August 2012

Brewers holding AFL spot for Gamel

Eight Brewers prospects were named to the prestigious Arizona Fall League on Wednesday, with one very intriguing “TBA” still to be settled.

The Brewers’ final slot could go to Mat Gamel, Milwaukee’s Opening Day first baseman who suffered a season-ending knee injury on May 1. First, the Brewers would have to be granted an exception because Gamel’s Major League service exceeds what AFL rules allow. Then, he would have to be healthy enough to play.

It will be a close call, and the Brewers have another player in mind to fill that Phoenix Desert Dogs roster spot if it does not go to Gamel.

Assistant general manager Gord Ash said Gamel was right on schedule in his rehabilitation from a torn ACL. He is expected to resume baseball activities in September, and could travel with the Brewers during their final road trip of the season.

The Brewers’ other AFL participants are right-handers Nick Bucci, Kyle Heckathorn, Johnny Hellweg, Santo Manzanillo and Jimmy Nelson; first baseman Hunter Morris and outfielders Khris Davis and Brock Kjeldgaard.

“I think it’s the best group we’ve had in a long time,” Ash said.

For more on that group, check out Brewers.com a bit later tonight.

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Report says Marcum on trade waivers

Brewers general manager Doug Melvin said he has not fielded any recent interest in resurgent reliever Francisco Rodriguez. But right-handed starter Shaun Marcum could be a much hotter commodity, with FoxSports.com reporting that the Brewers placed Marcum on revocable waivers Tuesday in a strategically-timed move that positions the team to trade him before the weekend.

Brewers assistant GM Gord Ash cited Major League rules in declining to say this week whether the team had placed Marcum or Rodriguez — both free agents after this season — on waivers, a necessary step in order to trade a player after July 31.

The timing of Tuesday’s reported waiver move made perfect sense in Marcum’s case. It’s no coincidence that the Brewers timed Marcum’s return from an elbow injury such that he started Saturday in Pittsburgh and is scheduled to pitch again on Thursday afternoon against the Cubs, a day and a half before the 10:59 p.m. CT deadline for contending teams to trade for a player and have him eligible for Postseason Play.

According to the FoxSports.com report, Marcum’s waiver period expires at noon CT on Thursday, just before that start. If he is claimed, the Brewers would have until the Friday night deadline to negotiate a trade with that team. If unable to make a trade, the Brewers could pull Marcum back from the waiver wire.

If no team makes a claim, then the Brewers could trade Marcum to any club.

In either scenario, Milwaukee would be in a much stronger position should Marcum pitch well against the Cubs, against whom he is 4-0 with a 2.33 ERA in four career starts.

Marcum is due to earn about $1.3 million of his $7.725 million salary after Friday’s Trade Deadline. That savings is significant to the Brewers, who pushed the payroll over $100 million this season for the first time in franchise history but were unable to replicate last year’s success. Melvin already traded right-hander Zack Greinke to the Angels for three prospects, including new shortstop Jean Segura, and about $4.5 million in payroll relief.

Brewers manager Ron Roenicke made a case over the weekend for a contending club to consider Marcum.

He was 5-3 with a 3.39 ERA in 13 starts before developing stiffness in his right elbow after a June 14 outing at Kansas City.

“Why wouldn’t you?” take a look at Marcum, Roenicke asked. “The guy can flat-out pitch.”

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Tunnell, key to Axford’s ’09 turnaround, predicts another

Lee Tunnell saw John Axford solve his command issues once before, and expressed a high degree of confidence Saturday that Axford will do it again.

Tunnell was named the Brewers’ interim bullpen coach on July 30 after four years as the team’s Minor League pitching coordinator. It was in that capacity that Tunnell first laid eyes on Axford in spring 2009 at Class A Brevard County, where Axford was still only a year removed from being a cell phone salesman with a high-90s fastball, getting one last chance to make it in baseball.

Axford could always throw hard. He just did not always know where the baseball was going.

“He was very upright and he would get his arm slot up too high,” Tunnell said. “I was talking to [then-Manatees pitching coach] Fred Dabney my first trip into Brevard, and wondering if we got him a little bit of forward posture with his body if it wouldn’t get him into a better arm slot.”

The rest is Brewers history. With Dabney’s and Tunnell’s help, Axford discovered the command that had theretofore eluded him, made it to the Majors at the end of 2009, took over as Brewers closer from a struggling Trevor Hoffman in 2010 and owned the job from the start of 2011, when Axford converted 46 of 48 save opportunities to set a franchise record.

Now Axford is searching for that sharp command again. He was on the brink of suffering his ninth blown save on Friday night after allowing two runs on two hits and two walks against the Pirates before Kameron Loe came to the rescue, saving the Brewers’ 6-5 win. Axford is striking out more batters this season, but he is also walking them at a dramatically higher rate (five for every nine innings of work, versus 3.1 walks per nine innings last season) and owns a 5.37 ERA.

“It’s a different thing [making adjustments] here than in A-ball. I think he’ll get it figured out,” Tunnell said. “There’s flashes of it. His last three games were pretty solid, so it’s just a matter of staying locked in, I think.”

Axford continues to express supreme confidence in himself, to the point he asked back into the closer’s role on the Brewers’ last homestand after about a month pitching other situations.

He termed Saturday’s outing a “mild setback.”

“That’s the way you’ve got to look at it,” Tunnell said. “You have a choice about what you think about.”

He added: “If he goes through this tough year the right way, it’ll help him the rest of his career,” Tunnell said. “Look at how he got to us — he has resilience. He has that in his personality.”

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Roenicke hopes contenders consider Marcum, K-Rod

Brewers manager Ron Roenicke would like to remind contending clubs that there is still time to bolster their rosters for the pennant races.

If it sounds strange that a manager would tout the idea of trading away two of his team’s most veteran players, consider that Milwaukee entered its weekend series at PNC Park 17 1/2 games out of first place in the National League Central, and consider that both Shaun Marcum, who returns to the mound Saturday after more than two months on the disabled list, and Francisco Rodriguez, who is pitching well again after flaming-out in a brief stint as the Brewers’ closer, are free agents after the season.

Roenicke made a pitch for both players on Friday, one week shy of the Aug. 31 deadline for teams to acquire players and have them eligible for postseason rosters.

Players traded after July 31 must clear waivers first, but there is a high probability that both Marcum and Rodriguez have already cleared that hurdle.

Rodriguez entered Friday looking to extend a streak of five consecutive scoreless, hitless appearances. He was allowed one walk and struck out seven batters in that span.

“All I know is if I’m another team and I’m a contender, and I want a guy who’s a big-game pitcher, I would certainly come after Frankie,” Roenicke said. “I told you guys all along — I have tons of confidence in Frankie, even when he was going bad I had lots of confidence in him. Now he’s back throwing [well]. Somebody should grab him.”

Marcum is in line for two starts before Aug. 31. He was 5-3 with a 3.39 ERA in 13 starts before developing stiffness in his right elbow after a June 14 outing at Kansas City.

“Why wouldn’t you?” take a look at Marcum, Roenicke asked. “The guy can flat-out pitch.”

Rodriguez is earning $8 million this season and Marcum $7.725 million, so the Brewers would stand to g about $1.3 million apiece by trading either player for September.

Roenicke would not begrudge Brewers management for considering such deals. The Brewers already traded away Zack Greinke before the July 31 nonwaiver Trade Deadline.

“Not at all,” Roenicke said. “Yeah, I want to win every game we can, but sometimes [you don’t mind] when a guy has a chance to go somewhere and pitch for a team that’s hopefully a contender.”

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Wolf reacts to being released

On the day Randy Wolf turned 36 years old, the Brewers released the veteran left-hander. Wolf addressed the media on Wednesday and said he had no hard feelings about what happened.

“I’ve known about it,” Wolf said. “I think the way the organization has treated me through this has been outstanding. They just wanted to give me a heads up. I think how much respect they showed me through this process was pretty amazing. I just wanted to thank them for everything. It’s really unfortunate that this year was the way it was, and there’s nobody more disappointed about it than I am.”

Wolf often described this season as the most frustrating of his career, as he went 3-10 with a 5.69 ERA despite feeling no different than previous years.

“I was talking to [general manger Doug Melvin] this morning and he said, ‘You know, sometimes this game just doesn’t make sense,’” Wolf said. “You see guys that have a good year one year, the next year they have a really bad year and then the next year they have a really good year. Obviously things were brutal this year. It’s been really tough because I have felt good, and I haven’t looked up and seen a decline. If I was throwing 84-85 mph and all of a sudden felt like I had no clue out there, I’d have a good idea of what was going on. But it’s something that I just need to get better somehow, figure it out. Obviously I’m leaving too many balls over the middle of the plate. If I do a better job of not doing that, I think I’ll be OK.”

Melvin said releasing Wolf now hopefully means he can be picked up by a team in need of a starting pitcher.

“I’m going in with an open mind,” Wolf said.  “It’s a really tough pill to swallow. Luckily, I’ve always been humble in this game, and I realize what this game is like, so it’s disappointing, but I’m not going to be angry about it. I have to go about my business and also appreciate how the Brewers went about this. They basically told me that coming this September, they want to take a look at some young guys. They don’t get a true feel what guys are like, especially during spring training, so they want to use these last six weeks as kind of a measure of where they want to go with their starting pitching. The fact they wanted to give me time and hopefully catch on somewhere else before Sept. 1 and see what happens there, as opposed to waiting until September and putting me in the bullpen and doing it that way.”

Wolf had nothing but positive things to say about his time in Milwaukee, and he would recommend the Brewers to any free agent starting pitchers.

“The experience I had here was extremely positive,” Wolf said. “It’s a great organization with a great owner — a great person — a GM that treated me great, a manager that treated me great, pitching coaches that treated me great. So leaving here, there’s no bad feelings at all, and I wish everybody the best.

“Every pitcher is different and what they want to do is totally different. I think the one thing about [Brewers owner Mark Attanasio] is that he wants to win. I know this year was a tough year for him because it’s really hard for him to kind of throw in the towel in some ways. He always wants to go for it, and I really appreciate that about an owner. When you play in the smallest media market in the country, to put together good teams and to really go for it every year, it says a lot about an owner. For me this is such a great place to play, the way everybody treats me, especially having a guy like [pitching coach Rick Kranitz] here. He’s an awesome pitching coach, a great guy, and I think any pitcher would love to have that guy work with him.”

From here, Wolf will go home to Los Angeles to work out and hope another opportunity comes along. Able to keep his sense of humor, Wolf also wasn’t upset about getting released on his birthday.

“To me, my birthday’s just been another day,” he said. “Other than August 23 when I turned 21. I didn’t feel very good the next day. I think that time was more of a physical punishment, this one’s more of an emotional punishment.

“It’s pretty bad. But you know, the way I look at it is, that day one of age 36 starts off on a bad note. It can only go up from here.”

Hart hopes to spur extension talks

(AP Photo/Dave Einsel)

The longest-tenured player in the Brewers organization instructed his agent to pass a message to the club’s front office before the nonwaiver Trade Deadline: Corey Hart wants to stay, no matter what position he plays.

Hart asked agent Jeff Berry communicate to general manager Doug Melvin that Hart was open to a permanent switch to first base, a position he adopted out of need this season, or a move back to right field, his position on Opening Day. Hart hoped that olive branch might spur discussions about an extension beyond his current contract, which expires after 2013.

“Hopefully, it will overlap and start something,” Hart said. “I’ve never been in this position, so I don’t know what their plan is. They could obviously trade me in the offseason, but I want to stay around. Hopefully, they want me to stay around for more than next year.”

Hart has made a smooth transition back to first base, his position when the Brewers drafted him in the 11th round in 2000, but one he had not played regularly since 2002. The Brewers had a need after first baseman Prince Fielder departed via free agency and Fielder’s replacement, Mat Gamel, suffered a season-ending knee injury.

Tuesday marked Hart’s 68th start this season at first base.

“It’s still a work in progress; I still catch myself on certain plays saying, ‘I should have done this,’” Hart said. “It hasn’t happened a lot. I’ve actually lost 10 pounds since going over there. I was so nervous, basically, so focused on every play — I was squat, squat, squat, running back and forth. I’ve adapted to it. I think I was so worried about being on time, being in the right spot.”

Now he feels comfortable there. Manager Ron Roenicke is already on record as saying he would like to keep Hart at first base in 2013, but the plan will depend on what opportunities meet the Brewers in offseason trades or free agency.

Hart, who entered Tuesday batting .267 with 23 home runs and 64 RBIs, will earn $10 million in 2013, the final season of a three-year extension he initiated before the 2010 nonwaiver Trade Deadline. Two years later, he is again going public with his desire to stay.

“I really like it here,” Hart said. “My family likes it, I like it, I’ve always been here. I would definitely like to stay.”

Hart conceded that negotiations, if they ensue, would be a matter for the offseason.

“At least they know, and if they come back [with an offer], they come back,” Hart said.

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Rogers earns first Major League win

It hasn’t been the easiest journey for the Brewers’ Mark Rogers, but the 26-year-old right-hander finally picked up his first Major League win on Monday against the Cubs. Rogers pitched five innings and gave up three earned runs on five hits in the 9-5 win at Miller Park.

“It feels great,” Rogers said. “It’s been a long time coming, so I feel very good about it. Tonight wasn’t my best effort of the year probably, but the offense was excellent. They’ve been great all year, and they picked me up today. And then the bullpen came in and really shut them down, so it was a good win.”

Rogers left the game with his team down 3-1. However, an eight-run fifth inning put the Brewers on top, and after the bullpen blew leads in three of his last four starts, the relievers held on for the win.

“It was a crazy game,” Rogers said. “You never really know. Coming out behind, I obviously wasn’t expecting to get the win. But like I said, the way our offense played in the fifth inning was incredible.”

Rogers, who’s undergone four surgeries since Milwaukee took him with the fifth pick of the 2004 draft, added: “There’s been a lot of obstacles on the way here, but I never gave up. Hopefully this is the first of many.”

Manager Ron Roenicke said before Monday’s game that Rogers is nearing his innings limit, and he likely will either be shut down or moved to the bullpen in the near future. That left the young pitcher, who also has a newborn baby at home, happy to get his first win out of the way.

“I don’t know exactly how much longer they’re going to let me pitch,” he said. “I still feel great, and I want to keep it that way. Unfortunately, that’s out of my control, but I’m going to keep doing everything I can to prepare to pitch.”

Rogers nearing end of the line

Might Brewers right-hander Mark Rogers be making his final 2012 start tonight against the Cubs?

“I don’t want to say this is his last one,” manager Ron Roenicke said, “but we’re getting close.”

Rogers, limited to 44 1/3 innings last season by a wrist injury and a suspension, entered Monday’s game against the Cubs having thrown 119 innings in 2012 between Milwaukee and Triple-A Nashville, and the consensus among club officials is that, for Rogers and several other pitchers, it is nearing the time to call it a season.

Whether the Brewers would simply shut down Rogers for the year or continue to pitch him in relief remains up for discussion, Roenicke said.

“Hard call,” Roenicke said.

Rogers had a 4.94 ERA in four starts entering his outing against the Cubs. Three times, he has been in line for his first Major League victory and lost it to a blown save.

“He’s done really well,” Roenicke said. “The thing I like about him most is he’s maintained his velocity through even the last few pitches he throws. That’s difficult to do. It shows you he’s a big, strong, physical guy, and he can maintain stuff through a game. Some guys come out and they’re throwing 95 [mph] in the first inning, and by the third inning they’re 91. That’s the guy you have to figure out — is this guy going to last as a starter, or are we going to have to make him a bullpen guy.”

Expect a series of alterations to the Brewers pitching rotation in the weeks ahead.

Right-hander Shaun Marcum was slated to make a third rehabilitation start Monday for Class A Wisconsin, and, assuming that goes well, would slide into the Brewers’ rotation on either Saturday or Sunday in Pittsburgh, depending on whether he wants the extra day of rest.

Asked whether someone would come out of the rotation or whether the Brewers would stick with six starters, Roenicke said, “We need to talk about that. We’ve talked about both — we’ve got plans for going with six, and we’ve got plans to make it five. We’ll still need to talk about that.”

Roenicke said that “right now, we are” inclined to keep left-hander Randy Wolf in the rotation, but “that will be something we talk about.” Wolf fell to 3-10 with a 5.69 ERA after losing to the Phillies on Sunday.

Ditto for righty Marco Estrada, whose workload is under watch because he is in the midst of his heaviest workload since 2009. Estrada worked 89 2/3 innings last season, when he pitched mostly for the Brewers in relief, but has already thrown 97 2/3 innings this year between the Brewers and Nashville.

The Brewers are expected to add two prospects — right-handers Wily Peralta and Tyler Thornburg — before the end of the season. Each could make a start or series of starts to help the team make decisions about its 2013 pitching rotation.

General manager Doug Melvin and Roenicke have time set aside to discuss these matters on Tuesday.

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Braun an early BP participant

From the department of “You Don’t See This Every Day:” Brewers slugger Ryan Braun on the field nearly four hours before the first pitch, wearing shorts and a tee shirt, taking early batting practice. It’s the latest unusual step in an effort to shake Braun out of a rare batting slump.

“I think it’s the second time every in my career,” said Braun.

He meant the second time since his rookie season. Rookies are generally expected to take early batting practice, which is mostly an exercise to help bench players get the swings they are not getting in games.

For Braun, it was an exercise in shaking a slump. Since Aug. 1, Braun is 9-for-47 (.191) with no home runs — and, just as notably, no walks — in 49 plate appearances.

“I’m big on my routine. I’ve always said you don’t have control over results, focus on process, that type of thing, so i don’t like to break my routine too often,” he said. “But every once in a while, when things aren’t going well, it makes sense to come out and take a little early BP. …

“I’m always quality over quantity. I don’t like doing too much. Plus, so can only focus on baseball for so long and keep up the intensity and focus that makes it worthwhile. You can take a million swings, but if you’re not doing them correctly, you’re building bad muscle memory. So I’ve just never been a fan of quantity over quality.”

So will Thursday’s extra swings make a difference?

“I feel good. BP is not the problem,” Braun said. “I’m hitting 1.000 in BP. I’m dominating batting practice every day. It’s a challenging game. You guys have heard me say it time and time again. Albert Pujols is the greatest hitter of our generation, arguably the greatest right-handed hitter of all time, and for the first five weeks, he hit under .200 with no home runs. Look at Josh Hamilton; he was as good as anybody ever for the first two months of the season, and then for two months hit under .200.

“It’s a really challenging game. you try to keep your sanity when you’re going bad, you try to figure out what’s going on. But I think guys sometimes get themselves in trouble when they try to make too many changes. When you have a track record, you believe in what you do. I’ve proven to myself that what I do works, [so] that when I’m not going good, I don’t want to make drastic changes. I don’t need to make drastic changes.”

He is making some subtle adjustments at the plate, with the aim of better plate discipline. And Braun said again that he is healthy, having moved past the groin issue and deep blisters on his hand that dogged him earlier.

After taking Wednesday off, Braun was back in the Brewers’ lineup for Thursday’s series opener against the Phillies. He and manager Ron Roenicke had some discussions before taking that step.

“I didn’t really want the day off, but at some point, you can only do the same thing for so long and not contribute, and not help the team have success, before it makes sense to do something like that,” Braun said.

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Braun sits amid slump

This was a first for Brewers manager Ron Roenicke: Leaving Ryan Braun out of the starting lineup not because of any physical issue, not a rest issue, but a production issue.

Braun was on the bench for Wednesday’s series finale at Coors Field after going 6-for-42 (.143) over his previous 10 games, including an 0-for-5 on Tuesday night that included a strikeout with the bases loaded in the eighth inning and a game-ending flyout in the ninth with the tying run on base.

The reigning National League MVP still leads the league with 29 home runs, but has not hit one since winning a 14-pitch battle with Astros reliever Fernando Rodriguez at Miller Park on Aug. 1.

“Talking to him, trying to figure out how to get him back, sometimes we talk about guys needing to go out there and play and they’ll get it back, and sometimes taking a day off helps,” Roenicke said. “Whatever we’re doing, it’s not working lately. I’ve never seen him struggle this long.”

Roenicke raised the idea with Braun on Tuesday night of taking a day off. The slugger thought about it for some time before agreeing.

“He’s frustrated,” Roenicke said. “I don’t want to say it’s the worst that I’ve seen him, because when he’s doing well, he gets frustrated if he goes ‘oh-for’ two days in a row. I think he’s just more baffled as to why it’s lasting this long, because it usually doesn’t. We talked yesterday about how really consistent he’s been this year — more than I saw him last year.”

Last year, on the way to winning the Brewers’ first league MVP award since Robin Yount in 1989, Braun was more streaky. This season he has mostly avoided the ups and downs and been a steady contributor, even without Prince Fielder’s presence in the on-deck circle affecting pitchers’ approaches to Braun.

Despitshis current funk, Braun remains one of baseball’s most dangerous hitters. Entering Thursday, only five players, all in the American League, had more home runs than Braun. He was tied for second in the NL with 237 total bases, third with a .567 slugging percentage and tied for fourth with 77 RBIs.

Speaking about his slump on Tuesday afternoon Braun said, “It just lets me know that the longer I don’t go good, the higher the likelihood is that I will have a good game and get locked back in. I feel good. As long as I feel good, physically, I’m fine. I have no doubt that I’m going to finish the season strong.”

Roenicke said Braun would return to the lineup for Thursday’s series opener against the Phillies at Miller Park.

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