July 2012

Roenicke upset after ejection

So much for enjoying a rare blowout win. Brewers manager Ron Roenicke and bench coach Jerry Narron were ejected Tuesday night with three outs to go in a 10-1 game.

The trouble began when Brewers reliever Francisco Rodriguez, getting work in a rout because of his recent struggles, appeared to strike out Astros outfielder Justin Maxwell with a curveball. At least Maxwell believed he’d been struck out; he turned toward the dugout.

But wait — plate umpire Brian Knight’s call was Ball 2.

Narron voiced his displeasure from the bench and was ejected. Roenicke went toward home plate to hear Knight’s explanation and was ejected, too.

“He told me it was high,” Roenicke said. “It wasn’t even close to being high.”

Rodriguez did get a called Strike 3 on the next pitch, a fastball even he admitted might have been a bit low, and went on to close the game with a 1-2-3 inning.

Roenicke, who has only been ejected twice this year, the other coming July 7 at Houston after Sam Holbrook tossed Zack Greinke for spiking the baseball in frustration after a play at first base, was uncharacteristically upset.

“[Knight] says, ‘You’re yelling at me in a 10-1 ballgame?’” Roenicke said. “I said, ‘I don’t care what the score is. I’ve got a pitcher out there that’s working as hard as he can. You blow a call and you throw my guy out?’

“And he throws me out for that. That’s a poor job by him.”

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Roenicke hopes Hart stays at first base

Corey Hart’s game-saving pick to end Monday’s win over the Astros was only the latest example — for a right fielder, he is a really good first baseman.

So good, that manager Ron Roenicke would like Hart to retire his outfield glove and return to first base next season.

“That’s Doug’s decision,” Roenicke said, referring to general manager Doug Melvin. “I’ve told Doug, though, that he’s a difference-maker at first base for me.

“Some, because of the way he plays, and some just because, physically, he’s huge. The other night, [Cody] Ransom throws that ball high, and when it left his hand I thought, ‘Oh, no.’ And Corey, his reach is tremendous.”

He’s the Brewers’ first big first baseman since Richie Sexson. Lyle Overbay was generously listed as 6-foot-2, and Prince Fielder at 5-foot-11. Hart, like Sexson, is 6-foot-6.

“[Hart] says, ‘Nothing’s getting by me,’” Roenicke said. “When you have that attitude, he’ll go down and block it or whatever it takes. He’s been amazing. I just wanted [Melvin] to know that.”

Keeping Hart at first base would throw back into flux the future of Mat Gamel, who was Fielder’s replacement before suffering a season-ending knee injury in May. The Brewers would either have to trade Gamel or ask him, again, to change positions; he has already been a third baseman, a corner outfielder and a first baseman.

With Hart at first, the Brewers’ could either keep Norichika Aoki in right field, or platoon Aoki and Carlos Gomez in center field and seek a hitter during the offseason to play right.

“Those [issues] still have to be talked about,” Roenicke said. “If it works out better for us all-around for [Hart] to go back to right field, then he goes back out. But I know what he’s done at first base so far, and it’s really impressive.”

Melvin declined to offer his opinion about the Brewers’ plan for next season, saying he was focused instead on winning the team’s remaining games in 2012.

Hart is signed with the Brewers through the end of next season, at a $10 million salary for 2013.

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‘Quiet’ Deadline Day for Brewers

The Miller Park war room was quiet as Tuesday’s nonwaiver Trade Deadline came and went, but keep an eye on Milwaukee in August. Remember, teams can still swing deals if they pass players through waivers first, and the Brewers have two or three potential candidates in starter Shaun Marcum, reliever Francisco Rodriguez and maybe starter Randy Wolf. Marcum would have to get healthy and Rodriguez and Wolf would need some better results to entice buyers, who must acquire a player by Aug. 31 to have him eligible for postseason play.

Marcum looks like the Brewers’ most attractive chip, assuming he can get over the stiff elbow that has sidelined him since mid-June. Before that injury, Marcum owned a 3.39 ERA in 13 starts and a .227 average against. He is a free agent after the season.

He’s scheduled to throw another bullpen session today or tomorrow, then a simulated game over the weekend in St. Louis before heading out for a rehabilitation assignment. Marcum could be ready to rejoin the Brewers’ rotation after his stint on the 60-day disabled list ends Aug. 14.

Moving a starting pitcher or two before the end of the season would make sense for the Brewers because they want a look at some of the young arms who will figure into the 2013 rotation. Mike Fiers has already pitched himself into the discussion, and Mark Rogers is scheduled for his second start of the season on Saturday. At some point, you figure the Brewers will bring back Tyler Thornburg from Triple-A Nashville, and they would also like to see Wily Peralta in the big leagues before the year is out.

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Brewers recall McClendon

Right-hander Mike McClendon will be back in the Brewers bullpen tonight after being recalled from Triple-A Nashville. He takes Tyler Thornburg’s place. The Brewers sent Thornburg back down so he could get back on a starters’ schedule.

It’s already been quite a day of bullpen news.

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Kyles: Brewers ‘had to do something’

I just spoke with former Brewers bullpen coach Stan Kyles, who was let go today during an early-morning meeting at Miller Park with general manager Doug Melvin and assistant GM Gord Ash. Stan’s words pretty much speak for themselves:

“They had to do something,” Kyles said. “It had gotten to the point where those guys, it’s in their heads now that they’re really scuffling with confidence. I completely understood Doug and Gord bringing me in. I have a feeling that this is not what they wanted to do. But it’s something that they had to do, and I absolutely understand it.

“This has been home for me for the last almost four years, and 11 years in the organization, so I love these guys to death. It was tough for me to see those guys in the bullpen go through what they went through, with ‘Ax’ [John Axford] and ‘Frankie’ [Francisco Rodriguez], the things they did last year, how proud I was of them last year. Really, I was proud of them this year, even though they went through the struggles that they did. They never pointed fingers, they never blamed anybody else for the struggles that they had. I have the utmost respect for them and I love them.

“I’m sure they’re going to be fine, and I’m really hoping that they’ll see this as an opportunity to bring some kind of closure to something. They get a chance to start over. We really have to salvage something, and I think we will. Those guys have too much ability to end the season the way it’s gone thus far. I’m hoping this is just what they need. I’m sorry to not be able to see it through, to see them come out of this thing.”

Kyles planned to return home to South Carolina for a few weeks of decompression. He will seek a Major League job during the offseason, but in their morning chat, Melvin left open the possibility for a return to the Brewers organization should Kyles request it.

When it was suggested that he was being scapegoated for players’ struggles, Kyles said, “Who’s to say what’s fair and not fair? You know, I never played in the big leagues, and the Brewers gave me an opportunity to be in the big leagues and I’m going to be indebted to them for the rest of my life for that. It was my dream to get here, and they gave me that opportunity.”

He also thanked the Brewers for their support through his cancer scare in 2010, when Kyles underwent prostate surgery early in the season and had his job waiting for him when he returned.

“Every chance they’ve had, they’ve given me a pat on the back,” Kyles said. “It’s been a great run for me and the Brewers. I just hope it finishes up well for them this year. I’ll be rooting for them, for sure.”

The biggest question came last:

What the heck happened this year?

Kyles pointed to the absence of veterans Takashi Saito and LaTroy Hawkins as one potential cause, but that does not explain the season-long struggles for Axford and Rodriguez, each of whom have held the closer’s role and lost it.

“I don’t know if we didn’t prepare them as well or not. I think we did,” Kyles said. “Me and ‘Kranny’ [pitching coach Rick Kranitz] worked long hours trying to get these guys ready. But ultimately, it came down to we didn’t make enough pitches when we had to. We just didn’t make pitches. It came to the point where we were throwing the ball and hoping.

“Who’s to say where it all went wrong? I could very easily see all of those guys, with their talent, bouncing back and having great years next year. That’s baseball. I know that’s kind of a vague thing to throw out there, and a lot of people won’t understand that. But it’s a beautiful game, and sometimes things like this happen. There’s a lot of mental stuff that goes along with it.

“Like I said, hopefully they see this as a closing and a new start for the season. I’m pretty sure these guys will grow from the adversity and be better for it. I know ‘Ax’ and ‘Frankie’ will. I love them to death along with the rest of those guys and I’m hoping for the best for them.”

For the full story of Kyles’ dismissal, click over to Brewers.com.

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Brewers fire Stan Kyles

The Brewers’ struggling bullpen has produced another casualty. Longtime coach Stan Kyles was “relieved of his duties” today, according to the team.

Lee Tunnell will replace Kyles on an interim basis and report to the team on Tuesday. Kyles had been in his current role since 2009 and coached in the Minor Leagues before that.

“It is important that we make every effort to try to improve our bullpen performance,” Brewers general manager Doug Melvin said in a statement. “While Stan is not solely responsible, I felt that this change was the first step and was necessary. Stan has been a loyal member of the Milwaukee Brewers organization for 11 years. His hard work and dedication has been an integral part of the Brewers’ success and is greatly appreciated. His professionalism, personality and knowledge will be missed.”

Tunnell is  his fourth season with the organization and had been Minor League pitching coordinator. Prior to that role, he spent three seasons with the Reds as interim bullpen coach (2006) and pro scout (2007-08). He also coached in the Rangers organization for nine seasons (1997-2005).

Brewers relievers are 15-26 with a 4.80 ERA this season. The bullpen has recorded the most losses and blown saves (20) in the Major Leagues and ranks 28th in ERA and 29th in opponent batting average (.274).

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Brewers’ bullpen is worst since ’06

Former Brewers manager Ken Macha learned from Whitey Herzog that to be a successful skipper in the Major Leagues, you need a good sense of humor and a good bullpen.

At the moment, the current Brewers manager has neither.

In Sunday’s 11-10 loss to the Nationals, the Brewers entered the eighth inning with a 7-3 lead, lost it, then entered the ninth leading 9-7 after back-to-back home runs by Norichika Aoki and Carlos Gomez. And yet, they lost.

“Inexplicable,” said John Axford, the former closer. “It’s tough to describe what’s happening.”

Sunday’s game extended a terrible stretch for Brewers relievers, who squandered leads in all three games at Philadelphia last week in a sweep that pushed the team toward trading Greinke to the Angels for prospects. They have 20 blown saves this season, most in the Majors.

Axford struggled to describe the Brewers bullpen’s failures, “especially after the run we had last year, mainly between ‘Frankie’ [Rodriguez] and myself. We had discussions throughout the year, trying to maybe pull answers from each other to see what’s going on, and we can’t explain it.

“Maybe it is just a domino effect right now. Last year, when things were going great, they just kept going. When someone stepped in a hole, we pulled them right out of it. … Right now, it seems like if someone steps in that hole, we’re digging it even deeper for them and we’re all jumping in. It’s not really working out.”

This Brewers’ bullpen is the team’s worst since 2006, when 23 different men threw a pitch in relief for Milwaukee including the likes of Joe Winkelsas, who was working as a trash collector before giving baseball another shot, and Chris Demaria, Chris Mabeus and Allan Simpson. None of those players ever appeared in the Majors again.

That ’06 bullpen combined for a 5.03 ERA, worst in the National League. After combining to surrender nine Nationals runs in 5 1/3 innings on Sunday, this year’s bullpen has a 4.80 ERA. Brewers relievers entered Sunday ranked 27th in the Majors in walks allowed, 28th in relief ERA, 29th in batting average against and worst in blown saves.

Now the Brewers are making changes.

They added veteran Minor Leaguer Jim Henderson to the mix on Thursday and he delivered three scoreless outings during the Nationals series, including a one-out stint Sunday that bailed Rogers out of a sixth-inning jam. Another new arm will be in uniform by Monday, when the Brewers continue their homestand against the rebuilding Astros.

Stay tuned for that new name. It was not clear on Sunday when the Brewers would make their announcement.

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Brewers get reliever for Kottaras, Marcum to 60-day DL

The Brewers received right-handed reliever Fautino De Los Santos from the A’s on Sunday to complete a trade that sent catcher George Kottaras to Oakland.

Brewers assistant general manager Gord Ash had been seeking a Major League landing spot for Kottaras since the Brewers designated him for assignment on Thursday, opting to keep the young Martin Maldonado as the backup catcher instead.

“My time in Milwaukee was memorable,” Kottaras told fans via his Twitter account. “Great city. Great fans. Made a lot of friends. Gonna miss it.”

De Los Santos, 26, was optioned to Triple-A Nashville. To make room for him on the 40-man roster, the team shifted right-hander Shaun Marcum to the 60-day disabled list.

De Los Santos has a 4.21 ERA and 46 strikeouts in 36 1/3 Major League innings for the A’s over the past two seasons, including 34 appearances in 2011 and six in 2012. Big league opponents batted only .220 against him last season but were 7-for-17 in very limited duty this April.

He has been at Triple-A Sacramento since then, pitching to a 7.25 ERA and a .320 opponents’ average in 28 games. De Los Santos had been pitching well in July before allowing three hits, a walk and three earned runs on Tuesday at Salt Lake City. He has not pitched since then.

“Big velocity, has struggled at times with his command, but in a deal like this it is a chance to get an upside arm,” Ash said. “They had expressed interest [in Kottaras] and we gave them a couple of names, and this was one we agreed on. Our scouts saw him and liked his arm; I know he hasn’t had great results this year but there’s some upside.”

De Los Santos will be out of options beginning next year.

Marcum, meanwhile, will now be eligible for reinstatement from the DL beginning August 14. He threw another bullpen session on Sunday, two days after a similar session did not go well. Marcum has been dealing with a tight right elbow, and his shoulder would not get loose on Friday.

When I spoke to Ash, he had yet to get word whether Sunday’s bullpen was more promising.

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Ramirez out with sore left wrist

Brewers third baseman Aramis Ramirez sat out Sunday’s series finale against the Nationals with a sore left wrist that has bothered him “for a while” but has not seemed to affect his doubles stroke.

Ramirez hit his 35th double in Saturday’s loss, giving him a chance to break the Brewers’ single season record of 53 doubles by Lyle Overbay in 2004. Ramirez is currently on pace for 57 doubles, and is batting .286 with 12 home runs and 61 RBIs in his first season with Milwaukee.

“I’m fine,” he said Sunday. “I could use a day, but I’ve been playing with it for a while now. We agreed the first day of the series that [manager Ron Roenicke] was going to give me Sunday. It’s been going on for a while, but I’m good enough to go out there and play. I’m sure there’s a lot of guys in here who are not 100 percent, and I’m no exception.”

Ramirez says the issue does not bother him on every swing, but flares up from time to time.

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White Sox made strong play for Greinke

Among the runners-up in the Zack Greinke sweepstakes were the Rangers, who presented a package of players that was “very tough to walk away from,” Brewers general manager Doug Melvin said. A club official suggested that the deal-breaker was not Texas’ unwillingness to include infielder Mike Olt, who was deemed off-limits in a Greinke swap, but left-hander Martin Perez.

The Braves may have fallen out on Greinke because the Brewers were unwilling to cover any of the $4.5-$5 million owed Greinke over the final two months of the regular season. Melvin also had one 11th-hour discussion with Nationals GM Mike Rizzo, partly because Rizzo was in town for a four-game series and partly because Washington plans to shut down right-hander Stephen Strasburg at some point to protect his surgically-repaired arm. And White Sox general manager Kenny Williams made a very strong play for Greinke.

“Kenny worked really hard at it,” Melvin said. “I probably received as many texts from him [as anyone else]. It just wasn’t a match.”

Williams tried to involve a third team.

“That gets complicated on that big a deal,” Melvin said.

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