March 2012

Cubs claim De La Cruz

The race for openings in the Brewers’ bullpen lost a competitor Friday when the Cubs claimed right-hander Frankie De La Cruz, a hard-thrower who was having a tough time commanding the baseball this spring. De La Cruz faced 21 batters in three Cactus League outings, allowed hits to seven of them, walked three and hit two with pitches. He also threw two wild pitches and surrendered seven earned runs in 3 1/3 innings, for am 18.90 ERA.

De La Cruz had a strong 2011 season, going 7-6 with a 3.88 ERA at Triple-A Nashville, mostly as a starter, before a promotion to Milwaukee. He posted a 2.77 ERA in 11 big-league relief appearances. His average fastball was 91.6 mph, still effective but slightly down from the 94 mph he’d thrown for the Tigers, Marlins and Padres from 2007-09.

The Brewers now have 39 players on the 40-man roster. They’ll need a couple of spots before Opening Day if non-roster invitees like Cesar Izturis and Brooks Conrad make the club.

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Morgan beaned, exits game as precaution

From MLB.com colleague Owen Perkins, who is covering today’s game in Scottsdale:

Brewers right fielder Nyjer Morgan left Saturday’s game with the Giants after being hit in the head by a Barry Zito pitch in the first inning.

Morgan appeared fine after being hit by the pitch, remaining on base and taking to the field in the bottom of the first inning. He did not come back to the field in the bottom of the second inning, however, as Jay Gibbons replaced him in right.

Brewers spokesperson Mike Vassallo said Morgan was removed as a precautionary measure.

Morgan, 31, is a veteran of five big league seasons with the Pirates, Nationals and Brewers. He is the projected starting right-fielder for Milwaukee this season, and hit .304 in his first season with the Brewers in 2011. He is hitting .143 (2-for-14) in Cactus League play.

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Marcum ready to resume mound work

Brewers starter Shaun Marcum was poised Saturday to re-start a series of mound sessions after resting a sore right shoulder, and the club still hopes he’ll be part of the Opening Day pitching rotation.

Marcum is dealing with a stiff shoulder for the second straight spring. He has yet to pitch in the Cactus League, but played long toss for a third straight day and is expected to throw a bullpen on Sunday or Monday, manager Ron Roenicke said.

“I talked to him this morning, and he thought, timing-wise, he is actually ahead of where he was last year,” Roenicke said. “Last year, it was close. We didn’t know if he was going to be ready at the beginning or not. I think he’ll probably be in the same boat this year.”

The Brewers’ original plan appeared to slot Marcum for the fourth game of the regular season, On April 9 at Chicago. If that changes, Roenicke said he would not expect Marcum to miss more than one start. The Brewers could use swingman Marco Estrada in his spot. They need to make two full turns through the five-man rotation before the season’s first off day.

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No progress for Kintzler

A disconsolate Brandon Kintzler said Saturday he is still experiencing significant discomfort in his surgically-repaired right elbow, a blow to his bid for a job in the Brewers’ bullpen.

Kintzler, a leading candidate for one of two open bullpen spots, sat at his locker with his head down while teammates prepared for a busy day in Brewers camp — split squad games against the Cubs and Giants. Kintzler was hoping to make his Cactus League debut on Sunday against the Rockies, but a Friday round of live batting practice did not go well, and the elbow was feeling even worse Saturday morning.

“Like I never had surgery in the first place,” Kintzler said.

He expected to be examined by Dr. William Raasch, the Brewers’ head physician who performed Kintzler’s surgery, this weekend. Kintzler is hoping the issue is benign.

The elbow has given Kintzler trouble for nearly a year. He missed most of last season with an injury that was eventually diagnosed as a fracture, and required surgery in late July to insert a screw. Kintzler reported to Spring Training healthy, and an x-ray of his elbow taken as part of Kintzler’s standard physical exam revealed no red flags.

He has had a series of setbacks since then, the latest on Saturday. Kintzler’s arm felt “electric” warming up in the bullpen, but that changed when he took the mound at a back field at Maryvale Baseball Park and pitched to group of hitters that included Caleb Gindl and Anderson De La Rosa.

“It just wasn’t the same,” Kintzler said. “Even [Paul] Phillips, the catcher, said it wasn’t the same. I felt great coming in from the ‘pen. Words can’t explain the confusion right now.”

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Braun: Season could be ‘a circus at times’

Ryan Braun put a ball in play, and then some.

Braun hit a long third-inning home run against Reds left-hander Sean Marshall on Tuesday, a blast that clanked high off the center field batters’ eye. Braun called it “progress” in his under-the-spotlight Spring Training.

“I get it. I know people are going to be paying more attention,” Braun said. “But for me, my goal is to try to have the same approach I’ve always had. Prepare myself for the start of the season.”

Braun has played three Cactus League games so far, all at Maryvale Baseball Park. He plans to start again Friday against the Indians and Sunday against the Rockies, and he might not appear in a road venue until March 17, when the Brewers visit the Angels in Tempe.

On the road in the regular season, Braun knows it will be different.

“It’s going to be an adventure every day,” he said. “It’s going to be a circus at times. It’s going to be entertaining.”

Fans have been “incredibly supportive,” Braun said. So have many fellow players, especially those with whom Braun has shared what he called “the real story.”

“People are going to have different opinions,” Braun said. “Most of them don’t know the real story. It’s tough sometimes to base your opinion or formulate a decision when you don’t know what happened. Overall, everybody has been real supportive.”

Will the public ever hear his version of “the real story?”

“I highly doubt it,” Braun said. “They’re probably not going to know too much more than they know now.”

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Hart surgery successful

Brewers spiokesperson Mike Vassallo reports that right fielder Corey Hart underwent successful surgery Thursday to repair torn cartilage in his right knee. He is expected to miss 3-4 weeks, the same timetable club officials released over the weekend. That’s a good sign that surgeons did not find more damage in the joint than they expected.

Chalk it up as good news. Hart is expected back at Maryvale Baseball Park on Wednesday to begin his rehabilitation.

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Marcum’s shoulder still sore

There were new concerns in Brewers camp about right-hander Shaun Marcum, who remains bothered by a stiff shoulder and was examined Monday by the team’s head physician.

Manager Ron Roenicke said Marcum will not be ready to make his Cactus League debut March 10, as originally planned. That means Marcum will not get a chance to get fully “stretched out” in Spring Training, though it does not necessarily rule hi out for the season-opening starting rotation.

“He won’t be stretched out to 90 pitches, but if we get him to 75 pitches, we feel pretty good about him going into the season,” Roenicke said.

Marcum had a similarly abbreviated Spring Training last year, when a more serious shoulder issue forced him to skip a start. He was nonetheless Milwaukee’s best early-season pitcher, going 6-1 with a 2.37 ERA in his first 10 starts.

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Hart won’t rule out Opening Day

Corey Hart will undergo surgery Tuesday in suburban Phoenix to repair torn cartilage in his right knee, a procedure that will leave the Brewers right fielder only the narrowest of margins to be ready for Opening Day.

The Brewers expect Hart to be sidelined 3-4 weeks. Opening Day is April 6 in St. Louis, and somewhere in-between, Hart would have to see some live pitching.

Still, an optimistic Hart said, “it’s not far-fetched to be back that soon.”

He also does not want to risk a setback that could cost him 3-4 months instead of that number of weeks, so an equally likely scenario is that Hart rehabs conservatively, then misses a modest number of regular season games while honing his swing on a Minor League rehabilitation assignment. That, Hart said, would not be the worst thing.

He will miss Spring Training for the second straight season. Last year, Hart badly strained a rib-cage muscle during an early camp throwing drill and did not debut until April 26.

“I’d rather get this out of the way now and not have to worry about it,” Hart said. “If I miss a week or two weeks of games, that’s not a big thing. I’ll be back soon.”

Dr. Evan Lederman and Dr. William Raasch will collaborate on Hart’s surgery at Arrowhead Hospital in Glendale, Ariz. Hart expects to be back in Brewers camp on Wednesday to begin his rehabilitation, and has been led to believe the early days of that process will be the most important. Once swelling in the knee subsides, he can accelerate his workouts.

For more on Hart, and what his outfield mates had to say about his injury, check out Brewers.com later tonight.

Nyjer Morgan is getting the first crack at replacing Hart in right field. Here’s the lineup for tonight’s 8:35 p.m. CT game against the Giants, which will be televised by MLB Network and webcast via MLB.com.

Rickie Weeks DH
Nyjer Morgan RF
Carlos Gomez CF
Alex Gonzalez SS
Mat Gamel 1B
George Kottaras C
Taylor Green 3B
Norichika Aoki LF
Cesar Izturis 2B

Chris Narveson is scheduled to start, and Wili Peralta and Jose Veras are among those slated to work in relief.

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Weeks, Hart scratched from Cactus opener

The Brewers revealed a double dose of bad news about 15 minutes before their Spring Training opener on Sunday, when second baseman Rickie Weeks and right fielder Corey Hart were both scratched with injuries, Hart’s a potentially troubling one.

Hart has swelling in his right knee related to the meniscus, and was sent for an MRI scan after seeing head team physician William Raasch. The Brewers were waiting for results when Randy Wolf threw the first pitch of the Cactus League season at Maryvale Baseball Park.

“Corey is more concerning,” Ash said. “He’s had a history of meniscus issues, but it’s never been to this level.”

There were three possibilities, including that Hart could play with the damaged meniscus like infielder Craig Counsell did successfully in 2009. If Hart needs surgery, there were two levels, one that would sideline him for 2-4 weeks and another, more invasive procedure that would send Hart to the disabled list to start the season.

Weeks’ setback is far less concerning, a stiff throwing shoulder that has been bothering him for some time. Weeks intended to play Sunday, but decided to take a more cautious approach following morning throwing drills.

“Nothing big,” Ash said. “We don’t expect him to miss any kind of considerable time. It is, in reality, a day to day deal.”

Brewers manager Ron Roenicke also said that pitcher Mark Rogers strained his left hamstring backing up home plate in Saturday’s intrasquad game. Ash characterized the injury as minor, but Rogers will not participate in camp for at least two days.

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Axford, Brewers will keep talking

The Brewers renewed closer John Axford’s contract for $525,000 on Saturday but will continue discussions about a multiyear contract extension, assistant general manager Gord Ash said.

Friday marked the start of a 10-day period in which teams could “renew” contracts for unsigned, pre-arbitration players at a salary of the club’s choosing. For more than a decade, the Brewers have paid such players according to a set scale that applies bonuses above the Major League minimum salary for statistical achievements and awards.

When the renewal period began, Axford was the only member of Milwaukee’s 40-man roster yet to agree to a deal. Sometimes, players with zero to three years of service, and thus subject to the system, disagree with the club’s system and get upset when they’re renewed — think Prince Fielder a couple years ago.

But that Axford and agent Dan Horwits forced a renewal was not necessarily a sign of acrimony but rather an indication that neither side wanted to give in amid negotiations toward a longer-term contract, one that would cover some of all of Axford’s upcoming arbitration seasons. He will be eligible as a “Super 2” player starting next winter and will have four seasons of arbitration-eligibility.

Both sides have expressed a desire to strike a deal.

“That is something I would love,” Axford said earlier in the week. I’d love the security. I love Milwaukee, I’d love to play there as long as I could. I would love to begin my career there and end my career there, in all honesty.”

UPDATE at 12:20 p.m. MT: Here’s what Ash had to say about Saturday’s development:

“You would have to ask Dan Horwits and John why they chose renewal over agreement,” Ash said. “We to have our zero-to-three formula, and clearly he is at the top of that heap given his performance to date. It’s a significant raise [from the $442,500 Axford earned last season]. It’s not a big deal to me. It’s the placeholder that we talked about. We’ve agreed that in a week to 10 days, Danny will be here and we will meet face to face and see where that takes us.”

Ash said Axford’s 2012 salary makes him one of the highest-paid players in baseball with one-plus years of Major League service. Axford has one year, 170 days accumulated — two days shy of qualifying for two full years.

“We’re satisfied the [salary] number is very fair,” Ash said.

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