March 2012

Gallardo gets Opening Day nod

It’s becoming an annual rite for the Brewers: Home-grown right-hander Yovani Gallardo will be the team’s Opening Day starter.

Gallardo, 26, gets the nod for the third straight season, putting him in exclusive company in terms of Brewers history.  Jim Slaton and Teddy Higuera started three openers apiece, and Ben Sheets got the nod a club-record five six times, including four straight Opening Days from 2002-05.

Right-hander Zack Greinke and left-hander Randy Wolf will follow Gallardo in the Brewers’ season-opening series against the Cardinals at Miller Park. Righty Shaun Marcum is on track to follow April 9 against the Cubs at Wrigley Field, assuming he doesn’t have any shoulder setbacks before then. Lefty Chris Narveson would follow as the fifth starter.

“I think you go by what happens the season before. ‘Yo’ opened up for us last year, had a great year, and we’d like him to open up again,” manager Ron Roenicke said.

Roenicke informed Gallardo and Greinke of the plan over the previous two days. Both have started Opening Days before — so has Marcum — putting Roenicke in a pleasantly tough position. He said Greinke took the news well.

“I think it’s really nice having Greinke going second,” Roenicke said. “He would love to start Opening Day, but he’s really a good team player. He understands reasoning for doing things, and he’s very compliant with what we ask him to do. It was good.”

The Brewers have lost each of Gallardo’s openers but he pitched reasonably well. He pitched through the sixth inning each time and allowed five earned runs in 13 innings of those games, a 5-3 loss to Ubaldo Jimenez and the Rockies in 2010 and a 7-6 loss to the Reds in 2011 in which Cincinnati scored four runs in the ninth inning against closer John Axford to stun the Brewers.

Picking a pitcher for the opener is “important,” Roenicke said.

“We’re in a rare situation where we have two No. 1 guys,” he said. “And our Nos. 3, 4, 5 aren’t too bad, either.”

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Hart excited to get going

Brewers right fielder Corey Hart, three weeks and one day removed from surgery to repair torn cartilage in his right knee, is expected to take two or three at-bats (EDIT: Ron Roenicke said Hart could get as many as four) in a Triple-A game Wednesday at Maryvale Baseball Park. The Sounds play the Giants’ top affiliate at 3 p.m. CT.

“It will be nice to get out there today and have some kind of adrenaline,” Hart said.

The Triple-A game will have some star power today. Closer John Axford is pitching on the Minor League side, a chance to build up his pitch count and get a feel for pitching, sitting and getting up to pitch again. His next step is pitching back-to-back games later this week.

For Hart, if today goes well, he will be the designated hitter again Thursday. Hart could begin playing defense on Friday, when the Sounds play the Louisville Bats in Goodyear, Ariz. That’s convenient because it’s near his west Valley home.

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Lucroy deal details; guaranteed $11 million

Jonathan Lucroy’s five-year contract is unique in that it essentially is two deals — one in the event Lucroy would have fallen short of Super 2 arbitration-eligible status after this season had he continued going year-to-year, and another in the event he makes the cut.

Bottom line, the contract guarantees $11 million or $13 million, depending the answer to the Super 2 question.

Here’s the breakdown:

Non-Super 2: $500,000 signing bonus, $500,000 salary in 2012, $750,000 in ’13, $2 million in ’14, $3 million in ’15, $4 million in ’16 and a $5.25 million club option for 2017 with a $250,l000 buyout.

Super 2: $500,000 signing bonus, $500,000 salary in 2012, $1.9 million in ’13, $2.3 million in ’14, $3.3 million in ’15, $4.25 million in ’16 and a $5.25 million club option with a $250,000 buyout.

Some background: Super 2 players are the top 22 percent of players, in terms of Major League service time, with between two and three years of service who spent at least half of the previous season in the big leagues. Those players qualify for an extra, fourth year of arbitration. The threshold changed to 22 percent from 17 percent under baseball’s new collective bargaining agreement.

Lucroy enters this season with two years and 136 years of service time, and assistant general manager Gord Ash said that in preparing to strike this deal, he had seen two different projections; one in which Lucroy made the cut as a Super 2, and one in which he did not. The answer will depend on how many young players are called-up by big league teams during the 2012 season. The sides will have a better idea of Lucroy’s status by the All-Star break, but the official list of Super 2s will not be set until the end of the regular season.

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Lucroy deal done

The Brewers and catcher Jonathan Lucroy finalized a five-year contract on Tuesday morning that runs through 2016, covering all of the catcher’s arbitration years, and includes a club option for 2017 that would allow the club to buy a year of free agency.

The sides had been very close to this agreement since Monday, when Lucroy was a last-minute scratch from the Brewers lineup. He is scheduled to return to action Tuesday against the Royals with the ink dry on a new deal.

Lucroy will talk to reporters after batting practice.

“We are pleased that Jonathan has agreed to this extension,” general manager Doug Melvin said in a statement.  “His work ethic and continued development and growth at the Major League level made us feel good about engaging into this extension.  Catching is such an important position to a team’s success, and Jonathan has grasped the challenges.  We project him to improve and become one of the better catchers in the league.”

Lucroy was already signed for 2012, but that agreement was absorbed into the new contract. He enters the season with two years and 136 days of Major League service, and would have likely qualified for arbitration next winter as a “Super 2” player, among the top 22 percent of players with between two and three years of Major League service.

Lucroy becomes the Brewers’ fifth home-grown core player currently under multi-year contracts.  In addition to Lucroy (signed through 2016), the team has reigning National League MVP Ryan Braun (2020), pitcher Yovani Gallardo (2014), second baseman Rickie Weeks (2014) and outfielder Corey Hart (2013) all signed at least through the next two seasons.

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Lucroy scratched; near extension?

The Brewers scratched catcher Jonathan Lucroy from the starting lineup on Monday amid a report that he was nearing a multiyear contract extension.

FoxSports.com reported that the Brewers and Lucroy were close to striking a four- or five-year deal. He is already signed for 2012, and enters this season with one year and 136 days of Major League service, meaning Lucroy could potentially qualify for arbitration next winter as a “Super 2” player.

Under the new Collective Bargaining Agreement, the top 22 percent of players with between two and three years of service qualify for arbitration. It used to be the top 17 percent.

The impact of the deal would depend on its length, when it kicks in and the timing of Lucroy’s arbitration eligibility. Teams typically like to “buy out” all of a player’s arbitration seasons and a year or two of free agency in such extensions.

Brewers spokesperson Mike Vassallo said Lucroy was expected back in the lineup for Tuesday’s game against the Royals.

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Lineup changes for Sunday’s split squads

Hot-hitting shortstop Alex Gonzalez and center fielder Carlos Gomez were scratched from Brewers split-squad starting lineups on Sunday, Gonzalez with a bruised right heel and Gomez with an illness.

Gonzalez was to bat fifth in the Brewers’ split-squad game against the Dodgers at Maryvale Baseball Park. He was 2-for-2 with two runs scored on Saturday, and entered Sunday leading the Brewers with 23 total bases this spring. Cesar Izturis, originally slated to start the other split-squad game, in Surprise, Ariz. against the Royals, started at shortstop against the Dodgers instead.

“We talked about maybe playing [Gonzalez], but decided to give him today,” manager Ron Roenicke said. “Hopefully, tomorrow he’ll be back in there.”

Gomez was to play center field at Maryvale but started feeling sick Saturday night and was sent home Sunday. He was replaced by journeyman Corey Patterson, who has been playing in the Brewers’ Minor League camp.

For the record, here are the updated lineups:

Home vs. Dodgers
Norichika Aoki RF
Brooks Conrad 1B
Rickie Weeks 2B
Aramis Ramirez 3B
Jonathan Lucroy C
Cesar Izturis SS
Corey Patterson CF
Logan Schafer LF
Shaun Marcum RHP

Away vs. Royals
Nyjer Morgan CF
Scooter Gennett 2B
Travis Ishikawa LF
Mat Gamel 1B
George Kottaras C
Taylor Green 3B
Paul Phillips DH
Caleb Gindl RF
Edwin Maysonet SS

RHP Marco Estrada is starting against the Royals.

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Kintzler, Perez out of running for Opening Day bullpen

This has been pretty obvious for some time, but manager Ron Roenicke conceded this morning that right-hander Brandon Kintzler and left-hander Juan Perez won’t have time to get healthy enough for a spot in the Opening Day bullpen.

The good news is that Kintzler is finally throwing with a pain-free right elbow, and feels he’s past the mysterious ailment that derailed his Spring Training.  He reported to camp as a leading contender for an Opening Day roster spot.

“At least I’m not hurting,” he said. “I can show up every morning on one thing, and that’s throwing and getting better.”

With starter Shaun Marcum on track to begin the season in the rotation, it appears the Brewers have two bullpen openings. Candidates include left-handers Zach Braddock and Manny Parra and right-handers Tim Dillard and Mike McClendon. Parra and Dillard are out of options.

Perez, an early camp standout, suffered a partially collapsed lung earlier this month. Like Kintzler, Perez is making good progress in a throwing program, but will simply run out of time.

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Gallardo: Change-up ‘starting to feel comfortable’

Yovani Gallardo surrendered seven hits in 4 2/3 scoreless innings against the D-backs on Wednesday, though most of the hits were grounders through the infield. Gallardo called his outing a step forward from five days earlier against the Royals, when he surrendered four runs and five hits in three innings and struggled with tempo.

On Wednesday, he focused on his change-up, a pitch Gallardo has struggled to master in his career. He threw more than 10 of them, all against Arizona’s left-handed hitters.

Just one percent of Gallardo’s regular-season pitches in 2011 were change-ups, according to FanGraphs.com. That figure should rise in 2012.

“That’s the goal,” Gallardo said. “That’s what I’m shooting for. I was able to throw it today quite a bit. … It’s a matter of having confidence in it. I’m always still working on it. It’s a pitch that I’ve had trouble throwing, but it’s starting to feel comfortable, so that’s a good sign. I’m starting to command it a lot better, which is also a plus.”

Brewers managers back to Ned Yost have tried to get Gallardo to commit to the change-up. It’s a ‘feel’ pitch, and so far Gallardo has never been comfortable with it. If that changes, he’d be a beast.

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Marcum says he’ll be ready

Brewers right-hander Shaun Marcum was very encouraged by a two-inning start in Minor League camp on Wednesday and said he’ll be ready to begin the season in Milwaukee’s pitching rotation.

Marcum had not pitched before Wednesday because of tightness in his shoulder. He allowed one hit — a homer — but did not walk a batter and struck out two in an outing for Triple-A Nashville against the Reds’ top affiliate. He threw 26 pitches, mostly fastballs.

“It’s nice to get back out there,” he said. “It stinks when you’re behind and not able to pitch and get ready for the season earlier in camp, like I wanted to. But the good thing is I’ll be ready for April 10, 9, whatever day I’m scheduled to pitch. I’ll be ready to go. I’m ahead of schedule from where I was last year, so pitch count or anything like that shouldn’t be a problem.”

Marcum has a similar interruption last spring, but started the season on schedule and was the Brewers’ best pitcher in April and May.

He said he would start again Sunday, when the Brewers play split-squad games at home against the Dodgers and at Surprise, Ariz. against the Royals. That puts him in line to start April 9 or 10 against the Cubs at Wrigley Field, Marcum said.

If that schedule plays out, Marcum will have made four spring starts, including Wednesday’s debut outing in the Minors.

“It’s another step forward,” he said.

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Uecker riffs on statue

Mr. Baseball is getting a statue outside Miller Park, which begs the question: What the heck took so long?

“I didn’t have enough for the down payment,” Bob Uecker said.

The Hall of Fame Brewers broadcaster, star of film and television and all-around funnyman will be immortalized in bronze on Aug. 31, alongside the three other members of the Mt. Rushmore of Milwaukee Baseball: Hank Aaron, Robin Yount and MLB Commissioner Allan H. “Bud” Selig.

Uecker will be depicted standing with his hands in his pockets, just like the thousands of times he’s stood around the Brewer’ batting cage since taking a broadcasting job with the team in 1972 1971. Selig moved Uecker from the scouting apartment to the booth, the story goes, because Uecker’s reports always arrived covered in mashed potatoes and gravy.

Forty years later, the light-hitting catcher turned broadcaster turned actor is a baseball icon.

“It’s going to be there forever and ever,” Uecker said.

And he’s being serious. This is a huge honor.

“My family, my friends, are all excited about it,” Uecker said. “I’m honored, and I’m pleased with it. I thank the whole organization. [Principal owner] Mark Attansio. The players. Who are we as broadcasters without the guys who make the game to call and make the games exciting? I hope the fans have enjoyed listening as much as I’ve enjoed doing the games.

“I don’t think I’ve ever gone to the park where I’ve had a bad day.”

He pauses.

“Discounting playing,” Uecker adds. “A lot of bad days there.”

So much for a moment of seriousness amid Uecker’s usual deadpan. Asked how they would keep pigeons away, he said, “We’re going to invite pigeons. We are. That’s the other enhancement, I’m holding a stand. It’s a feeder-type thing.”

Before a Brewers spokesperson arrived to tell the straight story, Uecker was asked what the statue will look like.

“I have posed for the statue,” Uecker said. “Kind of a Schwarzenegger-type thing. Beefcake. Speedos. Pretty buffed. It’s really enhanced. I’ve seen pictures of the finished product, and, yes, I’m very pleased as a matter of a fact. It’s drawing a lot of attention. More than that swimsuit issue.”

Uecker appeared in some skimpy swimwear in the background of a 2008 Sports Illustrated photo. He has since dubbed it, “My swimsuit issue.”

For more from Uecker, check Brewers.com this afternoon.

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