July 2012

Greinke says report of offer ‘pretty accurate’

A report that the Brewers offered right-hander Zack Greinke a five-year contract extension in excess of $100 million was “pretty accurate,” Greinke said Friday.

But Greinke, a free agent after the season, felt uncomfortable revealing more, including whether he and agent Casey Close were receptive to such an offer, or whether talks would continue.

“That’s tricky stuff,” Greinke said. “I don’t want to get involved with telling you guys too much about it.”

CBSSportsline’s Jon Heyman reported the offer and said it was made more than a week ago. Heyman wrote, citing an unnamed source, that, “there’s nothing yet to indicate [Greinke] will sign quickly and give up free agency.”

Greinke would not comment on that. Brewers general manager Doug Melvin declined comment this week about the club’s status with Greinke.

“I don’t know where those guys get that stuff,” Greinke said. “These guys must have their sources really good. It’s pretty interesting how political everything is; I guess with every job.”

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Braun status for Wednesday TBD

Brewers left fielder Ryan Braun’s availability for Wednesday’s series finale against the Cardinals was up in the air after he re-aggravated a lingering right groin strain in Tuesday’s win.

Braun has been receiving treatment for that ailment since it sidelined him a couple of games in Spring Training, and felt a recurrence of discomfort while chasing a John Jay double in the third inning. He remained in the game until the seventh, when Braun exited as part of a double switch.

Brewers manager Ron Roenicke referred to the issue as, “not serious at all,” and Braun concurred.

“I’ve had it all year, off and on,” Braun said. “I try to manage as best I can. I think the issue is always when you get to the point you feel like you can make it a lot worse. If someone hit a fly ball to left field, I didn’t feel like I could sprint. That’s never a good feeling.”

You could see that in the fifth inning, when Braun appeared to pull up while fielding Rafael Furcal’s base hit.

Speaking of bad feelings, Braun was watching from the training room when his spot in the batting order came up after he’d left the game — in the bottom of the seventh inning with the bases loaded, two outs and the Brewers leading, 3-2. Pinch-hitter Travis Ishikawa grounded out to end the Brewers’ threat.

Braun went 0-for-3 with a pair of strikeouts on Tuesday and is 1-for-7 in the series. He leads the National League in homers, with 26.

“We’ll see how it is [Wednesday],” he said, referring to the teams’ afternoon series finale. “I’m always hopeful.”

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Axford saw this coming

After Monday’s blown save against the Cardinals, John Axford knew his time in the closer’s role was running short.

He was right. Manager Ron Roenicke informed Axford on Tuesday that Francisco Rodriguez would take over closing duties for the near future.

“It was a decision I was kind of expecting after [Monday's] performance,” Axford said. “It’s frustrating the way things have been going this year, so maybe it will be a breath of fresh air to step back a little bit and try to get back into the swing of things, the way I was last year.”

Axford, who converted 46 of 48 save chances in 2011, the best-ever season for a Brewers closer, is 16-for-22 this year with a 5.35 ERA and 21 walks in 37 innings (versus 25 walks in 73 2/3 innings in 2011). But Axford said he had been feeling better before Monday, when he completely lost the feel for all of his pitches. It felt, Axford said, like he had never thrown a curveball before.

Now, he finds himself in the same position that the man he replaced, Trevor Hoffman, faced in 2010. Hoffman struggled at the start of that season and was replaced by a then-unproven Axford.

Hoffman handled that situation with dignity. Axford vowed to do the same.

“You just try not to let it get to you, I guess. You have to go out there and do your job,” Axford said. “Baseball has never really been an easy thing for me. It was never an easy thing to get there to begin with, so I’m not going to assume and think it’s going to be easy from here on out. I had to fight to get to the position I’m at and get to the big leagues, so I plan on keeping that up and going after it that way. …

“I learned from one of the greatest of all time, Trevor Hoffman, and he kept things as even as he could, all the time, and he did that for 601 career saves. So I think that’s where I learned from, and I want to keep it that way. I’ve been there before, where the emotions ran too high, and that’s just got me into worse trouble. You’ve got emotions out there on the mound, you carry them to the dugout, you bring them the next day. That’s never a good thing, and that’s why I never made it into pro ball until later, when I was 24, 25 years old, and the reason I never made it to the big leagues until later, as well. It was once I was able to get those emotions in check I was able to overcome those other things.”

Axford said he didn’t fight the decision, saying that would have been “selfish.”

Roenicke said he would use Axford in lower-leverage situations in an effort to re-build the pitcher’s confidence, which Axford conceded was shaken. That could mean pitching in the sixth inning when the Brewers have the lead, or in the eighth or ninth when the Brewers trail.

Axford wasn’t sure himself what to expect.

“I’ve been in that situation before, when I first was up [in the Major Leagues],” he said. “So I’ll be ready and prepared to do whatever I can to help the team. That’s what I told Ron, too. Whether it’s coming in to throw an inning, or two; whatever he sees fit to get me back on track.”

He said he has no doubt he’ll be back in the Brewers’ closer role at some point.

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For now, Axford out as closer

The Brewers have a new closer. You may have heard of him.

Francisco Rodriguez, Major League Baseball’s single-season saves king, took over the job beginning Tuesday from John Axford, who last year put together the best season for a closer in Brewers history but has been unable to replicate that success. The breaking point came Monday, when Axford struggled to command all of his pitches against the Cardinals and suffered his sixth blown save in a 3-2 Brewers loss.

“Frankie’s going to close right now,” said manager Ron Roenicke, who discussed the change with both relievers on Tuesday afternoon. “‘Ax,’ we’re going to put him where we feel he has a chance to get his rhythm back, his confidence back. I don’t want to say an inning, because there could be games where it’s the eighth inning when the game’s not on the line. It could be the sixth, could be the seventh, the eighth. Wherever it is where we think [Axford can get] a couple of outings to relax a little bit more and try to get him back, confidence-wise, stuff-wise. If it’s a mechanical issue, Rick [Kranitz, the pitching coach] and he will work on it.”

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Greinke to miss one full turn in rotation

The Brewers let Zack Greinke do something no Major League pitcher had done in 95 years — start three consecutive team games in the same season.

The result?

“It didn’t work,” manager Ron Roenicke said.

Roenicke took the blame after bumping Greinke from his scheduled start against the Cardinals on Wednesday, concurring with general manager Doug Melvin’s earlier characterization of a team giving its star pitcher a chance to “recharge his batteries.”

Greinke will miss one full turn in the rotation before returning to duty on July 24 in Philadelphia, said Roenicke, arguing the Brewers used the All-Star break to give fellow right-hander Yovani Gallardo a similar respite.

Greinke will have gone 10 days between starts, a break he declined to endorse in a brief question and answer session with reporters. It comes at a doubly importune time for the Brewers, who on one hand are in the middle of a stretch of three consecutive series against the teams they trail in the National League Central, and on the other hand are gauging interest in Greinke on the trade market.

“The more important thing is, we need to get him pitching right,” Roenicke said. “And, he didn’t pitch well the second day, after he was thrown out, and he didn’t pitch well in his last outing, which is unusual because he’s really thrown the ball well. The longer range is a lot more important than bringing him back from St. Louis.”

Asked whether Greinke had any physical ill-effects from his strange schedule, Roenicke said, “other than not feeling right and a little fatigued, no. I can’t say ‘no soreness’ because a pitcher always has soreness the day after. Always.”

But nothing unusual?

“Not to where it would be a concern,” Roenicke said. “I think it was just not feeling right. Out of whack.”

Roenicke characterized the issue as physical, and totally unrelated to Greinke’s past issues with focus.

“He’s fine mentally,” Roenicke said. “The mental part of it, he said, is not an issue.”

Greinke started July 7 at Houston and was ejected after four pitches. He returned to start the next day and was not sharp over three innings, then pitched the Brewers’ first game after the break on regular rest and again scuffled, allowing five earned runs on seven Pirates hits in five innings.

Whether the Brewers approached Greinke about skipping a start or the other way around remained unclear on Monday.

“He just didn’t feel right. We kind of got him out of his routine,” Roenicke said. “The All-Star break didn’t help because he also didn’t have a bullpen between his start. … Hey, any time I get somebody out of whack, I’m always going to question the things we do. If I don’t, how do I learn from it?”

For his part, Greinke had little to say about the developments. He deferred to Roenicke on questions about how the sides decided to skip a start, and would not say whether he was on board with the result.

“I don’t really have much to say about it,” Greinke said. “I’m just going with whatever they say. Hopefully, I come back pitching good whenever I pitch next. I don’t know what he said that is.”

He added: “Pretty much, we talked about it, and I just said I was going to go with whatever [Roenicke] said so there’s no mixed words. That’s about it.”

Was he OK with the decision to skip a start?

“I’m fine with it,” Greinke said. “I don’t know — I’ve been just going what whatever [Roenicke] said.  I don’t know why you have to ask me  when I say the same exact words that came out of his mouth.”

Was he OK missing a game against a division rival?

“I want to pitch every day,” Greinke said. “That’s not possible.”

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Greinke bumped from Wednesday start

Something’s up today with Brewers right-hander Zack Greinke, who was bumped from his scheduled start on Wednesday and is not listed to pitch in the team’s subsequent series in Cincinnati, either. Brewers spokesperson Mike Vassallo announced via Twitter that young righty Tyler Thornburg would pitch in Greinke’s place on Wednesday against the Cardinals and said manager Ron Roenicke would elaborate on the situation this afternoon.

I’m efforting to gather more information before than and will pass along what I learn.

UPDATE at 11:15 p.m. CT:  I haven’t heard back from Brewers GM Doug Melvin or assistant GM Gord Ash, but Melvin told FoxSports.com’s Ken Rosenthal that there was nothing physically wrong with Greinke. According to Melvin, via Rosenthal, the Brewers were giving Greinke a chance to “recharge his batteries.”

Greinke started three consecutive team games last week, but the first two outings were abbreviated and the third came after the four-day All-Star break. It’s somewhat surprising that he would need an opportunity to recharge his batteries with the Brewers in the middle of their most critical portion of the schedule, nine straight games against the three teams (Pirates, Cardinals and Reds) they trail in the National League Central standings.

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Rangers, Angels had top scouts watching Greinke

The most critical stretch of the Brewers’ season began Friday with scouts from the Rangers, Angels and Dodgers in the seats and Zack Greinke on the mound — No. 13 pitching on Friday the 13th, a night that was supposed to showcase a free-agent-to-be whose fate is most closely tied to the team’s success over these next nine games.

Instead, the hitters stole the show, and for Brewers fans in fear of a summer sell-off, that was just fine.

All-Star slugger Ryan Braun had four hits including a pair of home runs, and shortstop Cody Ransom delivered a two-strike, two-out grand slam in the eighth inning for a 10-7 win over the Pirates that marked a solid start to a nine-game, intra-division stretch that could determine whether Greinke is still wearing a Brewers uniform after 4 p.m. CT on July 31 — the nonwaiver Trade Deadline.

“We recognize the important significance of these games; there’s no reason to pretend they’re less important than that are,” said Milwaukee left fielder Ryan Braun, who had four hits and two home runs. “We understand that these next nine games will dictate which way the rest of our season goes.”

At the start, Greinke was the star attraction. Rangers special assistant Scott Littlefield and Angels special assignment scout Larry Corrigan were among the baseball men who happened to be in attendance to see Greinke start the Brewers’ third straight game, the first pitcher to turn that trick in a single season since “Red” Faber for the 1917 White Sox.

Greinke and the Brewers began a stretch of nine games that could nudge Milwaukee general manager Doug Melvin in a certain direction. The Brewers play the Pirates, Cardinals and Reds, the three teams they currently trail in the National League Central.

It’s not exactly a situation conducive to playing relaxed baseball.

“No, it’s not,” manager Ron Roenicke conceded before the game.

But…

“But, their side knows how important these games are for them,” Roenicke said, pointing toward the visitor’s clubhouse and the first-place Pirates, “and we know how important they are for us, so I don’t think there’s any difference in how you go about it. We were in a position last year where we should be used to fighting for something.”

In all, Greinke was charged with six runs, five earned, in five innings on Friday, and Pittsburgh climbed back from an early 3-0 deficit to take leads of 5-3 and 6-4 against him.

“I didn’t pitch perfect, by any means, but I would take that at least over 50 percent of the time, pitching like that,” Greinke said. “They capitalized on all of their opportunities, but in the end of things, we did the same to them.”

His ERA went from 3.08 to 3.57 during his run of three starts in as many team games. Someday, Greinke said, he will look back with fondness on his rare achievement.

“I wish the three games went better on my part, but we won two out of three,” Greinke said. “So I guess you can’t be too upset about that. It was pretty neat, even though I [stunk] for the most part. Right now, it doesn’t feel as good as it will five years from now.”

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Lucroy to take first BP cuts Saturday

Rehabbing Brewers catcher Jonathan Lucroy will take his next big step toward the active roster on Saturday, though few will get to see it.

Lucroy is scheduled to take batting practice for the first time in the indoor batting cage below Miller Park. On the disabled list since he fractured his right hand in late May, Lucroy has been limited so far to hitting off a tee and taking “flips” from a Brewers coach. He spent the All-Star break in Milwaukee to keep his workouts on schedule.

“I feel good,” he said. “It’s a matter of working my way up and getting my hand strength back, getting that explosion through the ball. It’s like anything else, when you haven’t had that contact in a while, you have to get used to it. I think it’s only a matter of time.”

How much time? Lucroy is still thinking about July 20 as a possible return date, whether that means a return to the Brewers’ active roster or the beginning of a Minor League rehabilitation assignment. But that is only his personal goal; the team’s medical staff controls the schedule.

“I don’t think I’m any more than a week away from being ready — that’s what I think,” Lucroy said. “The doctor, we’ll see what he said. “But for me, my body, arm-wise and swing-wise, I think I’m almost there.”

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BA, Lucroy, Narron Bros. hosting fundraiser tonight

If you’re looking for something to do tonight, Brewers TV man Brian Anderson is hosting a fundraiser at Westbrook Church in Delafield to benefit “I Back Jack,” a cause close to his heart.

“Jack” is Jack Bartosz, Anderson’s neighbor, who has an incurable form of cancer called neuroblastoma. He was featured on Wheaties cereal box with Aaron Rodgers, and you can learn a whole lot more about his story at www.ibackjack.org.

Jonathan Lucroy and the Narron brothers will be the featured guests at Thursday’s event, and Anderson will take part in Q & A, tell some stories, debut a short film for I Back Jack and show a taped interview with Rangers star Josh Hamilton before a concert with recording artist Josh Wilson.

The event begins at 7 p.m. CT. Tickets are $10 at the door and all proceeds go to benefit I Back Jack.

Last year, Anderson created a non-profit called “The Point” with a few filmmaker friends, who used their expertise in video, design and music arts to tell the story of other non-profits with events, workshops, videos and movies.  “I Back Jack” is their latest project.

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Thornburg to pitch out of ‘pen

The Brewers are bringing right-handed pitching prospect Tyler Thornburg back to the big leagues for the second half, this time to pitch out of the bullpen.

Thornburg will be active beginning Friday, replacing righty Tim Dillard after the Brewers outrighted Dillard to Triple-A Nashville. Dillard, who had been with the big league club all season, has the right to refuse the assignment and elect free agency if he chooses.

The Brewers also made official that they will purchase infielder Jeff Bianchi’s contract from Nashville, a move manager Ron Roenicke discussed last night after the All-Star Game.

Thornburg made a start for the Brewers against the Blue Jays in June but will be used in relief “for now,” general manager Doug Melvin said.

“We think he’s another good arm who can help us in the bullpen,” Melvin said. “That doesn’t mean he can’t start again later on if we need him.”

One way the Brewers could need Thornburg later on is if they opt to trade Zack Greinke before the July 31 nonwaiver Trade Deadline.

Melvin conceded that this will require an adjustment for Thornburg but said it will also help limit his innings. The Brewers are encouraged by his strong season and do not want to push Thornburg too far.

The team is working out at Miller Park on Thursday afternoon; look for more coverage of the roster moves at Brewers.com that night.

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