May 2012

Ransom joins Brewers on familiar turf

Thirty-six-year-old Cody Ransom is well-traveled. When he makes his Brewers debut he will be playing for his sixth big league team and his eighth different organization in the last nine seasons. He has seen moves coming before, but not this time, not after he got off to a hot start as the D-backs third baseman.

“I was [surprised] by it,” Ransom said. “It was what it was, and I move on. I didn’t see it.”

The D-backs designated Ransom for assignment on Monday and the Brewers claimed him off waivers on Wednesday, making for some convenient travel. Ransom grew up in nearby Chandler, Ariz. and still lives in the Phoenix area, so he’d been at home with his wife and two children.

“It’s been pretty relaxing,” he said. “I’ve been at the house. I haven’t done anything since Sunday.”

Of being picked-up by the Brewers, Ransom said. “Good. I’ve got a job. At that point, I was excited to be going somewhere, to be staying in the big leagues and not going back to Triple-A somewhere. We’ll see how it goes.”

The Brewers optioned Edwin Maysonet back to Triple-A Nashville to clear space for Ransom, so he becomes the backup shortstop. It’s Ransom’s primary position, the one he’s appeared at most as a Major Leaguer. But his primary role in the big leagues has been as a utility man, appearing at all four infield positions plus one game in left field for the Giants in 2004.

“I’m very comfortable [at shortstop],” Ransom said.

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Estrada to DL

The Brewers have placed right-hander Marco Estrada on the 15-day disabled list with a right quad strain, an injury he suffered in Wednesday’s win over the Giants.

Mike McClendon will be recalled from Triple-A Nashville for Friday’s game against the D-backs, and the Brewers will need to name a starter for Estrada’s next turn.

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Straight talk from Hart

Brewers right fielder Corey Hart delivered two hits and some straight talk on Saturday.

“I know we played bad last year early on, but I don’t remember it ever being like this,” Hart said. “It’s a struggle. When you think you hit rock bottom, there’s worse.”

The new rock bottom was a 5-4, 11-inning loss to the Twins, who entered the weekend with baseball’s worst record but will go for a three-game sweep of the Brewers on Sunday. The Brewers have lost four games in a row to Houston and Minnesota. They are a season-worst eight-games under .500.

Aramis Ramirez gave the home team hope Saturday with a tying, two-out, two-run home run in the eighth inning, but the Twins won in the 11th with late-game sub Trevor Plouffe homered off Brewers reliever Manny Parra.

“We’re trying to stay positive as much as we can and try to come out of it,” Hart said. “We still have a great club. We have plenty of good times ahead. We can get on a roll, it just ain’t there yet. We have a club that can go 20-5, but right now we’re worried about trying to win a series.”

That bid will have to begin on Monday against the Giants. On Sunday, the Brewers will try to avoid becoming the first team to be swept in a three-game series by the 14-26 Twins.

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Paging Tony Plush: Brewers need to break the ice

Do the Brewers miss Prince Fielder in the clubhouse as much as they miss him on the field?

That was one of the questions manager Ron Roenicke faced on Saturday morning, a few hours after a blowout loss dropped the Brewers seven games under .500 for the first time in two seasons. The Brewers have yet to win more than three games in a row, and Roenicke suggested that their struggles cannot simply be explained by the rash of injuries that felled first baseman Mat Gamel, shortstop Alex Gonzalez and starter Chris Narveson.

“I think we’re just struggling in general,” Roenicke said. “We weren’t playing that well before we had the injuries. I think we haven’t figured out what kind of group this is going to be, and the confidence that you need [is missing].

“Guys are playing hard, they’re working hard. It’s not that. But as a team, we knew who we were last year. We had a lot of personalities on the team, and I thought we meshed really well. This year, we’ve got a quiet group. There are some personalities, but we’ve got a quiet group. Sometimes when things aren’t going real well, you need somebody to loosen it up a little bit.”

Fielder was one of those guys at times. So were veterans LaTroy Hawkins, Jerry Hairston Jr. and Mark Kotsay, who entertained his teammates during good times and bad last season by playing naked golf in the clubhouse. Yes, that is exactly what it sounds like.

This year’s club is different so far.

“Prince is a big personality that has an edge to it,” Roenicke said. “He was able to loosen up the clubhouse, but he was also, because of the edge, [able to say], ‘Let’s go! Enough is enough.’ That was good. I think with everybody else, I thought it really was good.”

Last year, Roenicke had some chats with outfielder Nyjer Morgan about toning down his alter ego, “Tony Plush.” This year, Roenicke would like to see more of Mr. Plush, but Morgan has been focused intensely on overcoming his slow start at the plate.

“Once you start playing well, it’s not necessary to have that [personality],” Roenicke said. “But when things aren’t going well, that’s when you really need the personalities to keep things loose and keep things positive. We’re trying to do it as a staff, but sometimes players get a little bit tired of hearing us. We’re trying to figure it out.”

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Chulk sent out, Perez in

The Brewers have designated right-handed reliever Vinnie Chulk for assignment and purchased left-hander Juan Perez’s contract from Triple-A Nashville. We’ll have more on the move at Brewers.com this afternoon.

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Slumping Weeks dropped to sixth in lineup

Brewers manager Ron Roenicke introduced a bold new batting order on Friday, dropping slumping  second baseman Rickie Weeks down to sixth in the lineup for the team’s Interleague opener against the Twins at Miller Park.

Weeks and Roenicke had discussed the players ongoing slump, and Roenicke had honored Weeks’ request to bat near the top of the lineup. On Friday, it was time for a change. Corey Hart moved up to the leadoff hole and center fielder Norichika Aoki batted second, the spot previously held by Weeks. Ryan Braun and Aramis Ramirez were in their usual spots — third and fourth — followed by red-hot catcher Jonathan Lucroy.

Then came Weeks, who has two hits in his last 32 at-bats and has seen his average drop to .156. Entering Friday’s games, Weeks led National League hitters with 49 strikeouts.

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Six month recovery for Gonzalez

The Brewers report that shortstop Alex Gonzalez had surgery today on his right ACL at Froedtert Hospital, performed by Dr. William Raasch. The club projects a six-month recovery, so Gonzalez’s season is over.

The 35-year-old won’t get the 525 plate appearances necessary to vest his option for next season, but the Brewers still could pick it up if they liked Gonzalez and are convinced he’ll come back healthy. He will probably become a free agent instead.

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Why is Weeks hitting second? Roenicke explains

Rickie Weeks returned to the Brewers’ lineup as promised on Tuesday, two hours after manager Ron Roenicke explained why his slumping second baseman continues to bat near the top of the lineup.

“The thing is, we need Rickie to swing the bat,” Roenicke said. “That’s the biggest thing. I mean, for our offense to really go, we need Rickie to swing the bat well. So, how to we get Rickie to swing the bat the best?

“Is it to leave him second? Is it to put him eighth? Those are the discussions I had with Rick. Where he is, is where he thinks he has a chance more quickly to be where he needs to be.”

Weeks’ input in the matter, Roencike said, is important.

“It is important, because it’s mental,” Roenicke said. “The hitting part, unless you have an injury, is not physical. It’s mental. … If, mentally, he is better at a certain spot [in the lineup], then we try to do that.”

Whatever the cause, Weeks has not hit this season. He entered Tuesday, Weeks’ first start since he was struck on the left hand by a wayward pitch Friday night, hitless in his last 18 at-bats. Weeks was batting .157 for the season and had the third-most strikeouts (41) among National League hitters.

You don’t need to be a hitting coach to see that Weeks has been diving out over the plate after swings. But the causes of those unbalanced swings, Roenicke said, are mental.

“Mentally, there’s something going on that makes you do that,” Roenicke said. “He probably swings 50-100 times a day [in the batting cage] the right way. So why, when you get in a game, do you do have a swing that’s completely different than what you do in practice? Something changes up here [in the player’s head]. You’re thinking, ‘Hey, this guy is going to pitch me away, I’ve got to go out and hit this ball.’ The next thing you know, you’re diving out over the plate.”

Weeks gets some say about his spot in the batting order because he started the All-Star Game last season, and has been a productive hitter over the healthy portions of his eight-plus seasons with the Brewers. But Roenicke reserved the right to drop Weeks in the order should his slump persist.

“It’s not as easy as everybody things — ‘Well, just move him down,’” Roenicke said. “That’s easy to say, but it’s not that easy to do.”

Asked whether Weeks viewed batting low in the batting order as a personal affront, Roenicke said, “The discussions I have with him, a lot of those are between us. This is what we came up with.”

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Axford expounds on that now-famous note

Brewers closer John Axford had only a few moments to stew over the end of his long saves streak before life snapped things back into focus.

Clubhouse manager Tony Migliaccio was waiting for Axford when the upset right-hander retreated to the clubhouse in the middle of the ninth inning Friday night, a one-run lead having just slipped away in what would turn into a marathon win over the Cubs. It was Axford’s first blown save in more than a year after 49 successful conversions, the fourth-longest saves streak in the history of the stat.

Migliaccio had news. Axford’s pregnant wife, Nicole, was waiting outside the clubhouse. She was having contractions.

“My attitude changed immediately,” John Axford said. “I realized, obviously, there was more to life than what just happened out on the field.”

Nicole Axford was only 33 weeks pregnant, not due to give birth to the couple’s second child until June 28. Her primary physician just happened to be sitting 10 rows in front of her at Friday’s game, and did a quick examination right there in the stands. She suggested they get to the hospital.

So John quickly showered, dressed and left a handwritten note for reporters explaining his absence. The doctor was able to stop the contractions, and Nicole Axford was expected to be released from the hospital on Sunday.

Since then, John’s note has gone viral. It went like this:

“I put my wife into contractions with my performance tonight! The streak is over so now you can talk about it. The luck I’ve had in the past didn’t show up tonight! All I can do is start another streak and keep my head up!

“Cliché… cliché… cliché… another cliché. Gotta go! Love, Ax.”

On Sunday, he smiled about the note and the national attention it’s received.

“I didn’t think it was going to be that big of a deal,” Axford said. “Originally, I just wanted to make myself smile a little bit, too, because right after I came in I was pretty upset.”

That changed with the passage of a few days, a pair of Brewers wins over the Cubs to start the three-game series and news that mom and baby-to-be were doing well. The couple plans to name their second son Jameson.

As for the end of his saves streak?

“I was obviously upset with the way it went [Friday],” Axford said. “The last two outings haven’t been the greatest. Kind of like I put in my note, the luck just hasn’t been there the last two times. It seems like the baseball gods are upset that somehow I weaseled my way out of the one in St. Louis somehow and now they’re making me pay for it.”

He notched a save in St. Louis on April 29 after the Cardinals put runners at first and third base with nobody out in a one-run game. Axford followed with a clean save on May 4 in San Francisco, but since then has allowed five runs, three earned, in a pair of outings. He has a loss and a blown save to show for it.

On Friday, the Cubs’ rally began with an error. They later scored the go-ahead run on a strikeout/wild pitch.

“It’s tough when you strike out three guys and you still don’t get out of an inning. The luck just wasn’t there,” Axford said. “Every time you step out there, you want to get a save. You want to lock down a win for your team … Looking back to see that it was more than a year that I went without a blown save, and I’m just glad I could hold down those wins, get those saves and get wins for the team.

“Last year, at the moment I  blew those two saves early on, I didn’t think I was going to be in the situation I was in at the beginning of this year, with that many saves in a row. Hopefully, I can start something like that again.”

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Gomez ready for rehab assignment

The Brewers report that outfielder Carlos Gomez will begin a rehab assignment on Wednesday with Class-A Wisconsin, which hosts the Burlington Bees that day in Appleton, Wis. He will work out with the Wisconsin club on Monday and Tuesday to prepare for the assignment.

Gomez is on the 15-day disabled list with a left hamstring strain he suffered last weekend in San Francisco. He should be ready to be activated next weekend, when his 15 days are up.

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