August 2011

Greinke: Division is Brewers’ to lose

As Zack Greinke sees it, the National League Central is the Brewers’ to lose.

A 3-1 win over the Dodgers on Wednesday was Milwaukee’s 19th win in 21 games, following a familiar formula of quality start, one clutch at-bat and spotless relief. It preserved Milwaukee’s seven-game National League Central edge over the Cardinals, who also won Wednesday. The rest of the division sits at least 12 1/2 games back.

“It’s definitely not locked up, but if we continue to play well, it should happen,” Greinke said. “It’s on us, mainly. We have to do as good as we’re doing or close to that, and at least make it as tough as possible for other teams. It is ours to lose I think, as of right now.”

A sellout crowd 42,804 watched Greinke (12-4) supply the quality start, seven innings that boosted his record in home games to 9-0 and dropped his ERA below four for the first time this season, to 3.92. Jerry Hairston Jr. delivered the clutch hit, a two-out, two-run in the sixth inning that overcame another troublingly quiet night for the offense. LaTroy Hawkins and John Axford accounted for the scoreless relief, with Axford tying for the Major League lead with save No. 36.

And the Brewers marched one day closer to extending their season into October.

“They’re, in my opinion, one of the top two teams we’ve faced this year, with Philly,” said Dodgers outfielder Tony Gwynn Jr., who accounted for the visitors’ only run with a seventh-inning homer. “Their offense is doing what they’ve normally done, but they’ve gone out and gotten good pitching. That was their whole objective in the off-season, to strengthen their pitching staff. They’ve got some tough ones.”

The Brewers have been particularly tough at Miller Park, where the Brewers will play precisely half of their 38 remaining regular season games. Milwaukee is 47-15 so far at home, the best mark in Major League Baseball. The Phillies, widely considered the NL’s most formidable team, are 43-20 at home after their win Wednesday.

For context, the Brewers can lose 12 of their final 19 games at Miller Park and still tie the franchise record for home victories. In 1978, the Brewers’ breakthrough season as a franchise, Robin Yount & Co. won 54 games at County Stadium.

It’s downright “ridiculous,” manager Ron Roenicke was saying Wednesday afternoon.

“I think when these guys come, they know something good’s going to happen,” Roenicke said. “They can get shut down with a good pitcher, and you don’t score, but something good’s going to happen later. Our pitchers are going to throw well, and we’re going to do something good at the end of the game.”

That’s precisely what happened a few hours later.

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Surgery likely for Rogers

Former Brewers first-round Draft pick Mark Rogers returned to the disabled list on Tuesday and will likely need surgery for carpal tunnel syndrome in his right wrist.

Rogers, who had been pitching at Class A Brevard County, is scheduled to visit Dr. Don Sheridan, the Brewers’ hand specialist, in Phoenix on Friday.

Sheridan will make the final determination about surgery, but Rogers and the Brewers have known all along that a procedure would be required to release the symptoms that have bothered Rogers since May. Rogers was hoping to delay surgery until after the season, but was shut down again after allowing five earned runs on six hits and three walks in three innings on Saturday.

Rogers, 25, was the fifth overall pick in the 2004 First-Year Player Draft but has been dogged by arm injuries during his career. He appeared to get back on track in 2010, when Rogers rose all the way to the Majors, and he entered 2011 as the Brewers’ consensus top pitching prospect.

A minor Spring Training shoulder setback cost Rogers a chance to make the Opening Day roster, and the wrist issue has further marred another lost season. Rogers, who will turn 26 in January, is expected to be back to 100 percent well before the start of Spring Training.

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Seid relieved to strike deals with top picks

After more than two months of slow negotiations, the Brewers struck deals with their top two First-Year Player Draft picks.

The team announced at 11:22 p.m. CT, 23 minutes after the deadline for teams to sign their picks, that University of Texas right-hander Taylor Jungmann and Georgia Tech left-hander Jed Bradley had agreed to terms and would begin their professional careers instead of returning to college.

The Brewers also signed 18th round pick Chris McFarland before the deadline, luring the prep shortstop away from a scholarship waiting at Rice University.

“The bottom line is it was a long process and it went down to the wire, but it got done,” amateur scouting director Bruce Seid said after the deadline has passed. “We couldn’t be happier about getting these guys signed and into our system.”

They came at a price. All three players received signing bonuses in excess of Major League Baseball’s “slot” recommendation for their position in the Draft.

Jungmann was the 12th overall pick and, according to Baseball America, received a $2.525 million signing bonus. Bradley went 15th overall and received a $2 million signing bonus, according to Baseball America and the website Zoodig.com. McFarland received $315,000, plus a promise given to many other high school signees, that the Brewers will pay for his college education.

Both Jungmann and Bradley were coming off their junior seasons and had a year of NCAA eligibility to use as leverage.

Jungmann went 13-3 with a 1.60 ERA in 18 starts and one relief appearance for Texas. He won Big 12 Pitcher of the Year honors and the Dick Howser Trophy, college baseball’s version of the Heisman, while pitching the Longhorns into the College World Series. Bradley went 7-3 with a 3.49 ERA in 16 starts for Georgia Tech.

Seid and Brewers general manager Doug Melvin spent much of Monday in the Miller Park “war room,” co-handling negotiations with the players’ high-profile advisers. Alan Hendricks represents Jungmann, and Greg Genske, the agent for second baseman Rickie Weeks, represents Bradley.

“Both sides were represented extremely well,” Seid said.

Seid declined to reveal the team’s immediate plans for the pitchers. He and Melvin are scheduled to participate in a press conference at Miller Park on Tuesday morning, and the players are expected to take part in conference calls later in the day.

Seid called the McFarland signing “a bonus.”

“He wanted to play,” Seid said.

In all, the Brewers signed 33 of their 51 Draft picks including each of their top 12. The team also inked six undrafted players.

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As deadline looms, Brewers, first-rounders still talking

That general manager Doug Melvin needed a break from negotiations with the Brewers’ top two Draft picks might have said more about the status of those talks that Melvin’s words themselves.

Melvin appeared in the dugout for batting practice at about 4:30 p.m. CT on Monday, six and a half hours before the 10:59 p.m. CT deadline for teams to sign their 2011 First-Year Player Draft picks. The Brewers had already signed their second- through 11th-round picks but remained in discussions with two first-rounders: University of Texas right-hander Taylor Jungmann, the 12th overall pick, and Georgia tech left-hander Jed Bradley, who went 15th overall.

Asked for an update on talks, Melvin said, “I can’t say. I don’t want to comment. … I decided to come down here and get some fresh air.”

Melvin and Brewers amateur scouting director Bruce Seid had been up in the Miller Park “war room,” co-handling negotiations with the players’ high-profile advisers. Alan Hendricks represents Jungmann and Greg Genske, the agent for Brewers second baseman Rickie Weeks, represents Bradley.

Melvin revealed that both Jungmann and Bradley were in Milwaukee on Friday to undergo physical exams. The Brewers invited both to attend that night’s game against the Pirates.

“They didn’t want to do it,” Melvin said.

Melvin had better news about the team’s 18th round pick, high school shortstop Chris McFarland, confirming that the sides were near an agreement. Two outlets — Perfect Game USA and Baseball America — reported that the Lufkin (Tex.) High School product received a $315,000 signing bonus. He had a scholarship to Rice University.

Besides Jungmann and Bradley, Melvin said he did not anticipate signing any of the Brewers’ other unsigned picks.

Including McFarland, 16 of the Brewers’ first 22 picks agreed to terms, pending the outcome of discussions with Jungmann and Bradley.

If Jungmann does not sign, the Brewers would get the 13th pick in next year’s Draft as compensation. But the Bradley pick is unprotected, because it was compensation for not signing 2010 first-round pick Dylan Covey, whose deal with the Brewers was scuttled by a last-minute Diabetes diagnosis.

Melvin would like to see the Aug. 15 signing date moved up.

“There’s no doubt the Aug. 15 [deadline] hurts the players,” said Melvin, who argues that players who sign early wind up arriving in the Majors a year to a year and a half earlier than those who drive up their bonuses by waiting for the deadline. Melvin sent a letter to both Jungmann and Bradley earlier this summer to argue that case.

“It hurts clubs, too,” Melvin said. “If a player signs earlier, some teams might say, ‘I’m not going to get involved in a free agent because that [Draft pick] might be ready in another year or so.’”

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Hart relieved by x-ray results

A younger Corey Hart suffered broken fingers, hands, wrists, ankles and a collarbone. After he was struck in the left hand by a wayward pitch on Saturday night, Hart had a sinking feeling that he had suffered another bad break.

Instead, x-rays yielded good news. They were negative, meaning Hart’s hand is bruised but not broken, and he is day-to-day instead of sidelined for several weeks.

The news came as a relief to Hart and to the Brewers, who are already playing without starting second baseman Rickie Weeks (left ankle) and backup center fielder Carlos Gomez (collarbone).

“I’ve broken stuff before, and it had that feeling,” Hart said. “It didn’t feel good to move it at all. I was just hoping. We already have Rickie down, and it’s nice that this will only be a day or two instead of longer.”

Hart still planed to travel home to Arizona on Sunday night to attend an event at his kids’ school on Monday, an off-day for the Brewers. He will visit the team’s medical facility at Maryvale Baseball Park for treatment, then will travel early Tuesday to St. Louis, where Brewers head athletic trainer Roger Caplinger will determine Hart’s availability for the opening game of another key series against the Cardinals.

Hart said he hopes to play. The key will be whether he can grip a bat.

“It’s swollen-up today and he’s still sore,” manager Ron Roenicke said.

Hart has handled much worse. He ran through his list of childhood injuries — a broken ankle playing basketball, and a broken hand playing high school football. He broke a collarbone trying to ride down a hill while standing on a sled. He’s broken his wrist three times — on falls off a bike, a pair of Rollerblades and a homemade skateboard.

“I was a train wreck when I was a kid,” Hart joked. “I learned my lesson after a while.”

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Hart’s x-rays negative

Good news this morning from the Brewers — Corey Hart’s x-rays were negative, and the right fielder is day to day. Hart was struck on the left hand by a pitch last night.

No word on the Brewers’ lineup yet.

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Brewers hold their breath on Hart

Brewers right fielder Corey Hart was undergoing x-rays late Saturday to determine whether his left hand injury was anything more than a bruise, the only blemish in the team’s 7-5 win over the Astros.

Hart was struck by a pitch from Houston reliever David Carpenter in the seventh inning, and exited after the Brewers’ rally fizzled. Hart has been one of the Brewers’ hottest hitters of late, extending a hitting streak to eight games with a single off of Brett Myers’ first pitch on Saturday night.

Hart had dressed and left the clubhouse before reporters arrived. The Brewers had their fingers crossed that his absence would be brief.

“It looks OK though,” manager Ron Roenicke said. “He got hit in the meaty part of the hand, the side of the hand.”

Nyjer Morgan shifted from center field to right in place of Hart, and Jerry Hairston Jr. took over in center.

“Hopefully it’s a day and he’ll be able to go,” Roenicke said. “Roger [Caplinger, Milwaukee’s head athletic trainer] didn’t think it was more than that, but you never know.”

And for fans asking about Casey McGehee, who was limping after receiving the game-ending throw on Saturday, I will look into it on Sunday. I didn’t see that replay until after I returned to the clubhouse, though, for what it’s worth, I saw McGehee walk into the dining room tonight and he appeared fine.

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Counsell gets his hit

Craig Counsell had the last laugh on Friday, when he snapped the long slump that had become fodder for late-night comedians.

A day after Stephen Colbert lampooned Counsell’s drought, it was over, thanks to a well-struck single to right field in the ninth inning of Milwaukee’s 8-1 rout of the Astros. It was Counsell’s first hit in 57 days, since a three-hit game against the Cardinals on June 10. It snapped an 0-for-45 drought.

And it sparked the sort of dugout celebration usually reserved for much more dramatic feats. Counsell, it should be noted, has enjoyed a few of those during his 16-year Major League career.

“It was almost like I had been throwing a no-hitter and nobody would talk to me about it,” Counsell said.

They could talk again Friday. Even Counsell, who hours earlier had declined a reporters’ request to discuss the slump.

“It’s been ugly, it’s been bad,” he said later Friday night. “It’s a relief to just do something right.”

The hit spared Counsell further comparisons with Bill Bergen, a light-hitting catcher in the very early 1900s considered by some the worst Major League hitter in history.

Depending on your source, Counsell’s 0-for-45 either matched or fell one shy of Bergen’s 1909 record for consecutive hitless at-bats in a single season. The Brewers, based on data from the Elias Sports Bureau, say the record is 0-for-45. But the Society for American Baseball Research says Bergen was 0-for-46, the figure cited Thursday by the New York Times in a story about Counsell and White Sox designated hitter Adam Dunn challenging some of Bergen’s 100-year-old records.

Dunn entered Friday hitting .167. Bergen owns the lowest season batting average for a regular position player, at .139.

Counsell and Dunn are each accomplished Major Leaguers enduring painfully awful seasons. Perfect fodder for comedian Colbert, who lampooned both players on his Colbert Report on Thursday night.

Colbert blamed Counsell’s troubles on his new, simplified batting stance. Until three years ago, Counsell waited in the batter’s box with hands famously high over his head, which, Colbert joked, “made him ineffective against curveballs, but deadly against pinatas.”

Counsell was not laughing. It had become difficult for teammates, too, and for manager Ron Roenicke, who had on several occasions defended Counsell’s very place on the team. Roenicke lauded Counsell’s defense, and his role in the clubhouse as mentor.

“It’s big,” Roenicke said of the hit. “You’re feeling for a guy and you want him to do it, and he finally comes through. It’s a nice relief.”

For him or for everybody?

“Everybody!” Roenicke said. “You feel for the guy.”

“I don’t know if you guys heard us in the dugout, but we were yelling,” winning pitcher Yovani Gallardo said. “We were pretty excited. That’s the kind of team we have here. We help each other out.”

Someday, he said, maybe he will look back on the last two months and laugh. It will be a while.

“Look, I’ve played a long time,” Counsell said. “You have great experiences in the game, and I don’t know if this is a great experience, but it was definitely an experience. … I’m glad it’s over.”

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Cards’ Molina suspended five games

Since the incident happened in Milwaukee, I thought Brewers fans may be interested in this news release from Major League Baseball:

St. Louis Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina has been suspended for five games and fined an undisclosed amount for his inappropriate actions, which included making contact with Umpire Rob Drake multiple times and spraying him with spittle twice while arguing, in the top of the 10th inning of his Club’s game on Tuesday night against the Milwaukee Brewers at Miller Park.  Joe Garagiola Jr., Senior Vice President of Standards and On-Field Operations for Major League Baseball, made the announcement.

Molina’s suspension is scheduled to begin tonight, when the Cardinals are to play the Florida Marlins in Miami.  If Molina elects to file an appeal, then the discipline issued to him will be held in abeyance until the process is complete.

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A tough summer turns bright for Clayton

courtesy Wollner Family

Casey McGehee’s lucky charm is 7-year-old Clayton Wollner of Sussex, Wis., whose shyness led to a bold request from his mom, which led to one of the best days of McGehee’s baseball life.

McGehee told Clayton’s story after belting three home runs in the Brewers’ series-clinching, 10-5 win over the Cardinals on Wednesday at Miller Park. He’d met Clayton — McGehee didn’t know the boy’s last name — on the field before the game, and was trying to draw out some conversation. Clayton was shy, so his mom, Jennifer, and dad, Ben, tried to drive some conversation. Mom blurted out that McGehee should hit a homer for Clayton.

“Honestly, I feel a little bad about it now,” Jennifer Wollner said Thursday morning. “I didn’t know he hadn’t really been hitting this season.”

McGehee had not homered since July 6. He had one home run in his previous 65 games.

Then something special happened.

McGehee hit a go-ahead two-run home run off Cardinals starter Edwin Jackson in the first inning. McGehee hit another go-ahead two-run homer off Jackson in the third for his second career multihomer game, and then connected on a solo shot in the seventh for what McGehee believes is the first three-homer game of his life.

He called it “one of those out of body experiences,” and before reporters broke away from McGehee’s locker on Wednesday afternoon, he urged them to stay for the story about Clayton.

“I want to bring him to Houston with me, and then we’re going to go to St. Louis,” said McGehee, perhaps joking, perhaps not, about the team’s upcoming road trip. “I want to get him a locker — we have a little space right here. Hopefully, we’re going to track Clayton down.”

Mission accomplished.

It turns out that Clayton Wollner loves baseball, but was forced to sit on the bench this summer. He was born with a condition called craniosynostosis, which prevents his skull from growing properly. He’s had seven surgeries, the most recent on July 13 at Children’s Hospital. He will need more surgeries in his life.

“It’s not a life-threatening condition, but it’s one you have to keep up on,” Jennifer Wollner said. “As he continues to grow, his skull won’t grow right, and that means his brain can’t grow right.”

The Wollners were hoping that someone might simply be able to call Clayton with a message of support, to keep his chin up, and through some family ties with Fox Sports Wisconsin, their request reached the Brewers. An invitation to a ballgame followed, along with a surprise tour of Miller Park and an even more surprising opportunity to stand on the field while the Cardinals took batting practice.

Suddenly, there was McGehee, a Brewer in the flesh. He wanted to meet Clayton because this is a cause dear to his own heart. Casey and Sarah McGehee’s first child, a bundle of energy named Mack, was born with cerebral palsy.

McGehee spent 15 minutes talking with the Wollners, and then it was game time. Who knew it would be such a memorable game?

The Wollners had not even made it home to Sussex before McGehee’s story about Clayton aired on the radio and the phone calls started coming. Everybody wanted to know: Is this your Clayton?

“We never expected any of this,” Jennifer said. “And we’re not expecting anything further than this. We’ve read the articles and joked about [meeting McGehee again], but we’ve kept the expectations very low. We appreciated our time with him, and were just blown away by our whole day.

“When he hit the first home run we were like, ‘Oh my gosh, this is so fun!’ When it got to three, we were kind of speechless.”

courtesy Wollner Family

courtesy Wollner Family

courtesy Wollner Family

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