September 2011

Gallardo gets Game 1 nod

Three years ago, Yovani Gallardo was a 22-year-old barely back from knee surgery when he pitched the Brewers’ first postseason game in a generation. This time, he’s much better prepared for a Game 1 assignment.

Manager Ron Roenicke on Tuesday officially named Gallardo his starter for the opening game of the National League Division Series on Saturday, though the Brewers still did not know who they would be playing, or where.

Wherever he takes the mound, Gallardo said he would be ready.

“In ’08, after missing the whole year and getting that opportunity to start Game 1, it was good, but it was a lot going on, Gallardo said. “This year, I’ve battled with the team the whole year. That makes a lot of difference.”

Gallardo himself was surprised when then-manager Dale Sveum tabbed him for Game 1 of the 2008 NLDS against the Phillies. The Brewers were in a bind, having clinched the NL Wild Card on the final day of the season behind CC Sabathia, and Gallardo was deemed the best option even though he had made only one start, spanning four innings, after undergoing surgery in May to repair a torn ACL in his right knee.

Compare that to 2011, when Gallardo leads the Brewers in wins (17), innings (207 1/3), strikeouts (207) and pitched the team’s only complete game. He enters the postseason on a hot streak, with a 1.77 ERA and 36 strikeouts over 20 1/3 innings over his final three regular-season starts. He was on the mound Friday, when the Brewers clinched the NL Central.

Gallardo pitched twice in the ’08 postseason, also appearing in relief in Game 4 of the NLDS. The Brewers fell to the eventual World Champion Phillies, three games to one.

That experience, Gallardo figures, will aid the Brewers this time around.

“The first time is always tough,” he said. “You want to look at it as just another regular-season game, but yet there’s a lot more excitement and adrenaline. Having experienced that before, it’s going to help.

“I’m going to just focus on the game,” he said. “That’s the goal. Obviously, it’s going to be exciting for all of us, but I just need to do what I’ve been doing all year.”

Gallardo threw a simulated game on Tuesday to help cover the gap between his starts. He is scheduled to throw a bullpen session on Thursday.

The Brewers’ plan for the rest of the NLDS depended on the outcome of their games Tuesday and Wednesday, when Zack Greinke will start. If the Brewers have clinched the No. 2 seed before Wednesday’s game, when Greinke will pitch only a few innings against the Pirates and would start Game 2 of the NLDS. If the Brewers need a win Wednesday to clinch the second seed, which comes with home field advantage in the first round, then Greinke would pitch as usual, and would not be available until Game 3.

If the latter scenario plays out, then right-hander Shaun Marcum would start Game 2. That would leave left-hander Randy Wolf for Game 4.

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Bradley scratched from AFL with groin strain

The Brewers announced Tuesday that right-hander Tyler Thornborg would pitch in the prospect-rich Arizona Fall League in place of left-hander Jed Bradley, who told fans on Twitter (@Jed_Bradley) that he’d suffered a mild groin strain. Brewers assistant GM Gord Ash confirmed that news.

“We want to be extra careful,” Ash said.

Bradley was the second of the Brewers’ two first-round picks in this year’s First-Year Player Draft, selected 15th overall out of Georgia Tech. Like 12th overall pick Taylor Jungmann, Bradley did not sign until moments before the Aug. 15 deadline for teams to reach terms with drafted players, so the AFL assignment was to represent Bradley’s professional debut.

Thornburg, 23 on Thursday, is a quality replacement. He was 10-6 with a 2.57 ERA in 24 starts at two Class A affiliates in 2011, logging 84 strikeouts vs. 33 walks in 68 innings. He held opponents to a .186 average at his second stop, advanced Class A Brevard County.

For complete Arizona Fall League coverage, visit the special section of MLB.com. The Brewers have nine players on the Peoria Javelinas’ roster including outfielder Logan Schafer, who is currently in the big leagues. The AFL season begins Oct. 4.

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Roundup of Brewers clinch coverage

(AP Photo/Morry Gash)

Brewers.com was stocked with coverage of another wild night at Miller Park, and for the click-challenged, here’s a roundup. You can click on the bolded headlines to see the full story:

(AP Photo/Morry Gash)

The game story:  It was 2008 all over again on an exhilarating Friday night at Miller Park, down to the eighth-inning, hysteria-inducing Ryan Braun home run and the tense moments that followed while the Brewers’ postseason fate was sealed hundreds of miles away.

- The hero: On Sept. 23, 1957 at County Stadium, Hank Aaron stepped to the plate in the bottom of the 11th inning and clinched the Milwaukee Braves’ first National League pennant with a two-out home run. Fifty-four years to the day after Aaron’s clinching homer, Braun hit one of his own.

- The big picture: Braun and Prince Fielder supplied all of the offense Friday with home runs, but the story of the 2011 Brewers is a story of pitching. Credit GM Doug Melvin for making some bold moves to position the team to win its first division crown since 1982.

- The column: For the first time since 1982, MLB.com’s Mike Bauman wrote, the Milwaukee Brewers have become division winners. That is the primary thing that emerged from the happy delirium of Miller Park Friday night. The other thing that came out of this evening was that Francisco Rodriguez can say whatever he wants, whenever he wants, in Milwaukee for the rest of his life.

- The co-closers:  When Melvin made the deal with the Mets for Francisco Rodriguez, the Crew envisioned a dominant back end of the bullpen duo in Rodriguez and closer John Axford. As the Brewers clinched the National League Central title Friday night, they got exactly what they were looking for.

- The multimedia:  We have photos and postgame video (featuring Bill Schroeder and Telly Hughes getting doused) from inside the clubhouse, where the Brewers happily did some damage Monday night. If you click here, you can see Braun’s big home run with calls from TV man Brian Anderson and Hall of Famer Bob Uecker, plus the scene at Miller Park as the Cardinals game ended in St. Louis.

- The next step: Bring on the Braves. Or the Phillies. Or the D-backs. The Brewers don’t yet know their first-round playoff opponent, but as of Friday night, it was down to three scenarios. You can find the full Major League Baseball postseason schedule here.

- The new goal: Fresh off capturing their first division crown since 1982 on Friday night, the Brewers will send right-hander Zack Greinke (15-6) to the mound to face the Marlins, as they now seek to secure home-field advantage in the playoffs.

“Hopefully, our intensity is as high as ever,” Greinke said. “We should be good. I wouldn’t expect anything less.”

- The rally: The Brewers will celebrate their first division crown since 1982 with a playoff rally on the Summerfest grounds on Thursday, with tunes from the band Five for Fighting. The free event is from 4 p.m.-7:30 p.m. CT at the Miller Oasis.

- The gear: Hey, it’s not a clinch without some merchandising. Fans can buy the same gear players were wearing on the field during their celebration, minus the sticky stink of champagne.

(AP Photo/Morry Gash)

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Division champs to hold Summerfest rally

The Brewers will celebrate their first division crown since 1982 with a playoff rally on the Summerfest grounds on Thursday, with tunes from the band Five for Fighting. The free event is from 4 p.m.-7:30 p.m. CT at the Miller Oasis.

More than 14,000 fans attended a similar send-off after the Brewers won the National League Wild Card in 2008, highlighted by then-closer Salomon Torres’ “Twenty-six years!” address. If you were there, you’ll remember it.

Parking is available for $5 in Lots G, H, M and P near the Henry Maier Festival Park. Patrons should enter the Summerfest Grounds at the Mid Gate (Chicago St. and Harbor Dr.). Gates open at 3:30 p.m. CT. The band Pan Am will take the stage at 4 p.m., and players and coaches are expected to address the crowd between 5:15-5:45. p.m.

The event will be carried live on FS Wisconsin from 5-6 p.m., and 620 WTMJ-AM will also broadcast live. Five for Fighting will take the stage at about 6 p.m.

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Crew can clinch behind Gallardo

If there was ever a night for the Brewers to be scoreboard-watching, this is it. Five minutes after Yovani Gallardo throws his first pitch against the Marlins at Miller Park, the Cardinals’ Chris Carpenter will begin what could be a duel against Ryan Dempster and the Cubs at Busch Stadium.

A win over the Marlins and a Cubs win in St. Louis would make the Brewers the champions of the National League Central. We’ll have it all covered, of course, on MLB.com, where fans can follow the Cubs-Cardinals game pitch-by-pitch via Gameday, Gameday Audio or MLB.tv.

Here’s how the Brewers will attack Marlins right-hander Chris Volsted Volstad:

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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Brewers inch closer to goal

Yes, the Brewers are scoreboard watching and yes, they are eager to wrap-up the National League Central. I know because one of my media colleagues asked manager Ron Roenicke.

“You’re asking if I’m anxious to clinch the division?” Roenicke responded with a chuckle. “Yes.”

A 5-1 win over the Cubs pushed the Brewers one step closer. But as they answered questions about the win, with the magic number at 3 and the Cardinals-Mets game still ongoing, the operative outlook was calm.

“It’s still a fun, easygoing clubhouse,” said bundle-of-energy Nyjer Morgan. “We’re just worried about what we can take care of that day. Obviously, we know what’s going on.”

They knew because the Cardinals-Mets game was on in the clubhouse. Morgan even rattled off the score in what eventually became an 11-6 Cardinals win. It means the earliest the Brewers can clinch the division is Thursday, an off-day in Milwaukee, when the Cards and Mets play their series finale.

“We’re not worried about that,” Morgan said. “We know [the Cardinals] are hot over there, but we can only worry about what the Brew Crew is doing.”

Said Roenicke: “We want to go out there to play to win right away. We’re certainly not going to save anything. That just sets up things better in the end, and plus, I just like staying on a nice roll.”

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Hairston starts at SS

Jerry Hairston Jr., in an 0-for-18 funk and as of the weekend receiving treatment for a stiff neck, must be feeling better because he is starting tonight at shortstop as the Brewers open a three-game series against the Cubs. It’s Hairston’s first start there this season, but he has plenty of experience including 53 starts at short for the Padres in 2010. In all, he’s made 114 starts there before tonight.

Hairston gets the nod over Yuniesky Betancourt, who was 2-for-12 in the Cincinnati series and is hitting .178 over his last 31 games.

Here’s the full lineup:

Corey Hart RF
Nyjer Morgan CF
Ryan Braun LF
Prince Fielder 1B
Rickie Weeks 2B
Casey McGehee 3B
Jerry Hairston Jr. SS
Jonathan Lucroy C
Chris Narveson LHP

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Fielder wants to ‘go out with a blast’

I just love the lead of this story on SI.com:

Brewers star and free-agent-to-be Prince Fielder said in an exclusive interview with TBS that this is “probably the last year” that he will play in Milwaukee.

My initial response: Yeah, that’s how free agency works.

Fielder’s comments fall squarely into the “nothing new” category, but like the Francisco Rodriguez flap they are sure to cause a stir in Milwaukee, where fans remain hopeful that Fielder might re-sign despite all of the evidence to the contrary. The sides discussed an extension during 2010 Spring Training but never made progress, and decided before the start of 2011, Fielder’s final season under club control, to focus on winning baseball games and leave business matters for the winter.

For the most part, both sides have stuck to that plan. The TBS interview, conducted by Brewers television play-by-play man Brian Anderson, counts as an exception.

“I’m signed for this year, but being real about it, it is probably the last year,” Fielder said in an interview that airs at noon CT on Sunday on TBS MLB on Deck.

Talking about teammate Ryan Braun, Fielder said, “It’s been great, unfortunately, this is probably the last year of the one-two punch. … But I think it’s been good, [five] years, him and me. Hopefully, we can go out with a blast.”

Braun was asked about Fielder’s future, too.

“This game we play is a job, it’s a profession,” Braun said. “Sometimes I think we lose sight of that, which is a good thing. But there’s always a business side. Everybody has to do what is in their best interest. The best interest of their family. Guys earn a right to become free agents. You never know what’s going to happen when you get there.

“But for him, I couldn’t see why every team in baseball wouldn’t want him on their team. Certainly, he will get some huge offers in the offseason. So for us right now, we are just trying to enjoy while we’re together, enjoy the fact that he’s still a member of the Milwaukee Brewers and accomplish as much as we can this year.”

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‘Irritated’ K-Rod stands by comments

Brewers reliever Francisco Rodriguez did not back down Wednesday from comments indicating that he is dissatisfied with his role as the club’s setup man.

Rodriguez says he was promised by Milwaukee officials that he would share closing duties with incumbent Brewers closer John Axford. But Axford is 19-for-19 in save opportunities since the Brewers acquired Rodriguez from the Mets on the night of the All-Star Game, and as of Wednesday afternoon, Rodriguez was still waiting his turn.

He expressed displeasure about that fact to CBS Sportsline’s Scott Miller on Tuesday. Rodriguez reiterated his displeasure on Wednesday.

“There’s been plenty of save opportunities,” he said. “And I’ve only pitched once in the ninth inning, and it was not even a save opportunity. I’m not happy. It’s simple.That’s the bottom line. They told me one thing, they haven’t done it, and that’s pretty much what I said. I stand by what I said.

“I’m not lying, I’m not creating something out of nowhere. I’m just stating the facts. That’s something I should not be discussing with any of you guys. That’s something I should be discussing with the manager in his office.”

Rodriguez had not done that. Brewers manager Ron Roenicke, whose relationship with Rodriguez dates back to 2002 with the Angels, said a chat was in order.

Rodriguez made clear that his top priority is helping the Brewers win the National League Central, and Roenicke said he’s confident the issue will not grow into a distraction. Still, it’s an issue.

“Don’t tell me something if you’re not going to do it,” Rodriguez said. “That’s what irritates me most. They told me they were going to do something, and they didn’t. Simple as that. I’m trying to pretty much come in every day ready to pitch and get my job done where they need me. At the same time, I had an expectation, like every other player. They told me they were going to do something and never did it. That’s why I can be a little disappointed by the situation.

“But, the season is over in two weeks, and we need to win eight more games. So, I’ll go as hard as I can these next two series coming up, and try to wrap them up. That’s the most important thing.”

Rodriguez will be a free agent at season’s end if the Brewers decline his $17.5 million option for 2012. The club would owe Rodriguez a $4 million buyout.

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Green, Fiers named top Minor Leaguers

Taylor Green today became the first player to win the Brewers’ Minor League Player of the Year honor for a second time, and right-hander Mike Fiers was the organization’s no-doubt pitcher of the year.

Both players were honored with what the Brewers’ call their “Robin Yount Performance Awards,” given annually to the top player and pitcher in the Minor League chain. They will be honored on the field at Miller Park before the Brewers’ Sept. 24 game against the Marlins.

Green, who also won the Yount Award in 2007 as a 20-year-old, batted .336 with 22 home runs and 88 RBIs in 120 games at Triple-A Nashville, re-establishing himself as a prospect after 2008 and 2009 seasons marred by a wrist injury. Fiers went 13-3 with a 1.86 ERA between Double-A Huntsville and Nashville, and was at his best at the higher level. In two relief appearances and 10 starts with the Sounds, he was 8-0 with a 1.11 ERA.

Both Green, 24, and Fiers, 26, are currently with the big-league Brewers.

The Brewers began naming Minor League players and pitchers of the year in 1999. Green is the first prospect to be honored with the “player” honor twice, though Ben Hendrickson was a two-time pitcher of the year in 2002 and 2004.

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