March 2011

Axford plans to ‘let it go’

John Axford put on his best Trevor Hoffman face on Thursday after taking a brutal Opening Day loss. He didn’t plan to linger long on Ramon Hernandez’s game-winning home run.

“I’ll reflect a little bit,” Axford said. “We have a day off [Friday] and a little workout, so I’ll come in and check some video but it’ll be out of my mind and I’ll be ready to go for Saturday. I think that’s the best and the easiest thing. The best thing I did last year, whenever something like this happened, was to just let it go. Tomorrow’s another day. We start fresh. It’s a long year.

“We have 161 games left, and I’m pretty sure we’re going to be all right.”

The trouble Thursday was the same one Axford faced in his early Spring Training outings, and in the early part of his professional career, for that matter. The 93-96 mph fastball was there, but the location was not.

Hernandez hit a 93 mph fastball on the outer edge of home plate but in the upper half of the strike zone. That’s not where Axford intended it.

“I got away with one in the at-bat before with [Jonny] Gomes,” said Axford, referring to the batter before Hernandez, who lifted a long sacrifice fly. “This time I paid for it.”

So did the Brewers, who were trying to win Ron Roenicke’s managerial debut.

“It’s a rough start,” Roenicke said.

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Non-call kept Reds rally alive

A close call went against the Brewers right in the middle of the Reds’ ninth-inning rally on Thursday, a four-run scoring burst that ended with a bang on Ramon Hernandez’s game-winning, three-run home run. Part of Brewers third baseman Casey McGehee was still wondering afterward if Hernandez should have batted at all.

Four batters earlier, Scott Rolen batted with runners at first and second base and nobody out and hit a chopper to McGehee, who tried tagging Brandon Phillips — the runner going from second to third base — before throwing to first. Phillips juked, McGehee missed, and his throw was late.

“That was the Ochocinco special,” Phillips said, referring to the Cincinnati Bengals receiver-turned-Major League Soccer hopeful. “I just saw where it was at and did a little slide move.

McGehee knew he missed the tag but argued with rookie umpire Dan Bellino that Phillips had left the baseline. Had that been the call, then Hernandez would have been on deck for Jonny Gomes’ game-ending fly-out. Instead, Gomes’ sacrifice fly cut the deficit to two and Hernandez’s homer erased it.

Bellino, incidentally, was working his first Major League Opening Day. He’s one of three new umpires this season.

Here’s the rule in question, 7.08(a)(1). It says, “Any runner is out when he runs more than three feet away from his  baseline to avoid being tagged unless his action is to avoid interference with a fielder fielding a batted ball.  A runner’s baseline is established when the tag attempt occurs and is a straight line from the runner to the base he is attempting to reach safely.”

So, should Phillips have been out? From the replay, it was very tough to tell.

“Obviously, my opinion doesn’t really matter,” McGehee said. “But if my first inclination was that he was not out of the baseline, I would have made sure I kept going towards him a little bit more than I did instead of also trying to make a throw. In hindsight, I wish I had just come through and made a throw to first and not even worried about him.”

Brewers manager Ron Roenicke came out to argue his player’s case, but in the game’s immediate aftermath, he wasn’t sure.

“It’s hard for me to see where the guy starts,” Roenicke said. “It’s not on the line where the base path is, it’s where that guy starts. So he creates his own base path. And if he started back behind the bag, then where he ended up probably was more than the three feet, but I don’t know where he started.”

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Weeks, Gomez start season with a bang

Sure, the Brewers were bummed about Zack Greinke’s place on the Opening Day disabled list. But they showed Thursday how they’ll try to get by in his absence.

Rickie Weeks and Carlos Gomez delivered back-to-back home runs in the Brewers’ first two at-bats of 2011, sparking a three-run rally in the regular season’s opening inning for an early lead against the defending National League Central champion Reds.

Weeks hit Cincinnati starter Edinson Volquez’s eighth pitch of the season to the left-field seats for his 22nd career leadoff home run, and Gomez turned on a sinker two pitches later for a booming homer to the second deck. Ryan Braun walked, Prince Fielder singled and Volquez finally recorded an out on Casey McGehee’s sacrifice fly.

Some historical context: Weeks is the first Brewer ever to lead off a season with a home run, and Weeks and Gomez are the first teammates to start a season with back-to-back homers since the Reds’ Pete Rose and Bobby Tolan took the Dodgers’ Don Drysdale deep to start the 1969 season.

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Healthy Uecker ready for Opening Day

Bob Uecker called his 40th consecutive Brewers Opening Day game on Thursday and revealed that, if not for one fortuitous doctor’s visit, his streak would have ended at 39.

Uecker underwent major heart surgery last April to repair a leaking aortic valve, and his return was slowed by a staph infection. By October, Uecker was feeling well enough to accept an invitation to speak at a dinner in Florida, but before traveling, he went in for one last check-up. That’s when his doctor discovered that the infection had opened another leak in Uecker’s aorta. He immediately scheduled a second surgery.

“Had I not gone for that check-up, I would have died,” Uecker said. “No doubt. Oh, no doubt. They found that hole where the staph infection had settled in and ate a hole in the new valve they put in. It was pumping blood out of my heart chamber.”

The second surgery was difficult, but deemed a success, and Uecker returned to a normal broadcast schedule in Spring Training. He’s scheduled to call all 162 games in 2011 with broadcast partner Cory Provus.

“I don’t know if I’m back to normal,” Uecker said. “My chest is a little sore yet, where they break you open. once was OK, twice is a little harder. Other than that, I feel good. … I feel stronger. I’m back swimming again [one mile per day]. I love doing that. I felt strong this spring, working-wise.”

After dropping 24 pounds last season, Uecker is back to an Opening Day weight of 190.

“That was my ‘sitting weight’ when I played,” he deadpanned.

That sense of humor never suffered during Uecker’s trying 2010. He’ll put it to work on the Brewers Radio Network this season, just like he’s done every season since stepping into the booth midway through the 1971 season. He’s done every Opening Day game since, and calculated that Thursday marked his 56th Major League opening day if you count his days as a player.

“Fifty-six years,” he said wistfully, “and I’m still not in the lineup.”

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Opening Day lineups, notes

It looks like you can get the lineups when they’re available right on the Brewers.com homepage — cool feature. But in the interest of tradition, I’ll blog them today and we’ll see how it goes.

BREWERS
Weeks 2B
Gomez CF
Braun LF
Fielder 1B
McGehee 3B
Kotsay RF
Betancourt SS
Nieves C
Gallardo RHP

REDS
Stubbs CF
Phillips 2B
Votto 1B
Rolen 3B
Bruce RF
Gomes LF
Hernandez C
Janish SS
Volquez RHP

The Brewers are beginning their 43rd season as a franchise and 14th in the National League. The franchise is 23-18-1 on Opening Day, 15-13-1 on the road and 7-5-1 overall since joining the NL. The tie was right here in Cincinnati, on April 3, 2000, when Davey Lopes’ managerial debut was called in the top of the sixth inning with the teams tied at 3.

This is only the team’s fourth regular-season game in March. Here are the others:

3/31/98 at Atlanta — Lost, 2-1
3/31/03 at St. Louis — Lost 11-9
3/31/08 at Chicago Cubs — Won, 4-3

John Axford, Zach Braddock, Brandon Kintzler and Erick Almonte are the first-time members of a Major League Opening Day roster.

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Opening Day is here

After a weird spring marred by basketball injuries, scorpion bites, rib-cage strains are a myriad of more minor bumps and bruises, the Brewers have finally reached baseball fans’ favorite day of the year.

Opening Day is today, with the Crew set to face the Reds beginning at 1:10 p.m. CT. Yovani Gallardo gets Opening Day honors for the second straight year, and he’ll face Reds righty Edinson Volquez at Grest American Ball Park, where, yes, it will be cold. Weather.com says it will be 43 degrees at first pitch.

To pass the few remaining hours before the start of the season, here’s what you may have missed on Brewers.com over the past few days:

– MLB.com’s Anthony Castrovince writes about the similarities between the Brewers and Reds in his preview of the game, complete with broadcast info and all of the other particulars.

Zack Greinke figures the Brewers are in good hands with Gallardo. The top Brewers newcomer, on the DL with a cracked rib, was busy in the training room for many of Gallardo’s early-spring starts, but then he saw a bullpen on a back field at Maryvale Baseball Park and was sold. Greinke explained what makes an “amazing” bullpen session.

– The Brewers insist that their injury-, illness- and oddity-filled Spring Training did not dampen the enthusiasm they brought to Phoenix in the first place. At some point, Greinke will be back, and Corey Hart and Jonathan Lucroy, too, and then the Brewers are counting to contend in the National League Central.

– The forecast appears precipitation-free, and that’s a very good thing after the Brewers worked out in the snow on Wednesday afternoon. Check out the blog for more great photos from the Associated Press, including one of a bundled-up Takashi Saito.

– In that same notebook is the official Opening Day roster, with no surprises. The Brewers placed Hart and Lucroy on the DL yesterday and added Erick Almonte and Jody Reed to the 40-man roster.

– Here are some tools for the fantasy baseball players out there to bookmark for the season. The first is the Brewers depth chart, and if you look there today you’ll see my best guess for the Opening Day starting lineup, with Wil Nieves handling Gallardo. There’s also an injury report with information about all 30 big league teams, and a list of probable pitchers for the next turn through the starting rotation.

 

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Opening Day roster set

The Brewers placed outfielder Corey Hart and catcher Jonathan Lucroy on the 15-day disabled list, selected Erick Almonte’s and Jeremy Reed’s contracts from Triple-A Nashville and formally set their 25-man, Opening Day roster. Here it is:

PITCHERS (12):

59 John Axford RHP

21 Zach Braddock LHP

49 Yovani Gallardo RHP

54 Sean Green RHP

61 Brandon Kintzler RHP

50 Kameron Loe RHP

18 Shaun Marcum RHP

52 Sergio Mitre RHP

38 Chris Narveson LHP

40 Takashi Saito RHP

57 Mitch Stetter LHP

43 Randy Wolf LHP

CATCHERS (2)

16 George Kottaras

33 Wil Nieves

INFIELDERS (6)

22 Erick Almonte

3 Yuniesky Betancourt

30 Craig Counsell

28 Prince Fielder

14 Casey McGehee

23 Rickie Weeks

OUTFIELDERS (5)

8 Ryan Braun

27 Carlos Gomez

25 Mark Kotsay

2  Nyjer Morgan

7 Jeremy Reed

STAFF

10 Ron Roenicke Manager

35 Garth Iorg  1B Coach

39 Rick Kranitz Pitching Coach

53 Stan Kyles Bullpen Coach

36 Jerry Narron Bench Coach

6 Ed Sedar 3B Coach

31 John Shelby Outfield Coach

29 Dale Sveum Hitting Coach

56 Joe Crawford  Coaching Assistant

55 Marcus Hanel  Bullpen Catcher

DISABLED LIST (5)

13 Zack Greinke RHP

32 LaTroy Hawkins RHP

1 Corey Hart OF

20 Jonathan Lucroy C

26 Manny Parra LHP

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Snow or no, Brewers arrive in Cincy

The Brewers braved some snow at Great American Ball Park on Wednesday for a quick, day-before-Opening Day workout. Associated Press photographer Al Behrman took some terrific shots, including the one above of the boys running in the snow.

Here are some more, all from the AP:

Prince Fielder

Ryan Braun

Yovani Gallardo

Takashi Saito

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Morgan wants to fit in with Brewers

Nyjer Morgan sat in his new clubhouse at his new locker with a baseball bat in hand, ready to begin a new phase.

The Brewers traded for Morgan on Sunday morning and he was to make his Brewers debut Tuesday afternoon against the Padres in Milwaukee’s final 2011 Spring Training game. Morgan was scheduled to relieve starting center fielder Carlos Gomez, which is exactly how Brewers officials say they intend to use their new speedster during the regular season.

“I’m excited. Very excited,” Morgan said. “This seems like a fun ballclub here, and basically this is my first time being on a winning ballclub. I’m more excited about that than anything. I’m going to try to fit in, basically. Whatever my role is, I don’t care about that.”

The trade came as no surprise to Morgan, who knew his time with the Washington Nationals was coming to an end. Washington is going with Rick Ankiel and Jerry Hairston Jr. in center field instead of Morgan, who started 128 games in 2010. The Brewers sent Minor League infielder Cutter Dykstra and $50,000 to the Nationals to complete the trade.

“It was one of those things where my time was up there,” he said. “I don’t have any ill feelings about my time over there, and there are still a bunch of guys there that I consider friends. It’s business, and I knew my time there was done.  I said so and everybody tried to butcher me for it. So it was time, because I was catching a bad rap out there.”

Morgan said he had no regrets about his tumultuous week late in the 2010 season, when he showed up on the national highlight shows after a couple of hard hits at home plate. Morgan drew the Cardinals’ ire for colliding with catcher Bryan Anderson, though Morgan insists that was nothing more than a hard baseball play. On Aug. 31, he separated Marlins catcher Brett Hayes’ shoulder in another plate collision, sparking retaliation the following night. Marlins starter Chris Volsted hit Morgan with a pitch in the fourth inning, and when Volsted threw behind Morgan in the sixth, Morgan charged the mound and incited a brawl.

“Like there’s never been a brawl before?” he said. “Come on. Basically, I never did anything [wrong]. I served my [suspension] for charging the mound. It all got blown up.”

One of Morgan’s new teammates says it’s time to move on.

“That was last year, anyway,” second baseman Rickie Weeks told a reporter talking to Morgan. “Forget it.”

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Boggs outrighted to Nashville

The Brewers just announced that outfielder Brandon Boggs had been sent outright to Triple-A Nashville, meaning he’s cleared waivers. Boggs had been previously outrighted and thus had the right to refuse this assignment, but it appears from the club’s brief announcement that he’s accepted.

According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s Tom Haudricourt, who covered Tuesday’s spring finale while I was flying back east, Boggs has until Wednesday to decide whether to accept his assignment. I’ll pass along word when we get it.

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