April 2012

Wainwright a mystery to Brewers

The Cardinals Adam Wainwright will make his first Major League start today since September 2010, and the Brewers are not entirely sure what to expect.

“I think we really need to see what the difference is between two years ago and now,” Milwaukee manager Ron Roencike said. “Our guys were talking about it — I don’t know if we’ll see the same kind of pitcher that we saw two years ago. A lot of times you have to make adjustments. We’ve got scouting reports on how he looked in Spring Training, but until you see what he’s going to do with his different pitches, we’ll have to adjust in-game.”

Can Roenicke share any of the general concepts in those spring scouting reports. No, he said with a smile.

So, wait and see. Most pitchers are not exactly the same guy when they initially return from Tommy John surgery.

“Usually, not the same,” Roenicke said. “I would say that after two years, you have a really good chance of being the same guy. Velocity, you usually have OK, but it’s the dexterity and being able to do what you did before. It takes a while to come back. I don’t know if it’s the nerves in there, or what.

“Hey, some guys can come back earlier and after a year [of rehab] they’re really good. Those guys are really special.”

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Uecker mourns son’s passing

The Brewers just announced that Steve Uecker, son of Brewers broadcaster Bob Uecker, passed away today at Froedtert Hospital in Milwaukee from complications related to an illness known as San Joaquin Valley Fever. He was 52.

“This is a very difficult time for all of my family as we mourn the loss of my son Steve,” Bob Uecker said in a statement. “We appreciate the support of everyone connected to the Brewers: the players and coaches, the front office, and the fans. I also want to thank all of the doctors and staff at Froedtert Hospital for their efforts and care throughout this process.”

In addition to his father, Steve is survived by his mother Joyce, brother Bob Jr., sisters Sue and Leann, and several nieces.

“Bob is a great friend, and on behalf of everyone at the Brewers, Debbie and I want to extend our deepest sympathies to him and his family on the passing of his son Steve,” said Brewers Chairman and Principal Owner Mark Attanasio. “His loss is our loss, and we share his sadness today.”

A private memorial service will be held.

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Braun all smiles before opener

Brewers left fielder Ryan Braun had a big smile on his face before Friday’s season opener, eager to put a tumultuous winter behind him and to see if his team is as good as he believes it is.

Asked whether he had extra incentive on this opening day, Braun said with a smile, “Of course. Come on, of course.”

“It’s not so much about proving anybody wrong as it is about proving the people who all believed in me and supported me, right,” Braun said. “I’m definitely excited. Very motivated.”

Braun will be presented his NL MVP Award on the field at Miller Park on April 22.

Manager Ron Roenicke has been talking with Braun throughout the spring about potential challenges ahead. The Brewers opened their season in friendly territory but will travel next week to Chicago and Atlanta, where the reception may not be as nice.

“Right now, he’s in a really good place,” Roenicke said. “The first couple weeks of spring were a little difficult, but he’s back to the guy he was that I saw last year. He’s very confident. He knows he had a tough offseason, mentally, and I think he’s in that place right now where his focus is on having another repeat year, even better. That’s hard to believe, but it’s how he talks.”

Braun thinks the team is better this season. For his comments on that front, check Brewers.com this evening.

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Brewers to continue talks with Greinke, Axford

The Brewers’ contract negotiations with starter Zack Greinke and closer John Axford won’t end with the start of regular season, top two officials said before Friday’s season opener.

General manager Doug Melvin confirmed that talks would continue with Greinke and Axford. Brewers principal owner Mark Attanasio added that the same goes for Melvin himself, manager Ron Roenicke, COO Rick Schlesinger and executive vice president-finance and administration Bob Quinn, all of whom, Attanasio said, are up for extensions.

“I know in our sport there is this demarcation of Opening Day, like everything needs to be done by Opening Day,” Attanasio said. “We certainly don’t operate like that.”

Said Melvin: “I think we have get away from the [concept] that there’s a deadline on Opening Day on contracts. I don’t think there is. … In my mind, I don’t necessarily believe in deadlines unless they’re implemented by the Commissioner’s Office. I think you can just go with the flow of it. If it happens, it happens, and if it doesn’t we still have the opportunity at the end of the year with any of our players.”

The Brewers would prefer to lock-up Greinke before he gets that far. He re-hired agent Casey Close this week, and Close and Melvin had a talk on Thursday evening. They plan to talk again Monday, Melvin said.

Greinke is entering the final year of his contract and would be the top right-hander on the winter free agent market.

“There’s no timeline on it,” Melvin said. “I know players sometimes say they want to focus on the season, and that’s fine. I respect that. It doesn’t mean the GM and the agent can’t talk behind the scenes. We want [Greinke] to go out and have a big year.”

Axford’s situation is different. He will qualify for salary arbitration next winter as a “Super 2” player, and will be under club control for the 2013-16 seasons. The Brewers have discussed a deal with Axford’s agent, Dan Horwits, that would buy out some or all of those seasons, and could extend into free agency.

Melvin, the Brewers’ GM since September 2002, has a contract that expires after this season. Roenicke is in the second season of a two-year deal but has a club option for 2013.

Attanasio said talks were “progressing nicely” with Melvin and Roenicke.

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Opening Day lineups and links

Quiet for now, but not for long

Welcome to the 44th season of Brewers baseball, their 43rd in Milwaukee and 15th in the National League. Apparently, the fans are excited; I heard that the first tailgaters arrived at 6 a.m. CT  for a game that begins with Yovani Gallardo’s 3:10 p.m. first pitch.

The Brewers are 23-19-1 all-time on Opening Day, including 8-5 at home. They are 7-6-1 on Opening Day since moving to the NL in 1998 and are facing the Cardinals in a season opener for the fourth time. The Brewers won two of the three previous Opening Day engagements, and they were all high-scoring affairs — a 10-8 win in 1999, an 11-9 loss in 2003 and an 8-6 win in ’04.

Here are your starting lineups:

CARDINALS
Rafael Furcal SS
Carlos Beltran RF
Matt Holliday LF
Lance Berkman 1B
David Freese 3B
Yadier Molina C
John Jay CF
Daniel Descalso 2B
Jaime Garcia LHP

BREWERS
Rickie Weeks 2B
Carlos Gomez CF
Ryan Braun LF
Aramis Ramirez 3B
Corey Hart RF
Alex Gonzalez SS
Mat Gamel 1B
Jonathan Lucroy C
Yovani Gallardo RHP

Quite a different look for both teams, no? Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder are swinging for the fences in the American League, and Cardinals manager Tony LaRussa has traded his uniform for a suit and a job in the Commissioner’s Office. It will be very interesting to see whether some of last season’s hard feelings are tempered by the changes in personnel. Hart is among the Brewers curious to find out.

On the mound for Milwaukee is Gallardo, who is quickly becoming an Opening Day fixture. He’ll start against Garcia in a matchup of Mexican-born pitchers and a rematch of last year’s NL Championship Series competitors. MLB.com’s Matthew Leach covered that series as the Cards’ beat writer, and he has our preview of the opening game.

It marks the first opportunity for Braun to move on from his tumultuous winter. The reigning NL MVP is entering a crucial season for the Brewers, who need another big season from him to help cover Fielder’s departure. All eyes will be on No. 8 beginning this afternoon.

The big picture goal for the Brewers is straightforward: Repeat as champs of the NL Central. They have the pitching to do it, with Zack Greinke and Shaun Marcum in contract years and set-up man Francisco Rodriguez in place for the full season. The questions this time are about an offense that will surely miss Fielder. Brewers officials concede that a drop in runs could occur, but believe they can cover it with the pitching and an improved defense. We’ll see.

I hope you’ll tune in again this year to Brewers.com and MLB.com, and follow along on Twitter. Baseball is back.

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No Tony, no Pujols, no Prince. Will Cards-Crew be different?

Tony LaRussa called the Brewers something very close to cheaters. Tony Plush called the best player in baseball “Alberta.” Zack Greinke called Chris Carpenter a phony. Albert Pujols and Ryan Braun both took baseballs in the back.

The Cardinals and Brewers did not like each other last season, and they showed it. Here they are again. Last year’s National League Championship Series combatants will open Miller Park on Friday afternoon in the first of 15 matchups in 2012.

The big question is, given the big changes in both clubhouses, will this NL Central rivalry stay hot?

“Oh yeah,” Cardinals first baseman Lance Berkman said. “There’s no question that it’s going to continue. They don’t like us and we’re not fond of them. I’m sure that will continue.”

Brewers outfielder Corey Hart is not so sure. He notes that three of the biggest personalities involved in past tensions between the teams are gone. LaRussa retired from managing and took a job in the Commissioner’s Office. Pujols signed out west with the Angels. Equally-intense Brewers first baseman Prince Fielder went to Detroit.

Carpenter has not left, but he will not be a player this weekend. The Cardinals ace is on the disabled list with a nerve issue in his neck.

“It might be a completely different dynamic,” Hart said. “Their two biggest personalities [LaRussa and Pujols] and our biggest [Fielder] are gone. I think a lot of our conflict is because of the way Tony did things. Great manager, but he rubbed people the wrong way.

“I’m curious. A lot of the guys over there [with St. Louis], we like. So it’s interesting. It’s actually nice to open up with them to see what it’s like, what kind of feelings are out there.”

For more on what caused hard feelings between these teams last season, check out the full version of this story later today.

And for all of your Opening Day questions, refer to the news release issued by the Brewers earlier in the week. Here’s a link.

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Melvin, Greinke agent to talk Thursday

After dealing directly with right-hander Zack Greinke during Spring Training, Brewers general manager Doug Melvin will shift talks about a potential contract extension to Greinke’s newly-hired agent, Casey Close.

Greinke had been previously represented by Close at CAA Sports, but had been operating without representation for more than a year. Close has since left CAA to form Excel Sports Management.

Melvin and Close will talk via telephone Thursday to “fill each other in on where discussions stand,” according to Melvin, who declined to say whether Grienke’s decision to select an agent indicated the sides were making progress toward an extension. Greinke is due to reach free agency in October.

“From here on out, Casey and I will talk,” Melvin said.

Greinke has not said whether he is open to discussions extending into the regular season. Opening Day is Friday against the Cardinals at Miller Park, and he’ll debut Saturday.

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Ishikawa makes the cut as Brewers set roster

The Brewers picked Travis Ishikawa over Brooks Conrad for the final roster spot, giving them a relatively experienced bench bat but leaving the team thin on the middle infield.

Manager Ron Roenicke hopes Ishikawa develops into this year’s Mark Kotsay, the veteran outfielder who was a favorite of the skipper last season.

“We’re losing what we felt was a great pinch-hitter last year in Kotsay,” Roenicke said. “We’re looking at a guy [in Ishikawa] who’s got some experience, and he’s done a nice job for San Francisco in the Major Leagues.”

Ishikawa has played 281 games for the Giants since 2006 and is a plus defender at first base who can play left field in a pinch. He’s 20-for-75 (.290) lifetime as a pinch-hitter.

He’ll be the primary backup to Mat Gamel, Milwaukee’s first-year starter at first base.

Both Ishikawa and Conrad were in Brewers camp on Minor League deals. Conrad will play multiple positions for Triple-A Nashville, whose infield is set with first baseman Erick Almonte, second baseman Eric Farris, third baseman Taylor Green and shortstop Edwin Maysonet.

Conrad’s calling card was versatility. Without him, the Brewers only have one reserve middle infielder — veteran Cesar Izturis. Roenicke said the team would “go with this for a while and see how it plays out.”

Maysonet impressed Brewers coaches in camp and is only a call away. He has logged big league time with the Astros and has one Minor League option remaining.

The Brewers plan to formally file their 25-man roster before Wednesday’s Spring Training finale against the D-backs. Barring a last-minute injury, it will include starters Yovani Gallardo, Zack Greinke, Randy Wolf, Shaun Marcum and Chris Narveson; relievers John Axford, Francisco Rodriguez, Jose Veras, Kameron Loe, Marco Estrada, Manny Parra and Tim Dillard; catchers Jonathan Lucroy and George Kottaras; infielders Gamel, Rickie Weeks, Aramis Ramirez, Alex Gonzalez, Izturis and Ishikawa and outfielders Ryan Braun, Nyjer Morgan, Carlos Gomez, Corey Hart and Norichika Aoki.

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Greinke mum on Cain comparison

Zack Greinke had no trouble giving an honest assessment of the “meatballs” he threw at the Chicago White Sox on Monday. But when the questions turned off-the-field, to the competitor with the big, new contract, he got quiet.

The topic was Matt Cain, who agreed to a five-year extension with the Giants on Monday that makes Cain the highest-paid right-handed pitcher in baseball history. It almost certainly has bearing on the Brewers’ talks with Greinke, though Greinke wouldn’t say so.

“We’ll see,” he said with a smile.

The Major League Baseball Players Association confirmed Monday morning that Greinke still has not registered an agent. That means he is speaking on his own behalf, though since March 18 he has deflected questions about business. Greinke told the team’s three regular beat reporters on Monday that, “Business stuff, I don’t feel is important for you guys to know until it actually comes out.”

Greinke also declined to say whether he was open to continuing discussions past Friday, when Yovani Gallardo starts the Brewers’ regular season opener against the Cardinals. Greinke pitches the next day opposite Adam Wainwright.

Of Cain, Greinke said, “Obviously, he’s really good. I can’t really get into if I think I compare to him or I don’t think I compare to him. That’s more business stuff I don’t feel like giving y’all my opinion on.”

He was more willing to talk about what happened on the field, and it was quite entertaining. Check out the site in a bit for the full story.

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Hart cleared to join big-league Crew

Most of the Brewers’ regulars took Monday off but will return to action Tuesday and Wednesday, when the team caps Spring Training with a pair of Chase Field exhibitions againbst the D-backs.

“Along with probably our right fielder [Corey] Hart,” manager Ron Roencike said.

Hart received medical clearance Monday to re-join the Brewers’ big leaguers. He is scheduled for seven innings on Tuesday night, seven more on Wednesday afternoon, and, barring a setback with his surgically-repaired right knee, will be in right field when the Brewers start the regular season on Friday against the Cardinals.

Having Hart will be a boost for the Brewers, who are counting on him to bat fifth this season. That is a key spot in the batting order considering the Brewers have a new cleanup hitter, Aramis Ramirez, who is tasked with replacing some of the production lost when Prince Fielder left via free agency.

Hart played Wednesday-Sunday in Minor League games, preserving the option of a backdated stint on the 15-day disabled list. The Brewers would forfeit that option if Hart appears in the Cactus League, a very strong indication they are convinced he is ready for Opening Day.

“He’s ready. He’s actually pretty excited about it,” Roenicke said. “Today, he woke up and came in and feels great.”

Hart will be four weeks post-op on Tuesday. He had surgery March 6 to repair two cartilage tears in his right knee, and the Brewers predicted a 3-5 week rehabilitation. Using that timeframe, Hart is coming in right on schedule.

“He pushed it,” Roenicke said. “He got out there and got after it with the idea he would like to be ready for Opening Day. He would have been OK if we thought it was better as far as going to Triple-A for a few days, but he’s pretty happy about [breaking camp in the Major Leagues]. Anytime you work hard, you want things to go well, and I think this went well.”

With Shaun Marcum (early-camp shoulder stiffness) slated to pitch Wednesday’s spring finale against Arizona, the Brewers could begin the season at full-strength. That’s a big change from last year, when Hart, catcher Jonathan Lucroy, starter Zack Greinke and relievers LaTroy Hawkins and Manny Parra all began the season on the disabled list.

Roenicke said circumstances would dictate Hart’s playing time in the early part of April.

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