. “Then we may pick who we want going out there and hitting. Once they get out there extended, get to five innings or so, there’s going to be two at-bats there, so then we’ll start thinking about [hitting].”
Pitchers will throw about 35 pitches in their first Cactus League outings. The important part is staying healthy. Results are irrelevant, Roenicke said. 
“Especially our starters that we know — we don’t really need to evaluate much until we start getting halfway through March,” Roenicke said. “Then you’re looking at where they are. The relievers, maybe not fair to them, their first outings, you’re watching. Those are going to be more of your question marks versus your starters.”
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Increased role for Robin

The Brewers will see a lot of their franchise player this spring.

Hall of Famer Robin Yount lives in the Phoenix area and always drops by camp for a day or two of Spring Training, but this year he’s expected to be a regular part of the staff right up to the start of the season. General manager Doug Melvin and manager Ron Roenicke extended the invitation after Roenicke chatted with Yount at an offseason event in Los Angeles.

“It’s huge, Roenicke said. “It isn’t necessarily that he’s a Hall of Famer, it’s the quality of the person. Today’s players, they’re not in awe of guys that are in the Hall of Fame. It’s certainly important of them for the credibility, obviously, but they’re looking at the guy. Is this a guy that’s helping them?”

Yount, Roenicke says, is a guy who can help them. Yount played shortstop and center field, so he knows defense. He topped 3,000 hits, so he knows offense. And he was a bench coach in Arizona and Milwaukee, so he knows teaching.

“He wants to help these guys out, and he’s got all of these other credentials,” Roenicke said. “So it’s huge having him here in this camp.”

Other former Brewers like Gorman Thomas and Jim Gantner are also expected to make their annual visits, Roenicke said.


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Lucroy to observe for a while

Catcher Jonathan Lucroy returned to Brewers camp on Friday with his fractured right pinkie finger heavily wrapped and his patience about to be tested.

Lucroy underwent surgery Thursday to insert a pin into his fractured finger. He’s expected to need four weeks to fully recover, and until a follow-up doctor’s appointment next week, he will only observe the Brewers’ workouts.

“They don’t want this to get infected,” he said, holding up a finger that was splinted and wrapped. “So no catching, not for a while. …

“It’s very awkward. I’m going to be very uncomfortable. I feel like a coach or something, or a batboy. But it’s part of it. I can’t do anything to re-injure it or hurt myself even worse, so I’m not going to take any chances. I’m a very impetuous person, very impatient, so I want to get after it, but that wouldn’t be the smart thing to do.”

Lucroy was hurt during a drill on Wednesday in which the catchers worked on taking throws from the outfield. The baseball took a bad hop and fractured the first knuckle of Lucroy’s finger, near the fingertip.

Dr. Don Sheridan, the same hand specialist who has worked on Brewers second baseman Rickie Weeks, inserted an inch-long pin to hold the bones in place to heal. At some point, that pin will be removed.

By Friday, Lucroy had accepted his situation. He was not so calm on Wednesday afternoon.

“I was pretty upset about it,” he said. “But after I started thinking about it, I realized that if it was going to happen, it’s better to happen now and get it over with. It’s the first major injury I’ve had, so it’s something I have to deal with personally.

“It’s a setback, yeah. But I don’t think it’s anything we can’t overcome.”


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Successful BP session for Greinke

A group of Brewers Minor Leaguers that included outfield prospects Logan Schafer and Caleb Gindl took the first swings of the year against Zack Greinke when the right-hander threw live batting practice on Thursday. 
The session was a success, pitching coach Rick Kranitz said. 
“He’s got all of his stuff and it’s all working, I can tell you that,” said Schafer. “His change-up looked good, his breaking stuff looked good, he was locating his fastball. He had it all working and it looked real good. Any time you can get in the box against one of the best pitchers in baseball, that’s always good.” 
Greinke was originally slated to throw a day earlier, but the session was pushed back because of some bruised ribs that manager Ron Roenicke said Greinke suffered “off the field.” Roenicke declined to expound. 
“Honestly,” Roenicke said, “Unless something [new] comes up, it’s really not a big deal.” 
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Morning Brew: Rogers, Greinke, Yount

Here’s a morning brew of notes from our session with manager Ron Roenicke:

— Zack Greinke will try again today to throw his first live batting practice session at Maryvale Baseball Park. His session scheduled for Wednesday was pushed back because of some bruised ribs, which Roenicke said was suffered “off the field.” Roenicke declined to expound. “Honestly,” Roenicke said, “It’s really not a big deal.”
— The team is backing off right-hander Mark Rogers, who shut down his own throwing session on Wednesday because of tightness in the back of his surgically-repaired shoulder. Rogers will be treated something like a rehabbing player, and will move through a throwing program before returning to the mound. 
— Catcher Jonathan Lucroy called Roenicke on Wednesday night after learning he’d need surgery for a broken pinkie finger on his throwing hand. Roenicke expects Lucroy only to miss a couple of days of camp before returning to catching bullpens, but it will be about four weeks before he’s able to hit.
— Righty Shaun Marcum will start one of the team’s split-squad Cactus League openers on Monday against the Giants and Cubs, Roenicke said. We’ll check with pitching coach Rick Kranitz to see which game Marcum will pitch — I’m guessing he’ll face the Giants — and who will start the other game. 
— Hall of Famer Robin Yount arrived in camp this morning and was in uniform for the workout. He lives in Phoenix always stops by Maryvale Baseball Park during Spring Training. Yount offered some great advice to Roenicke for dealing with the media, but it’s not fit to print in this space. 
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Opportunity knocks for catchers

With No. 1 catcher Jonathan Lucroy expected to spend the next month recovering from surgery for a fractured pinkie, there exists the real possibility that either George Kottaras or Wil Nieves, or perhaps Mike Rivera, will make his first-ever Opening Day start. None of those players were celebrating that possibility on Thursday morning. 

“It’s always sad to see one of your teammates getting hurt,” said Nieves, who joined the Brewers as a free agent in December. “I don’t see George or Lucroy or the other guys as competition, I see them as teammates.”
Said Kottaras: “I’m just going to go out and do what I needed to do in the first place. I’m going to try to get better, and that was the whole goal coming in.”
The catchers were working on fielding throws from the outfield on Wednesday morning when a ball skipped on the hard infield and fractured his right pinkie finger. Lucroy finished the drill, but later underwent x-rays that revealed the broken bone. 
“The grass was a little bit fast and the ball was skipping hard,” Nieves said. “You feel bad for him, but I told him, ‘You’re going to be fine.’ I know he was excited for this season, and he still should be excited. If he misses a couple of games, it’s not going to be a big deal. He’s a strong kid.”
Lucroy is expected to miss about four weeks, putting him on track to be healed about a week before the Brewers’ March 31 opener in Cincinnati. But Lucroy might have to stay back in extended Spring Training to get back into hitting and throwing shape.
The Brewers will make those determinations deeper into Lucroy’s rehabilitation. 
Nieves has been a part of five Opening Day rosters — two with the Yankees and three with the Nationals — but has never started. In Washington, the reserves lined up along the foul lines while the starters ran in from the outfield on a red carpet, with fireworks exploding overhead. 
Rivera was on the Opening Day roster in 2008 and 2009. Kottaras was on Milwaukee’s Opening Day roster last year. 
“I feel one step ahead because I know some of the guys and I’m so used to catching them in the past,” Kottaras said. “When I came in last year I didn’t know anybody, their tendencies and so forth. having that year’s experience with the guys, I feel more comfortable.”
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Crew comfortable with catching depth

The Brewers just announced that catcher Jonathan Lucroy would need surgery tomorrow to install a pin into his fractured right pinkie finger and would be sidelined about four weeks. 

Considering that Opening Day is five weeks away, it begged the question of whether the team would look to acquire a catcher or stick with what they’ve got, a group that includes George Kottaras and Wil Nieves on the 40-man roster and non-roster invitee Mike Rivera. 
“We feel OK for now,” general manager Doug Melvin said. “There’s four weeks of Spring Training, so we’ll have to wait and see the healing process. It doesn’t appear that it should be more than 10 days into the season [before Lucroy is active]. …
“It’s better that it happened now than five days before the season, and then he misses a month of the season.”
Whether Lucroy begins the year on the disabled list remains to be seen. If he does, he could remain at Maryvale Baseball Park for a few games of extended Spring Training. 
The injury is to Lucroy’s throwing hand, so Melvin believes that he might be able to continue catching pitchers during his rehabilitation, which is important for a young catcher like Lucroy. He should also be able to remain in physical shape during his layoff. 
“We’ll wait and see what the process is,” Melvin said. “He’ll have to get at-bats somehow.” 
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