February 2011

Lucroy out with fractured finger

Brewers starting catcher Jonathan Lucroy suffered a fractured pinky finger on his throwing hand Wednesday as the injury bug bit Brewers camp in a big way. 

Lucroy suffered the injury during blocking drills during the team’s second full-squad workout and underwent x-rays, which revealed the fracture. He was to be further examined Wednesday afternoon by Dr. Don Sheridan, a hand specialist who has performed a series of surgeries on second baseman Rickie Weeks. 
After returning from his x-rays, Lucroy wore a splint on his right pinky. A Brewers spokesperson said he did not want to address reporters until after his visit with the specialist. 
“Unfortunately, these kinds of things happen in Spring Training,” said Brewers assistant general manager Gord Ash, the suddenly busy head of the team’s medical program.
In other injury news Wednesday:
— Right-hander Zack Greinke’s live batting practice session was pushed back at least one day because of a bruised rib-cage, but it’s considered very minor, Ash said. Pitching coach Rick Kranitz said he expects Greinke to throw on Thursday instead. 
“I plan on him throwing then,” Kranitz said. 
— Top pitching prospect Mark Rogers shut down his live BP session after feeling tightness in his twice surgically-repaired right shoulder. It’s something he’s been dealing with since the start of Spring Training. 
“In long toss I feel great, but letting it go, it’s a little it tight,” Rogers said. “I don’t want to push it now, and [the medical staff] said the same thing. Let’s err on the side of caution and stay healthy as opposed to having a setback. 
“I did a little extra work [on Tuesday] and I think that’s why it’s a little tight today. [Structurally], it’s all good, thank God. it’s not anywhere around where the surgery was and it’s a totally different feeling. I can throw 80 percent, but when I let it go it’s just a little bit tight.”
Because of his series of injuries, this is the first Spring Training since 2006 that Rogers is not on a restricted throwing program. 
“I’m lucky here because they know my history and let me take my time,” Rogers said. 
— Those setbacks came a few hours after the Brewers announced third baseman Mat Gamel would be held out of hitting drills for at least a week because of a rib-cage strain. For more on that, see the blog post from this morning.
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Kotsay contract details

For those keeping score, here are the details of the incentives tacked on to outfielder Mark Kotsay’s $800,000 contract:

He can earn an extra $450,000 in all — $25,000 each for 125 and 150 plate appearances, $50,000 each for 175 and 200 plate appearances, $50,000 each for 40, 60, 80 and 100 games started, and $100,000 if he’s on the Major League roster on July 1. 
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Greinke has a fan in skipper

Brewers manager Ron Roenicke will get a good look at all five of his projected starters in live batting practice today, including high-profile newcomer Zack Greinke. Roenicke is already a fan of Greinke’s complex personality. 

“I really like his personality, and you guys know this from the conversation [on Tuesday, when Greinke met with a group of reporters], there’s no beating around the bush,” Roenicke said. “He just lays it out there. 
“Say we’re covering first base [in drills] — and this is ‘for instance,’ he didn’t say this. If I say to him, ‘Hey Zack, have we done enough covering first base?’ He’ll say, ‘Yeah, that’s a waste of time.’ He’s just telling me what he thinks. There’s no malice in what he says.”
Roenicke also lauded Greinke’s work ethic.
“He’s one of those guys like [catcher Jonathan Lucroy] — he puts a lot of effort into this,” Roenicke said. “He studies video, he studies the advanced reports. He knows what he wants to do, and he gets locked in on a thing.”
Roenicke was prodded again Wednesday to reveal whether Greinke or somebody else would get the Opening Day nod against the Reds, who have already named their three starters for the opening series. Roenicke said he has an idea, but had yet to inform the players. 
So that announcement will have to wait. 
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Gamel sidelined by oblique strain

Another spring, another ill-timed injury for Brewers prospect Mat Gamel. The Brewers said Wednesday morning that Gamel has a strained muscle along his right rib-cage and would not participate in hitting drills for seven days. 
Last year, Gamel might have made the Brewers’ Opening Day roster had he not suffered a minor tear to the “lat” muscle behind his right shoulder, an injury that ended up delaying the start of his Triple-A season. In 2009, Gamel missed time in camp with a sore throwing shoulder.
He called his current setback a minor one, and said he felt a tweak during batting practice on Tuesday. Gamel called the week off from hitting, “precautionary.”
As for his knack for spending Spring Training in the training room, he was at a loss. 
“I don’t know what’s going on, bro,” Gamel said Wednesday morning. “It’s just ridiculous though. I mean, I don’t know. It’s just a spell of some bad luck.”
Bad luck at a particularly bad time, Gamel conceded. 
“It’s killing me,” he said. 
While he questions his spate of injuries, he doesn’t question whether his offseason regimen has anything to do with it. Gamel spent the winter at home with his wife and two young children.
“It’s not a matter of not working out. This is the most I’ve worked out in the offseason, so it’s definitely not that,” he said. “It’s not a lack of anything — not a lack of stretching, not a lack of working out.”
This spring, the Brewers intend to use Gamel at a variety of positions and evaluate him for a spot on the bench. He’s primarily a third baseman, but is expected to also see action at first base and in the outfield corners. 
Gamel was able to take part in defensive drills Wednesday. 
“If it’s bugging him, we’ll back off the throwing,” manager Ron Roenicke said “The intercostals and the obliques, both of them, you can’t mess around. I know it’s a small area and they are little fibers that tear, but they can last a long time.” 
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Chatting with Greinke

Scott Paulus/Brewers
The popular perception is that Zack Greinke approved a trade to Milwaukee because it offered a chance to win in the same kind of small-market atmosphere he was leaving behind in Kansas City. But that’s not exactly right.
“There’s more people to ignore in New York or Boston than there is in Milwaukee,” he said, “but I would still ignore them, probably.”
That was only one moment of refreshing honesty from the most fascinating player in recent Brewers history. Greinke met following the team’s first full-squad workout with a small group of reporters huddled into an even smaller room at Maryvale Baseball Park for his first interview since reporting to camp more than a week ago. 
He talked candidly about the challenges facing a Major Leaguer with social anxiety disorder, a condition diagnosed five years ago this spring that almost permanently pulled Greinke away from baseball. He said he’s surprised he came back at all, and explained the way he was pushed into pitching in the first place, back in high school when he preferred to hit and play the field. He explained why he mostly keeps to himself in the clubhouse, why he avoids media interviews and why he’d forfeit the $27 million he’s owed over the next two seasons if he could get rid of the cameras and the fame and just play baseball. 
And then he explained his fiery competitiveness, which is why he puts up with all of it. 
“Baseball, in my opinion, would be a lot better if you could just make the same salary as everybody else in the world and you don’t deal with any of the other stuff,” Greinke said. “But that’s not how it is. The main thing is I want to pitch against the best players in the world, and you can’t do that playing in a pick-up baseball league in your town.”
For much more on Greinke, check out my story on Brewers.com later today. There’s way too much to fit in a single piece, but I’ll see what I can do.
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Hawkins talks about joining Twitterverse

LaTroy Hawkins wasn’t going to let fellow Brewers reliever John Axford have all the fun on Twitter. 
Axford lost his status as the only active Brewer on the social networking site when he unmasked the previously-private Hawkins (@Adidas219) over the weekend. Hawkins grew from fewer than 80 followers to nearly 800 by Monday morning and plans to use his page to spread inspirational and spiritual messages. He’s also figuring out how to communicate with his fans. 
“I saw Axford having fun,” Hawkins said. “Brewers fans are awesome, so there won’t be all of that negative stuff you might get other places, which is cool. It’s all positive stuff for me, every day. I’ll post inspirational messages or something from the Bible. 
“If there’s something negative, I’ll just block. There’s so much negative in the world that we need some positive reinforcement.”
Hawkins’ name has been joined Axford’s (@JohnAxford) on MLB.com’s list of verified Major Leaguers on Twitter.
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Roenicke prepping for full squad

Brewers manager Ron Roenicke will get a much better feel for his club beginning Tuesday, when the full squad works out for the first time. Principal owner Mark Attanasio is among the guests scheduled to address the team in a long morning meeting, and Roenicke plans to set a tone for his first season at the helm. 
“I prepare a little bit, because there are certain things that are really important to me that I want them to know,” Roenicke said. “From there, it just kind of goes where I see it needs to go. I’ve been listening to Mike [Scioscia] for the last 11 years, and when I’m listening to him in his meetings, I always have an idea of what I would like to say.”
The workout will feature live batting practice for the first time, hitters’ first opportunity to see “real” pitching and 11 pitchers’ first opportunity to throw with somebody in the batter’s box. 
“They do ramp it up, and on the guys that are hard to see you see the ugly swings,” Roenicke said. “Although, this first day, most swings are kind of ugly.”
The Brewers begin Cactus League play on Feb. 28 with split-squad games against the Cubs and Giants. Roenicke intends to keep his starting pitchers away from National League Central opponents this spring, so whomever gets the nod for that first day will likely face the Giants. Roenicke and pitching coach Rick Kranitz are still formulating their exhibition rotation.
With Tuesday’s workout, things will start to look a whole lot more like Spring Training.
“Hopefully there won’t be too much confusion,” Roenicke said. “But it will be different, because there will be a lot more guys moving around.”
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Prince, Greinke have history

When Prince Fielder met Zack Greinke in 2001, he didn’t know Greinke would someday be the American League Cy Young Award winner. Fielder didn’t know Greinke could pitch at all. 
The Orlando natives played together in showcases when they were high school juniors and seniors. Fielder was a first baseman, of course, and Greinke played third base. 
“I didn’t know he pitched until I say him on TV [later],” Fielder said. “I knew he could throw hard, but I knew he could hit, too. He hit third in the showcase, so that’s pretty good.” 
Greinke will get his chance to hit in 2011. After seven seasons with the Royals in the AL, including a 2009 in which he 16-8 for a 65-97 team, posted a 2.16 ERA and won the Cy Young Award, Greinke was traded to the Brewers in December. He should fit right in – Brewers pitchers led the league last year in batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, home runs and RBIs. 
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Fielder arrives in camp

A smiling Prince Fielder arrived in Brewers camp Sunday eager to play baseball. Too bad he was surrounded by reporters eager to talk about his steady march toward free agency.

“You guys can talk about it,” Fielder said, “but I’m going to give you my answer.”
And that answer?
“I don’t know how to do all that [business] stuff,” Fielder said. “I’m playing baseball.”
In other words, he’s not going to offer any updates. 
“Pretty much,” Fielder said with a smile. “But you can ask.”
So we did, and here are some of the topics Fielder discussed his little scrum Sunday morning:
Was it tough watching Brewers pitchers struggle over the past two seasons?
“You don’t blame any one side. The frustrating part is losing, period. I don’t care if the pitching’s great and we’re not hitting good, or if we’re hitting good and the pitching [poor], a loss is a loss. As a team, we don’t [point fingers]. You want to stay positive.”
On a new manager and a partially new staff:
“Once you’re in Spring Training, it’s all baseball. I talked to [Ron Roenicke] in the offseason over the phone to make introductions. It’s cool.”
On entering his 10th professional season:
“Wow, I didn’t think about that. That’s pretty cool. It’s gone by pretty fast until you think about it. I think it’s gone by fast because I have kids. When you see them, it makes it seem faster.”
Is he a different guy now than he was in ’02?
“Hopefully. I want to get better every year.”
Did he reflect on his 2010 season after it was over?
“Honestly, I didn’t reflect on it at all when I got home. I started hanging out with my kids. … I wouldn’t call [the experience in 2010] adversity. I just played baseball, and I don’t see it as that dramatic. [Pitchers] aren’t going to just throw it down the middle.
“I was just trying to contribute as much as I could to win, and I got anxious. That’s just how I am. I just want to win, and sometimes I get a little overanxious. But once I kind of realized what was going on and helped win by trying to score runs and having good baserunning, getting on base, that helped more than me trying to swing and making outs for no reason.”
Was there a turning point in reaching that outlook?
“Kind of, and then I got tired of making outs on bad pitches. When you do that enough times, you start to get tired of it and you try a different way.”
Did last year, particularly the final home game when he walked off the field to a standing ovation, feel like goodbye to Milwaukee?
“I don’t know. Not really. I thought I was going to be back here, but with everything being said, you never know. I thought I was going to be here, but you never know. This is where I play.”
Did he pay any attention to the Albert Pujols situation?
“Not really at all, actually. I’m just playing baseball. I don’t know what his situation is, anyway.”
As a fan of baseball, does he think it would be cool to see Pujols remain in St. Louis beyond this season?
“I think it would be cool for him to go wherever he’s happy. Whatever makes him happy, I think he does it.”
Is he really able to block out all of the contract talk?
“Yeah, especially this year because we have a good team. I’m just focused on winning. It’s easy to block things out when you have a good team and you know you have a chance to win.”
Fielder was happy for Brewers second baseman Rickie Weeks, an offseason neighbor in Orlando who signed a contract extension last week. 
“He was healthy, and that was the big thing,” Fielder said. “He was healthy and showed everybody what he could do.”
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DiFelice is back — cutter, too

A fan asked yesterday on Twitter how righty Mark DiFelice is doing this spring, so I strolled over this morning and here’s the result:
Mark DiFelice is back in big-league camp with the Brewers after losing all of 2010 to shoulder surgery. His signature pitch is back, too.
“The cutter. Still got it,” said DiFelice, who carved a niche in Milwaukee’s bullpen in 2008 and 2009 essentially with one pitch, limiting right-handed batters to a .218 average. 
“I had dreams of trying to throw it again after the surgery, and it wasn’t there,” he said. “You’re kind of like, ‘now what.'”
Thankfully, those dreams — more like nightmares — never became reality. He threw 22 bullpen sessions last summer under the watch of Brewers medical staffers before facing his first hitter, and finished the year with nine innings in the Brewers’ fall instructional program.
There was an offer to pitch winter ball, but DiFelice felt fatigued after a summer of rehab so he went home to Philadelphia. He worked out over the winter at Villanova University and drew an invitation from the Brewers to Major League Spring Training.
He’s pitching with “no limitations,” DiFelice said. “As of right now, I’m 100 percent. The shoulder feels great. I’m so happy to be back in camp and able to participate, enjoy the camaraderie with the guys. I worked hard last year to get back where I am now.”
DiFelice reported to Maryvale Baseball Park on Feb. 1 and had four bullpens under his belt before pitchers and catchers took part in the first formal workout. 
Now, at 34, he’s back where he was in 2008 and 2009, trying to win a job. 
“Nothing new to me,” he said.