August 2011

Narveson’s bullpen move an LDS preview?

The Brewers’ bullpen is about to get a dose of left-handedness, if only for a couple of days.

Left-hander Chris Narveson will be in the bullpen for the team’s upcoming series against the Cubs and Cardinals while he waits for his next start. Because of two team off-days, he is not slated to start again until Sept. 3 in Houston. That’s 11 days between starts.

Narveson’s long wait will allow his left hand to heal up — he was on the disabled list with a deep cut on his thumb, then left Monday’s start against the Pirates when the nail on his middle finger began to pull up.

More importantly, it allows the Brewers’ other four starters to remain on a more regular schedule. The team could have kept the pitchers in order, with Narveson pitching Sunday against the Cubs and Zack Greinke taking the team’s Tuesday series opener against the Cardinals. But Greinke would have gone seven days between starts, and told manager Ron Roenicke and pitching coach Rick Kranitz that he preferred a more regular schedule.

That was fine with Narveson.

“It’s good to keep guys on their regular rest, and this is just one of the casualties of it,” Narveson said. “I’ll go to the bullpen now for a couple of days, and if I get a chance, do out there and try to do the job.”

If he does the job, Narveson could find himself in the ‘pen again in the playoffs. The Brewers took a 10-game lead over the Cardinals into Wednesday, and are bidding for their first division title since 1982.

Teams need only three or four starters in the best-of-five Division Series.

“In the postseason, if you have to come out of the bullpen, this kind of prepares you or helps you to do that,” Narveson said. “I told [coaches], all it is is a change of routine.”

The Brewers scanned the market for left-handed pitchers before the July 31 nonwaiver trade deadline and continued looking in August, but did not see any available arms good enough to warrant a trade. Manager Ron Roenicke has said all along that he is fine with the team’s bullpen being entirely right-handed, because the eighth and ninth innings are covered with Francisco Rodriguez and John Axford, regardless of whether opposing hitters are righty or lefty. That leaves a narrow window in which a left-handed reliever would be used.

It also helps that LaTroy Hawkins has had significant success against left-handers this season.

“The way the team is set up, we’re not the team that has to have a lefty just to get a lefty out,” Narveson said.

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Narveson expects to make next start

Left-hander Chris Narveson is running out of healthy digits, but said he expects to make his next start as scheduled after exiting early in Game 1 of Monday’s doubleheader.

The nail on Narveson’s left middle finger caught on a sixth-inning fastball and began to pull away, so he and head athletic trainer Roger Caplinger made the quick decision to call it a day in the Brewers’ eventual 8-1 win over the Pirates. Narveson had just come back from a stint on the disabled list tied to a cut on his left thumb.

Depending on how the Brewers re-order their rotation, Narveson would next start Sunday against the Cubs or Aug. 30 against the Cardinals.

“I knew if I threw one more pitch and it ended up catching [the nail] good or pulling it back or pulling it off, I would be in big trouble,” Narveson said. “I think we caught it. It should be good. It doesn’t really bother me right now. There’s just a little blood underneath it.”

It’s been a strange couple of weeks for Narveson. He sliced his thumb with a pair of scissors on Aug. 12 — during a Pirates-Brewers game at Miller Park — while fixing the stitching on his baseball glove. He was on the 15-day DL until Monday afternoon.

He appeared right back on track, holding the Pirates to five hits and no runs in 5 1/3 innings. But Narveson was pitching without his curveball, which, because of the still-healing cut on his thumb, did not feel right from his first pitch in the bullpen.

That the pitch escaped him was “weird,” Narveson said, because he threw a series of curveballs during a session at Citi Field on Saturday and felt good about all of them. He and catcher George Kottaras had to improvise on Monday.

“We simplified it with fastball, change, cutter, for the most part,” Narveson said.

He did not expect to win the game with his bat.

Pirates starter Jeff Karstens (9-7) pitched seven quality innings but was burned by one breaking ball to the opposing pitcher. Karstens intentionally walked Craig Counsell with runners at second and third to instead face Narveson, who had not taken the bat of his shoulder during a third-inning strikeout.

This time, Narveson reached for a low breaking ball with two strikes, and delivered a tiebreaking two-run single to right field.

Did Karstens do him a favor by not trying to overpower him with a fastball?

“It’s a Catch-22,” Narveson said. “If you’re looking fastball and you’re out in front [of a breaking ball], it’s a good pitch to put the guy away on. If you make a mistake and leave it in the zone, sometimes you are doing a favor. It might have been the right pitch, just the wrong location.”

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Fingernail forces Narveson’s early exit

Chris Narveson cruised into the sixth inning Monday in his return from the disabled list, then abruptly exited his start in Game 1 of a doubleheader against the Pirates at PNC Park with what the Brewers called “an issue” with the nail on his left middle finger.

Narveson had missed his previous two starts with a cut on his left thumb, but that did not appear to bother him in 5 1/3 scoreless innings on Monday. After a 1-and-1 pitch to Pirates first baseman Steve Pearce, catcher George Kottaras went to the mound and called for a medical official, who examined Narveson’s finger.

Reliever Kameron Loe took over and finished the inning.

It was an abrupt end to what was looking like an outstanding outing for Narveson, who worked around five hits without allowing a run in the first five innings, and gave the Brewers a lead with a two-out, two-run single off Pittsburgh starter Jeff Karstens in the fourth.

He had been injured since Aug. 12, when Narveson sliced his left thumb with a scissors while fixing his baseball glove during a Brewers-Pirates game at Miller Park.

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Roenicke urges care with ‘beast mode’

Brewers manager Ron Roenicke is happy to see his team having fun, but would prefer players tone down the Monsters of Miller Park act.

In recent weeks, the Brewers have been celebrating big hits by raising both arms in the air, a gesture that Prince Fielder says it began with his kids imitating characters from the animated movie, “Monsters, Inc.” Fielder did it after driving in both of his runs (here and here) in Sunday’s win over the Mets.

Lately, even some routine singles have become cause for celebration. Is Roenicke OK with that? Not really.

But before going to players with a request to tone things down, Roenicke consulted clubhouse veterans Craig Counsell and Mark Kotsay.

“I mentioned some things to them, I mentioned some things to a few guys. I don’t want it to get carried away,” Roenicke said. “Do I like it? Not particularly. But I don’t think that I’m just going to come out and say, ‘Don’t do it again.’ If I see it get worse, and I see it being a problem, then I’ll talk to the guys about it.”

Players insist the gesture is not meant to show up the opposition, and say they are just having fun. The Rangers made similar celebrations popular last season with the “claw” and “antlers” gestures, all the way to the World Series.

“Today’s game is just different,” Roenicke said. “If you want to be ‘old school,’ you’re not going to do real well in this game today unless you’ve been around as long as Tony La Russa or [Bobby] Cox last year. Then it’s a little different, because … they’ve earned the respect that they can make that call. I have not.”

Outfielder Nyjer Morgan referred to the Brewers’ gestures in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel as “beast mode,” and understands there is a fine line between having fun and disrespect.

“We don’t want to show up anybody,” Morgan said, “and we don’t want to seem like we’re out there being cocky and don’t respect someone else’s game, or the game in general. If it comes down to that, guys are going to have to turn things down. I think it’s cool.”

“Our personality is different than everybody else’s,” said another “beast,” right fielder Corey Hart. “I think it’s good if other teams don’t like it.”

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Sunday lineup; Monday plan

The Brewers face knuckleballer R.A. Dickey at Citi Field this afternoon and are seeking a three-game sweep. MLB.com reporter and Yao Ming clone John Schlegel has the preview, including all of the details of the Brewers’ stunning streak. They have won 21 of 24 and 30 of 40, a run that’s given them the biggest division lead of any team in Major League Baseball.

Here’s the lineup:

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

In news from the team’s daily media notes, the Brewers have lined up their starters for Monday’s doubleheader in Pittsburgh, which the Pirates so kindly have scheduled to begin at 5 p.m. local time, 4 p.m. CT. Lefty Chris Narveson, coming off the disabled list, will start the opening game, with Zack Greinke following in the nightcap.

I’ll get some comment from Ron Roenicke about how that decision was reached.

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Narveson passes test, in line to rejoin rotation

Brewers left-hander Chris Narveson passed a big test in the City Field bullpen on Saturday afternoon, putting him in line to return to the starting rotation for one of Monday’s doubleheader games in Pittsburgh.

Narveson has already missed two starts with a deep cut on his left thumb, suffered on Aug. 12 while he was using a scissors to fix his baseball glove. He’d been throwing with a bandage over the wound until Saturday, when Narveson threw his full assortment of pitches with only a medical glue covering the cut.

“It was nice to be able to take the bandage off and not have anything holding you back,” he said. “I didn’t really think about it today in the bullpen, which is nice. You could just kind of throw your pitches.”

Said manager Ron Roenicke: “It’s not 100 percent, but he looked really good. Right now, we’re leaning [toward starting Narveson against the Pirates].”

The Brewers still face some decisions before Monday’s 4 p.m. CT doubleheader at PNC Park. Zack Greinke is scheduled to start the other game, and the team must decide which pitcher to send to the mound first. Greinke has told  Brewers coaches he’s OK starting either game, but the decision impacts whether the team summons a backup from Triple-A Nashville, either to replace a position player at the start of the doubleheader or to be at the ready in case a roster move is necessary between games.

Brewers manager Ron Roenicke said right-hander Wily Peralta, Milwaukee’s top prospect in MLB.com’s latest rankings, was not being considered for that potential callup and that the pitcher officials have in mind is not currently on the 40-man roster. Roenicke could not name him, but it’s almost certainly another right-handed prospect, Michael Fiers.

If they do make a call-up, the Brewers would have to clear a 40-man roster spot. Before fellow pitching prospect Mark Rogers was dealt a 25-game suspension on Friday, the Brewers had the option of calling-up the injured Rogers, who is out for the year with carpal tunnel syndrome in his wrist, in order to place him on the 60-day disabled list, thus freeing a spot on the 40-man roster. Now, someone else would have to be removed.

Note: I have corrected this post since it went live Saturday morning to reflect that Fiers is NOT Rule 5 Draft eligible after this season. I was misinformed on that point and should have done some digging. I’ve made the mistake several times in the past week, and apologize for it.

Another note: Regarding Rogers, there is some debate whether or not his suspension would actually, by the rules, bar the Brewers from making that paper move — promoting him to the Majors to shift him to the 60-day DL. The real issue is that in doing so, the Brewers would have to pay Rogers a Major League salary during the final five weeks of the season. I have a very hard time believing they would do so after he drew a suspension for a banned stimulant. So, I don’t think he’s going anywhere.

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Fielder, Byrdak clear the air

Benches briefly cleared in Friday’s Brewers-Mets game at Citi Field after Prince Fielder’s groundout to end the top of the eighth inning. The man who had drawn Fielder’s ire called it a big miscommunication.

Mets left-hander Tim Byrdak had thrown a pitch high and tight to Fielder to start the at-bat, and Fielder let out a yell after grounding the next pitch, a slider low and away, to second base. He then approached Byrdak for a discussion while players emptied onto the field from both dugouts and bullpens. Order was quickly restored.

It’s all handled now,” Fielder said.

Here’s what happened, according to Byrdak:

“He had said something coming out of the box that I thought was directed at me,” Byrdak said. “I said something back. When he hit first base, he came back and asked me who I was talking to. I asked him who he was talking to. He said he was just talking to himself. I said, ‘OK,’ and I started walking toward the dugout and I see everybody hopping the fence to go back out. It was way blown out of proportion.”

Said Fielder: “I just wanted to make sure we were on the same page.”

Fielder made clear he had no problem with the inside pitch. He was made at himself for pounding the next one into the ground.

Both players were surprised to find themselves suddenly in the middle of a scrum.

“I was real surprised because it was something that was said in passing and I thought it was going to stay that way. I turned around and everyone was out there and everything, so I was kind of shocked. It was just something that got totally blown out of proportion.”

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Brewers’ Rogers suspended for stimulant

A lousy season got worse Friday for Brewers pitching prospect Mark Rogers, who drew a 25-game suspension after a second positive test for a stimulant in violation of Major League Baseball’s Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment Program.

Rogers is on the Brewers’ 40-man roster but currently on the Class A Brevard County disabled list with carpal tunnel syndrome. In a cruel twist, Rogers’ suspension was handed down the same day he visited a hand specialist in Phoenix, who will perform surgery on both Rogers’ wrists next week.

MLB announced that Rogers’ suspension “is effective immediately,” and on that point the Brewers will seek clarification when the league offices re-open on Monday. Club officials want to ensure that Rogers’ DL status does not delay the start of his suspension.

As of the announcement, Brevard County had 17 games remaining this season.

“We’re disappointed, obviously,” Brewers assistant general manager Gord Ash. “We’re supportive of the program; it’s in place to do exactly what it’s doing, which is to detect what’s going on that shouldn’t be.”

Ash had no advance notice of Rogers’ suspension. The league announced it at 7 p.m. ET on Friday.

When Ash took a call from a reporter he had yet to speak with Rogers, was rated the Brewers top overall prospect in MLB.com’s preseason rankings. He had slipped to 10th in the most recent list.

“It’s important to note that this is not steroids, this is not HGH, this is not performance-enhancing in that regard,” Ash said. “This is a banned stimulant. I can’t even tell you exactly what it is because they don’t share it with us. That’s why the penalty is less severe, because it’s not one of those other performance-enhancing substances.”

The Brewers made Rogers the fifth overall pick in the 2004 Draft and stuck with him through multiple shoulder surgeries. He repaid that faith in 2010 with a breakthrough season that ended in the big leagues, with Rogers posting a 1.80 ERA in two Brewers starts and two relief appearances.

Based on that finish, the Brewers briefly considered Rogers for the Opening Day pitching rotation after Zack Greinke suffered a cracked rib in Spring Training. A minor shoulder setback took Rogers out of the running, and the wrist issue subsequently ruined his Minor League season.

Dr. Don Sheridan, the same hand specialist who operated on Brewers second baseman Rickie Weeks, recommended Friday that Rogers undergo carpal tunnel release surgery on both wrists. The procedure requires a 4-6 week rehabilitation.

“If allowed, which I don’t know yet, hopefully he’ll be allowed to play some winter ball in preparation for Spring Training,” Ash said.

The Brewers have already burned Rogers’ three Minor League options, so unless he becomes of the rare players to qualify for a fourth, the team was already facing a difficult decision for next season.

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Braun eyeing NL batting title

The National League batting title is within Ryan Braun’s reach, and the Brewers left fielder is not afraid to admit it’s most definitely on his mind.

Braun began the Brewers’ series at Citi Field with a .329 average, seven points behind injured Mets shortstop Jose Reyes. While Reyes nurses a stiff left hamstring, Braun has been gaining. He put an eight-game hitting streak on the line Friday night, a stretch that added eight points to Braun’s average.

Reyes’ average has been as high as .355 since the All-Star break, but he batted .288 in July and was off to a .222 start in August before the hamstring shut him down. Reyes, who could return next week, is currently batting .336.

Is catching Reyes on Braun’s radar?

“Of course,” he said. “My biggest goal is always to be the best me that I could be. I feel like I’m always competing with myself to get better. I think the highest average I’ve finished with is .320 in ’09, .324 in ’07, so it would be nice to finish with a higher average than I’ve ever had before. I’ve played this game long enough to know you have no control over what anybody else does.”

The last four NL batting champs have all been power hitters — Matt Holliday in 2007, Chipper Jones in ’08, Hanley Ramirez in ’09 and Carlos Gonzalez last season, each of whom topped 20 home runs. Braun insisted that challenging Reyes would not turn him into a singles hitter.

Manager Ron Roenicke was not surprised to hear that.

“He really likes to drive the ball,” Roenicke said with a smile.

Said Braun: “It’s like when I was going through the hitting streak [a 23-game run in June and July] you guys were asking me about it, and I was like, ‘It doesn’t change my approach.’ … The goal is to get extra-base hits. That’s where I bring the most value to the team — getting into scoring position and driving in runs. I’ll never change my approach just to get a higher batting average.”

Health is helping Braun’s cause. He dealt with left shoulder and left leg injuries before the All-Star break, and while he conceded the leg occasionally still gives him trouble, Braun is playing second to full strength. He heaped praise on athletic trainers Roger Caplinger and Dan Wright for that.

Before those injuries, Roenicke saw Braun on pace for an historic season, not just a very good one.

“I could see him winning a batting title,” Roenicke said. “He’ll take his walks when he needs to. He doesn’t chase out of the zone that much. He hits to all fields, which I think is really important to hit for a high average. He sees the ball better than most players.”

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K-Rod readies for return to New York

Francisco Rodriguez left New York last month as the Mets closer and will return Friday as the Brewers’ setup man.

As long as his new team keeps winning, K-Rod says his post-trade role is not a problem.

AP Photo/David J. Phillip

“It’s been a month, I haven’t gotten any chances, but we’re winning and [incumbent Brewers closer John] Axford has something really nice going on,” Rodriguez said. “For me to be complaining, or say anything about not getting a save situation sounds really, really selfish. The ballclub is doing everything good out there in the field, so I’ll wait for the opportunity, and, when it comes, make sure I don’t waste it.”

He will reunite with old teammates on Friday, when the Brewers visit New York for the start of a three-game series against the Mets. Asked about returning to Citi Field, where he logged 83 saves in two-plus seasons, Rodriguez shrugged.

“Honestly, it doesn’t matter,” he said. “This is a business, and you have to be able to see that as a part of it. You can’t be in my position and only see my side. You have to take a look at and understand both sides. They did what they have to do.”

It helped that Rodriguez saw a trade coming — even if he didn’t see it coming as early as the All-Star break. The Brewers sent two players to be named later to the Mets for Rodriguez, then days later negotiated a deal to eliminate the clause in his contract that automatically engaged a $17.5 million option for 2012 had he finished 55 games. Rodriguez had already finished 34 games with the Mets, a franchise dealing with off-field issues related to Bernie Madoff’s Ponzi scheme.

In return for Rodriguez agreeing to convert the option into a mutual one, the Brewers increased by $500,000 the cost of the accompanying buyout, to $4 million.

AP Photo/Jeff Roberson

Rodriguez’s arrival, along with Takashi Saito’s return from the disabled list, has transformed the Brewers’ bullpen into one of the team’s strengths. Rodriguez allowed only three runs in his first 14 appearances, though he did not pitch from Saturday through Wednesday after experiencing leg cramps after running to first base for his first career hit on Friday night.

“It’s been great,” manager Ron Roenicke said of Rodriguez’s role. “Am I happy we aren’t getting him opportunities to save games? No. But I think since we’ve got him, that bullpen has changed. I’ve said all along that I liked our bullpen, but when he got here and he was OK with doing the eighth inning, it’s made it a great bullpen.”

Roenicke has had several conversations with Rodriguez about his role, one as recently as a week ago.

Does K-Rod feel like a big part of the Brewers’ recent surge?

“Not yet,” he said. “Until we accomplish what we accomplish, I don’t want to say anything. I still have a lot of games to contribute to.

“I am definitely having fun. They have done everything possible to open their arms. They made me feel like I’m not only here for four weeks. I feel like I’ve been here since spring. It makes it a lot easier for a player when that happens.”

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