July 2011

Melvin: Versatility key to Hairston deal

The Brewers added more coverage for second base and elsewhere on the diamond Saturday by trading for versatile Nationals veteran Jerry Hairston Jr.

The cost was reigning Minor League player of the year Erik Komatsu, a 23-year-old batting .293 with a .393 on-base percentage at Double-A Huntsville this season. The Brewers expected to make another roster move later Saturday to clear a spot on the 25-man roster for Hairston.

Versatility was the key to the trade. Hairston, 35, has played in 75 games this season — 44 at third base, 22 in left field, nine in center field, three at second base and one at shortstop. Lifetime, he’s played second more than any other position — 592 games of 1,223 total — and that’s a position of need at the moment for Milwaukee, which will be without All-Star second baseman Rickie Weeks for 2-6 weeks because of a severe left ankle sprain.

Hairton’s experience in center field is also important. The Brewers are without Carlos Gomez, who underwent surgery for a fractured left collarbone.

“Versatility comes into play with as many injuries as there are in the game today,” Brewers general manager Doug Melvin said. “He can play all over. He has more of a compact [swing] — can drive the ball in the gaps, but he’s more of a guy who will work the count. He hits left-handers good, and the reports are that he’s a great clubhouse guy.”

Hairston also hits at Miller Park. He’s a career .317 hitter there in 63 at-bats.

This season, Hairston is hitting .268 with a .342 on-base percentage and four home runs. He finished last season with 10 home runs and is a career. 258 hitter.

His 2011 contract pays $2 million, and he is a free agent at season’s end.

Melvin has been busy in the wake of Weeks’ injury. On Thursday, the Brewers acquired Felipe Lopez in a cash deal with the Rays, and Lopez started at second base and batted fifth in Friday’s win over the Astros.

The Brewers need a 25-man roster spot for Hairston, but were not considering making a move with veteran infielder Craig Counsell, who was hitless in his last 41 at-bats through an 0-for-3 day Thursday. It’s the longest drought for a position player in franchise history.

In trading Komatsu, the Brewers were dealing from a position of relative strength. Minor League outfielders Caleb Gindl, Komatsu and Logan Schafer all must be added to the 40-man roster in the coming offseason to protect them from the Rule 5 Draft.

“We like Eric, but we have Schafer and Gindl ahead of him, obviously, because they are at Triple-A,” Melvin said. “Schafer and Gindl have the ability to play center field, too. Erik is a good hitter, a compact swing, and we hate to give him up. But there’s a little bit of depth for us with having [Ryan] Braun and [Corey] Hart, still having Gomez and having Nyjer Morgan with us next year. We probably dealt from depth.

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Lopez joins Brewers, starts tonight

The Brewers appear to have hadi a huge change of heart in the 24 hours after buying infielder Felipe Lopez from the Rays. Instead of having him report to Triple-A Nashville, the Brewers brought Lopez directly to Milwaukee, and he’s in tonight’s starting lineup against the Astros as the No. 5 hitter.

Eric Farris was optioned back to Nashville after spending only one day with the Brewers. He grounded out as a pinch-hitter in his Major League debut Thursday afternoon.

So, Lopez is a much more immediate replacement for injured second baseman Rickie Weeks than Brewers officials initially let on. He was a terrific bat for Milwaukee during the second half of 2009, and was hitting again this season for Tampa Bay’s Triple-A affiliate. But he did not hit in two stints with the big-league Rays, going 21-for-97 (.216).

The initial guess, even from inside the Brewers’ clubhouse, was that general manager Doug Melvin had acquired Lopez in a cash deal with the Rays as insurance, in case he was not able to acquire any other middle infielders before Sunday’s nonwaiver trade deadline. Is this change in plans a sign that Melvin considers the price for players like Jamey Carroll of the Dodgers too high? Or was this the plan all along? We will ask tonight.

He’s a switch-hitter, so Lopez will presumably push Craig Counsell back into a reserve role. Counsell’s hitless streak extended to 0-for-41 yesterday, one out shy of pitcher Doug Davis’ dubious franchise record.

Here’s the full lineup:

Corey Hart RF
Nyjer Morgan CF
Ryan Braun LF
Prince Fielder 1B
Felipe Lopez 2B
Casey McGehee 3B
Yuniesky Betancourt SS
George Kottaras C
Randy Wolf LHP

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Brewers re-acquire F. Lopez in depth deal

The Brewers have acquired Felipe Lopez from the Rays for cash, giving them another option to fill-in for injured second baseman Rickie Weeks. Lopez, who batted .320 for the Brewers during the second half of 2009, is expected to report to Triple-A Nashville on Friday, “and then we’ll evaluate,” Milwaukee general manager Doug Melvin said.

Now 31, the switch-hitting Lopez was with the Rays’ Triple-A Durham team, hitting .305 with seven home runs and 37 RBIs. He’s had a tough couple of years since his months with Milwaukee, batting .233 for three teams in 2010 and just .216 in very limited duty — 97 at-bats — during two big-league stints with the Rays in 2011.

Lopez has experience all over the infield and has made 300 career starts at second base. The Brewers have a big hole there as of Thursday morning, when Weeks was placed on the 15-day disabled list with a severely sprained left ankle. He’s expected to miss 2-6 weeks.

Melvin was busy making and taking phone calls as Sunday’s 3 p.m. CT nonwaiver Trade Deadline looms. The Brewers had already been actively seeing middle infield depth, but I asked him whether the Weeks injury changed the team’s strategy for the next four days.

“Not necessarily,” Melvin said. “We’ve been through all of those names, we know who’s available and who’s not. We’re brainstorming and evaluating the best way to cover ourselves. It’s probably not going to be one person. It’s going to be a combination of guys.”

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Brewers looking hard at 2B market

How badly will the Brewers miss injured second baseman Rickie Weeks? An early indication came Thursday, when veteran Craig Counsell, hitless in his last 38 at-bats over 48 days, won a spot in the starting lineup.

Weeks severely sprained his left ankle reaching for an infield single and will miss 2-6 weeks.

As of Thursday morning, the Brewers had four days to work the second base market ahead of Sunday’s 3 p.m. CT nonwaiver trade deadline. They had already shown interest in the Dodgers’ Jamey Carroll, though Los Angeles has not been moved by offers so far. The Brewers could also pursue Houston shortstop Clint Barmes, Rockies second baseman Mark Ellis (who has already been traded from Oakland to Colorado this summer), Marlins utility man Omar Infante or Mariners second baseman Adam Kennedy.

Kennedy was with Brewers manager Ron Roenicke in Anaheim from 2000-06, and is batting .253 this season with seven home runs, 32 RBIs and a .297 on-base percentage. Among Seattle’s wants are catching help or a hitting prospect.

“We don’t really know the second base market,” Brewers principal owner Mark Attanasio said Wednesday night. “Doug and his team, really, they look at every iteration possible. I’ve got to say, we haven’t really looked for second basemen because Rickie is an All-Star. It would be like looking for a left fielder or a first baseman.”

But Melvin’s staff is certainly prepared to jump into the market. The team gathered its pro scouts at Miller Park earlier this month to study the Major League and upper-level Minor League rosters of all 29 teams.

Roenicke and Melvin discussed available players on Wednesday night and again Thursday morning.

“He was making these calls anyway,” Roenicke said, “and now that you have a second baseman go down, now these other teams think it’s a dire need and they ask for more. It kind of makes it tougher when something like this happens. I don’t know if [asking prices] will go up, but I don’t think they’ll come down.”

He added: “All of these things may be answered in a few days.”

The immediate in-house option is Farris, who arrived at Miller Park about an hour before Thursday’s game.

The Brewers also discussed Nashville third baseman Taylor Green, who is having a comeback season at the plate. But “he’s a third baseman who has played a few games” at second, Roenicke said.

“I’m kind of at a loss for words at the moment,” Farris said after arriving. “I’m trying to get it all together. It’s been a mad 12 hours for me. I’m trying to get acclimated and have a little fun.”

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Weeks placed on DL, Farris up

The Brewers have just officially placed second baseman Rickie Weeks on the 15-day disabled list with a severe left ankle sprain. They called-up Triple-A Nashville second baseman Eric Farris, who will wear N0. 33.

For those wondering how the Weeks injury will impact the Brewers’ offense, one signal came Thursday morning, when Craig Counsell, with no hits in his last 38 at-bats and 48 days, was penciled into the starting lineup.

Counsell will man second base and bat eighth against the Cubs. Third baseman Casey McGehee is back in the five-hole with Weeks out.

Here’s the lineup as Milwaukee aims for a three-game sweep:

Corey Hart RF
Nyjer Morgan RF
Ryan Braun LF
Prince Fielder 1B
Casey McGehee 3B
Yuniesky Betancourt SS
Jonathan Lucroy C
Craig Counsell SS
Shaun Marcum RHP

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Axford ties club saves streak

New Brewers manager Ron Roenicke watched his closer’s first handful of Spring Training outings and wondered if the team had made a huge mistake. John Axford couldn’t command the baseball.

Four months later, Axford is on a franchise-record run of success. He converted his 25th consecutive save opportunity Tuesday night, tying Doug Jones’ club record from 1997 and sealing the Brewers’ 3-2 win over the Cubs at Miller Park.

“It’s not something you want to think about when you’re out there, that’s for sure,” Axford said of his streak. “As long as you’re getting a save, your team is winning, and that’s the most important thing.”

His most important asset, besides the 97 mph fastballs and knee-buckling curves, has been the command that eluded Axford in Spring Training and into April. It took him eight regular-season outings to throw his first 1-2-3 inning on April 23 against the Astros, his first appearance after blowing his second blown save in his fifth chance.

“That really could have been it,” Axford said. “I got a good feeling after that, and things kept rolling. It was never anything physical, never anything psychological. Sometimes baseball is funny that way.”

Axford is 28-for-30 in save opportunities this year and has held the closer’s role despite the arrival of single-season saves king Francisco Rodriguez via trade with the Mets. A year ago, Axford went 24-for-27 in saves as the replacement for all-time saves kind Trevor Hoffman.

It’s not supposed to be this easy.

“Well, I don’t think it’s been easy,” said fellow reliever Kameron Loe. “I’m sure he’d tell you that. He’s grinded some of those saves. He just puts in as hard of work as you can, every day.”

He’s come a long way from concerning the skipper.

“You mean about the command being all over the place? Yeah, I was [concerned],” Roenicke said. “But he had done a good job taking over for Hoffman, and it takes a pretty strong personality to do that. Even though I was concerned about his command, I still felt good about him being our closer.”

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Brewers on Beltran? Melvin won’t say

Brewers general manager Doug Melvin was offered an easy opportunity Tuesday to swat away the persistent rumor that Milwaukee is among the suitors for Mets outfielder Carlos Beltran.

Instead, Melvin said, “I don’t want to get into anything about their players.”

At first glance, the Brewers would appear a long shot for Beltran, the All-Star switch-hitter who is drawing interest from a number clubs with Minor League systems perceived as deeper than Milwaukee’s. But if there’s one lesson Melvin and Brewers principal owner Mark Attanasio have taught, particularly over the past three seasons, it’s that you should never rule out Milwaukee.

Melvin has a knack for surprise blockbusters, from the CC Sabathia trade in July 2008 to a near-deal with the Blue Jays in December 2009 (Halladay had no-trade rights and preferred clubs that spend Spring Training in Florida) to the acquisitions of Shaun Marcum and Zack Greinke last winter to last week’s out-of-nowhere deal for Mets closer Francisco Rodriguez.

None of those trades were rumored before they went down.

“If a deal is for the right player, I’m always open to making a deal,” Melvin said, speaking in general about trading for marquee players and not specifically about Beltran. “We’ve got some [Minor League] players we won’t give up in deals, though. Our system is a little deeper than most people say. …

“We’ve built a reputation as a club that wants to contend and wants to try to get the best players,” Melvin said. “We draw well, we have a good situation here. We’ve gotten a lot more marquee [free agents]. It’s not a situation where we’re going to try to win on marginal players. We don’t give up on it. We work hard at it. We want to be the best.”

The Mets will already get two Brewers Minor Leaguers in the K-Rod trade. They have until Sept. 1 to choose two players from a list of five, and Melvin told New York general manager Sandy Alderson that if he’d like to make those picks before Sept. 1, the Brewers would honor the request.

Brewers officials have remained tight-lipped about the players on that list. They can move freely throughout Milwaukee’s Minor League system, but may not be promoted to the Majors, Melvin said.

The nonwaiver trade deadline is at 3 p.m. CT on Sunday. Teams may still make trades after that date, but the players involved must first clear waivers.

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Surgery for Gomez, Kintzler

Brewers center fielder Carlos Gomez will undergo surgery Monday to straighten and stabilize his fractured left collarbone, but club officials expect him back on the field before the end of the regular season.

The surgical fix was chosen after Gomez was examined by the team’s head physician, Dr. William Raasch. He determined that bone was sufficiently broken to require a metal plate or rod to aid the healing process.

“It’s hard to say a time because when they go in there they don’t know exactly what they’re going to do,” Roenicke said. “He definitely should be back at some point.”

Gomez was hurt making a sensational diving catch in Wednesday’s win at Arizona. He traveled back to Milwaukee in great pain on Thursday, accompanied by Brewers Latin liaison Rolando Valles.

Roenicke also said right-hander Brandon Kintzler would have a screw surgically inserted Tuesday to repair a stress fracture in his right forearm. Kintzler’s return this season is not completely ruled-out, but he likely faces longer odds than Gomez because it takes more time for a pitcher to build-up to game readiness.

Kintzler made the Brewers’ Opening Day roster, but appeared in only nine games before he was shut down with what was initially diagnosed as triceps tendonitis. A subsequent bone scan revealed the fracture.

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Surgery/no surgery will determine Gomez’s absence

Brewers center fielder Carlos Gomez is on his way back to Milwaukee, where head team physician Dr. William Raasch will determine if the player needs surgery for his fractured left collarbone. The answer will go a long way in determining whether the speedy Gomez makes it back on the field this season.

His odds may be long, but remember Yovani Gallardo in 2008? He was written off with a “season-ending” knee injury but ended up returning in September and starting the Brewers’ first postseason game in 26 years. He’s one example of why team officials hate putting timelines on players’ rehab.

I will pass along whatever information becomes available on Gomez.

As far as I am aware, the Brewers have not yet made a roster move official, but will place Gomez on the disabled list today and purchase outfielder Brett Carroll’s contract from Triple-A Nashville. The Carroll news came last night via Twitter courtesy of his brother, pro golfer Chase Carroll, whom I mistakenly called his cousin.

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Braun is back for Brewers

Left fielder Ryan Braun must have made more progress on Monday with his balky left leg, because he is back in the starting lineup for Game 2 of the four-game series at Arizona on Tuesday night. Braun, who was out of the lineup for the 10th time in 13 games Monday, tested his leg in batting practice but did not appear in the team’s 3-0 loss.

Braun’s return did not mean a move back to the top of the batting order for Rickie Weeks, who is hitting fifth for the fourth consecutive game. The Brewers have had trouble getting production from that slot this season.

Here’s the full lineup:

Corey Hart RF
Nyjer Morgan CF
Ryan Braun LF
Prince Fielder 1B
Rickie Weeks 2B
Casey McGehee 3B
Yuniesky Betancourt SS
Jonathan Lucroy C
Yovani Gallardo RHP

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