April 2011

Brewers go for sweep

Left-hander Cliff Lee stands between the Brewers and what would be a very encouraging three-game sweep of the Phillies today.

Lee, of course, is a sensational left-hander, and that means the Brewers are giving right-handed hitting Erick Almonte another shot in right field. After going 1-for-2 as a pinch-hitter on Tuesday (no, that’s not a typo), Almonte is 3-for-23 this season. It’s been a tough go for the team’s best Spring Training hitter.

The lineup:

Rickie Weeks 2B
Carlos Gomez CF
Ryan Braun LF
Prince Fielder 1B
Casey McGehee 3B
Yuniesky Betancourt SS
Erick Almonte RF
Jonathan Lucroy C
Chris Narveson LHP

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Greinke breezes through rehab start

Hawkeye Sports Photography/Dennis Greenblatt

Brewers right-hander Zack Greinke was sharp in his first Minor League rehabilitation start, a scoreless, three-inning stint for Class-A Brevard County on Tuesday night.

Greinke retired nine of the 10 batters he faced, struck out four of them and threw 35 pitches in his first game since suffering a cracked rib playing pick-up basketball in Spring Training. According to Mark DeCotis of FLORIDA TODAY, who regularly covers the Brewers’ Florida State League affiliate, Greinke threw 11 of his 13 pitches for strikes in the first inning, five of six pitches for strikes in a quick second inning and 11 of 16 pitches for strikes in the third, when he finally allowed a hit.

The hit belonged to Tampa catcher Mitch Abeita, who reached on a one-out single to second base. Greinke struck out the next two batters to end his outing.

According to a report passed along to Brewers media relations director Mike Vassallo, Greinke, “felt great” and worked with 91-94 mph fastball velocity.

The Brevard County club is off in five days so Grienke’s next start is expected to be with Triple-A Nashville. Brewers manager Ron Roenicke has said Greinke will have to make at least three Minor League starts before the Brewers consider re-instating him from the disabled list, perhaps for a May 4 start against the Braves at Turner Field.

Hawkeye Sports Photography/Dennis Greenblatt

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Saito will need more time

Brewers manager Ron Roenicke said reliever Takashi Saito will not be ready for active duty by Friday, the first day he’s eligible to return from the 15-day disabled list.

Saito strained his left hamstring in the team’s April 4 home opener and was scheduled for a bullpen session on Tuesday in Philadelphia and a simulated game on Friday at Miller Park.

“Rick [Kranitz, the pitching coach] is more comfortable if we get him out to face some hitters,” Roenicke said. “The bullpens, it’s hard to recreate that true 100 percent. If we do a simulated game, we have a chance to see where he is. Rick would be more comfortable if we do that a couple of times. We’ll see.”

Another veteran reliever, right-hander LaTroy Hawkins, should be back by the time Saito faces hitters. He rejoined the Brewers this week following a Minor League rehabilitation assignment and will be activated either Wednesday or Friday.

With those arms still unavailable, right-hander Mike McClendon was a very welcome addition Tuesday to a Brewers’ bullpen stretched as thin as it’s been all month. That’s what playing 30 innings over two days — a doubleheader on Sunday followed by a 12-inning game on Monday — will do to a ballclub.

“It’s uncomfortable when you think you could have another extra-inning game again,” Roenicke said.

McClendon joined the team after the Brewers placed starter Shaun Marcum on the bereavement list, but Roenicke was missing a number of his relief options on Tuesday.

Brandon Kintzler was off-limits after pitching two innings on back-to-back days and Sergio Mitre was unavailable while getting treatment on his right triceps, which was struck by a line drive on Monday night. Mitre said he felt much better today than he thought he would.

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McClendon in ‘pen as series continues

The Brewers indeed added a fresh arm to their worn-out and banged-up bullpen, but they did not make the move we expected. To clear a spot on the active roster for right-hander Mike McClendon, the team placed right-hander Shaun Marcum on the bereavement list so he could be with his father, who is undergoing heart surgery.

The Brewers needed McClendon’s fresh arm after playing 30 innings between Sunday’s doubleheader and Monday’s 12-inning game. LaTroy Hawkins needs another day to recover from back-to-back Minor League outings over the weekend, and Sergio Mitre expected to be unavailable after he was struck just above the right elbow by a line drive on Monday night.

I’ll pass along more details about Marcum’s absence after we get into the clubhouse. He started Monday night against the Phillies.

Tonight, it’s Randy Wolf on the mound for the Brewers against Roy Halladay and the Phillies. Here’s the lineup:

Rickie Weeks 2B
Carlos Gomez CF
Ryan Braun LF
Prince Fielder 1B
Casey McGehee 3B
Mark Kotsay RF
Yuniesky Betancourt SS
George Kottaras C
Randy Wolf LHP

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Farris will still play some shortstop

The Brewers are very short of shortstops in the Minor Leagues, and some fans wondered why they have not simply moved Triple-A second baseman Eric Farris into the slot, since the plan was to use him occasionally at that position this season.

Brewers assistant scouting director Tom Flanagan is on this road trip and answered that question today. He said Farris has been slowed this month by a very minor foot injury that did not keep him out of Nashville’s lineup, and the organization did not want to ask him to play a different position while he was less than 100 percent.

(Thanks to Brewers fan @sessilefielder for pointing me to Farris’ Twitter account, which says he was hurt fouling a ball of his foot.)

Soon, Farris will start playing something like two days a week at shortstop. Why not more? For one, he’s a superior defensive second baseman who has played there since college. The Brewers are also somewhat hesitant to move too many of their top prospects, though there are obviously exceptions (Mat Gamel comes to mind). There’s a growing belief in the front office that it’s more productive to give a guy a position and keep him there.

I know a certain other Brewers beat writer has made this point, but I’ll say it, too. It’s really too bad for the Brewers and Luis Cruz that Cruz refused the Brewers’ assignment to Nashville and signed with the Rangers to play at Triple-A instead. It seems to me that his path to the Majors was easier as a backup to Yuniesky Betancourt than to the Rangers’ young Elvis Andrus.

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Hawkins back, but return on hold

Fresh off a Minor League rehabilitation assignment, reliever LaTroy Hawkins rejoined the Brewers at Citizens Bank Park on Monday but will not be activated from the disabled list until Wednesday at the earliest.

Hawkins pitched five times for the Brewers’ Class A and Triple-A affiliates to test his surgically-repaired right shoulder. Since his assignment ended with back-to-back appearances for Triple-A Nashville on Saturday and Sunday, the Brewers want Hawkins to rest at least two days before reinstating him to the active roster.

If the Brewers make it through Monday’s and Tuesday’s games without burning-out the bullpen, they may wait through Thursday’s off-day to activate Hawkins. In that event, he would be active for Friday’s series-opener against the Astros.

“I feel like I felt in ’09. No pain, no restriction, no tightness,” said Hawkins, who reported feeling, “outstanding.”

After missing most of 2010 with shoulder trouble, Hawkins is hoping to make up for lost time in the second season of his two-year, $7.5 million contract.

A couple more injury updates:

– Nyjer Morgan remained unavailable to start Monday and manager Ron Roenicke would not rule out the need to place the speedster on the disabled list with his deep right thigh bruise. Morgan, though, said he was feeling better every day.

– Right fielder Corey Hart departed Monday afternoon to catch a flight for New Orleans, where he will join Triple-A Nashville on Tuesday. How long Hart remains with the Sounds depends on how he feels at the plate. He’s working back from a left oblique strain.

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Command burned Gallardo

It’s only two starts, but Brewers ace Yovani Gallardo has not been the same guy since his two-hit shutout of the Braves earlier this month.

Gallardo surrendered a pair of three-run home runs in the opening game of a doubleheader against the Nationals on Sunday, an 8-4 Brewers loss that left manager Ron Roenicke a bit perplexed.

“I don’t have any answers for it,” Roenicke said. “He started off good, and then lost the command. I don’t know what it is when ‘Yo’ loses his command, because he had it all spring and he had it the first two games [of the regular season]. When he came out today, I thought he had it to begin with, and then he lost it.”

Staked to an early 2-0 lead on Casey McGehee’s RBI single in the first inning and Gallardo’s own RBI single in the fourth, the Brewers right-hander surrendered a three-run homer to Nationals leadoff man Danny Espinosa in the fifth inning and another to catcher Ivan Rodriguez in the sixth.

Both Washington homers came on mistakes after Gallardo fell behind in the count.

He was in a 3-and-0 hole to Espinosa before a pair of called strikes pushed the count full. Gallardo threw a fastball down and inside to the left-handed-hitting Espinosa, who hit it into the right-field seats.

“I tried to go down and away and it ends up down and in. I’m pretty sure that’s where he likes the ball,” Gallardo said. “It’s one of those things where you try to overthrow and he got it up in the air.”

Against Rodriguez, Gallardo was behind 2-and-0 when he threw a slider up in the strike zone. Rodriguez hit it the other way to the first row of seats in right-center field.

“As the game went on, that was the thing — the fastball and off-speed stuff was up in the zone, and they put the bat on it,” Gallardo said.

It was only the seventh time in 86 Major League starts that Gallardo surrendered two home runs in a game, and the first time in those seven games that both of the homers came with men on base. Before Sunday, only five of the 45 homers Gallardo had allowed came with multiple runners on base (four three-run homers and one grand slam).

In two starts since his gem against Atlanta, in which Gallardo scored the only run in a 1-0 win at Miller Park, he has allowed 11 runs on 16 hits in 10 1/3 innings.

He said several times on Sunday that he “felt fine.”

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Hawkins nearing end of rehab run

The Triple-A Nashville Sounds are scheduled for a doubleheader in Omaha today, and it could be a big day for rehabbing Brewers reliever LaTroy Hawkins. He’s scheduled to pitch for the second straight day, and his next outing after that could be back with the Brewers.

Sunday would mark Hawkins’ fifth appearance on a Minor League rehabilitation assignment during which he’s been building strength in his surgically-repaired right shoulder. Hawkins had a rotator cuff and labrum repair last August, and at the end of Spring Training was topping out in the low 90 mph range.

Now his velocity is back, and Brewers manager Ron Roenicke said the Brewers would discuss reinstating Hawkins from the 15-day disabled list this week.

After beginning his rehab with three appearances with Class A Brevard County, Hawkins made his first appearance for Nashville on Saturday night and retired the first two hitters he faced before walking the next two and reaching his 20-pitch limit.

Left-hander Manny Parra, on the DL with a back injury, also pitched Saturday for Nashville and allowed two runs on four hits in 2 2/3 innings. He threw 49 pitches, 30 for strikes, and walked two batters with two strikeouts.

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Doubleheader set for Sunday

Here’s the rundown for Sunday, when the weather forecast looks a whole lot better in Washington D.C.

– It’s Yovani Gallardo vs. Jason Marquis in Game 1, with Marquis scheduled to throw his first pitch at 12:35 p.m. CT. Gallardo already was set to work on an extra day of rest Saturday and now he’ll have two, which can sometimes lead to complications. But he played catch in the rain on Saturday morning and said he’d do his best to be sharp on Sunday.

“I’ve been working on the things I need to be working on between starts, try to stay in that same rhythm,” Gallardo said. “There’s not much you can do about it. Games are going to get canceled due to rain, so I’ll just show up [Sunday] ready to pitch.”

– Marco Estrada gets his second Brewers start in Game 2 of the doubleheader, set to begin about 30 minutes after the end of Game 1. He’ll face Livan Hernandez and a Nationals club for which Estrada made 15 appearances in 2008 and 2009 before they waived him.

There are no hard feelings, he insisted.

“It’s just another team,” he said. “They needed that spot for a reliever, and thank God I got claimed. It wasn’t bad circumstances. They didn’t tell me, ‘You stink, Get out of here.’ They just needed the roster space, and there’s no bad blood. I understand that’s how baseball works.”

– Both games of Sunday’s doubleheader will be broadcast on FS Wisconsin.

– I saw a handful of Brewers fans walking the National Mall on Friday while I was out for a run, and here’s what officials here told us about tickets: If you have a ticket for either Saturday’s or Sunday’s game, you’re in for both games of the doubleheader. If you have a Sunday ticket, use it. If you have a Saturday ticket, stop at a window at Nationals Park and make sure your seats are available.

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Brewers-Nats rained out

Update at 9:15 a.m. CT — It’s a rainout. The teams will play a traditional doubleheader on Sunday beginning at 1:35 p.m. CT. Game 2 will begin approximately 30 minutes after the final pitch of Game 1. More details about the Brewers’ pitching plans, etc. to follow. 

The Brewers and Nationals are scheduled to continue their series today at 12:05 p.m. CT, and the line of storms moving through Washington D.C. has already begun dropping steady showers that soaked Tom Haudricourt and I in our walk over. We’re in some serious need of the proverbial window, because here’s the forecast from the National Weather Service:

“Windy with showers in the morning, then strong thunderstorms for the afternoon. Storms may produce large hail and strong winds. High 62F. Winds SE at 25 to 35 mph. Chance of rain 90 %.”

Crummy. I’ll provide updates here or on Twitter as I get them.

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