The Brewers placed right-hander Mark Rogers on the paternity list today and recalled infielder Jeff Bianchi from Triple-A Nashville. Rogers is home in Arizona for the birth of his first child.
Rogers is still expected to make his scheduled start on Wednesday against the Rockies.
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Rickie Weeks’ surged back toward the top of the Brewers’ batting order beginning Sunday, the latest signal that last year’s All-Star Game starting second baseman is shaking his brutal, early-season slump.
Weeks batted second after hitting .287 in his 48 games before Sunday’s series finale against the Astros, with seven home runs, 23 RBIs and 56 more points on his batting average, which rose in that span from .162 to .218. Over his previous 16 games, Weeks was hitting .369.
“We’ve been talking about it for a while,” manager Ron Roenicke said. “A couple of weeks ago, when we met with [general manager] Doug [Melvin] and the boys, we talked about maybe doing it sometime, and I think it’s a good time to do it.”
With Weeks up in the two-hole instead of center fielder Carlos Gomez, who slipped to seventh after going 0-for-8 with six strikeouts in the first two games of the Houston series, the Brewers could be previewing a potential batting order for next season, when they will try to regroup and contend in the National League Central.
The top six hitters are right fielder Norichika Aoki, Weeks, left fielder Ryan Braun, third baseman Aramis Ramirez, first baseman Corey Hart and the catcher’s spot — usually held by Jonathan Lucroy. All of those players are already under contract for 2013.
That would leave center field and shortstop for the seven- and eight-holes. The Brewers will have to decide whether recently-acquired rookie Jean Segura is ready for everyday duty as early as next season. Center is a big question mark at the moment — Gomez is currently getting another chance to prove he can handle a regular workload.
So far, Gomez has seemed to struggle the more he plays. He was the regular center fielder to start the 2011 season, but eventually slipped into a timeshare with Nyjer Morgan and had success. Now, at 26, Gomez is getting yet another shot.
“We’ll continue to play him, but he needs to show that progression in what he does offensively, because defensively, he’s fine,” Roenicke said. “He’s good defensivcely. He’s good when he gets on base, he’s a tremendous base stealer. But that consistency in the batter’s box [is the issue].”
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Brewers manager Ron Roenicke stopped short of anointing Jim Henderson the new closer on Saturday before proposing a wholly new system of bullpen management, one in which there is no ninth-inning specialist and you use your “closer” in the toughest situation, even if that means pitching him in a one-run game in the seventh inning.
“I don’t want to say that he’s our closer, but he’s going to be in there,” Roenicke said. “If it’s tonight and there’s a closing situation, it will probably be him. I don’t want to say that it will definitely be him, but it will probably be him.
“The problem is, the game may be won or lost in the seventh inning, and if I feel like Henderson is the best guy to stop that right then, maybe he’s in in the seventh. If I wait to get to the ninth, we may not even get to the ninth.”
Thus began a spirited debate between Roenicke and the reporters who cover him on a regular basis, and have watched late-inning blowups ruin Brewers’ bid to repeat as National League Central champions. John Axford’s blown save Friday was the Brewers’ 22nd this season, already three more than they suffered while winning setting a franchise-record 96 games in 2011.
Both Axford and Francisco Rodriguez have been removed from the closer’s role, leaving as the currently most viable option Henderson, a 29-year-old who pitched parts of 10 seasons in the Minor Leagues before a promotion last month.
But Roenicke on Saturday seemed to cast aside the entire notion of a “closer,” instead proposing to let inning-by-inning situations dictate his bullpen choices.
“When you have two or three guys who are throwing well, you can cover the games when you’re winning,” Roenicke said. “When you don’t have that many guys that are throwing well, you can’t cover all of the innings every night. It’s impossible.
“So, do people feel better about us blowing a game in the seventh inning, or do they feel better about losing the game in the ninth? Is there really a difference when you lose the game? To me, it’s a loss.”
Others feel differently, including some players in Roencike’s own clubhouse, who argue that the nature of the Brewers’ losses, so many of them in the ninth inning, have made this season’s slide particularly demoralizing.
Conventional baseball reason seems to back up the theory that the ninth inning is particularly important. That’s why closers command contracts in the tens of millions of dollars, and most seventh-inning relievers are on one-year deals.
Roenicke said he doesn’t buy the line of reason that losing in the ninth inning is any different.
“Why?” he asked. “Because it feels different? It’s still a loss. What if you’re losing all the games in the seventh inning and you’re never using your best pitchers to win games? … The ninth is only important now because of saves. Everyone talks about saves, about blown saves. If you really want to do it right, and you really want to win that game and you don’t care about saves, you don’t care about players’ contracts, you just want to win those games, your closer does not always pitch the ninth inning.”
The problem for the Brewers is that they are losing so many games <i>with</i> their best relievers — Jose Veras, Rodriguez and Axford — enduring poor seasons.
Which begged Roenicke’s next question.
“Give me some options — you tell me who you want in there,” he said.
“I don’t mind Henderson anywhere. I like Henderson,” Roenicke said. “But it’s not just the ninth. … They’ve been struggling. We’ve been talking about the same thing for quite a while now. They’re not throwing well. They’re not throwing like they’re capable of throwing. But there has to be options in order to change things. You guys want me to change things, but you don’t give me any options to do it with. …
“There’s a lot of other teams that are in the same situation I am in, where they can’t get through games. The Angels are one of them. The Angels are baffled as to what to do with their bullpen, and there’s other teams that are just like that.”
What about getting some different pitchers? The Brewers have already tapped Triple-A Nashville for players like Henderson and starters Mike Fiers and Mark Rogers.
“Where do you get them from?” Roenicke said. “That’s not that easy. If it was easy to replace these guys, teams would just keep doing it all through the year. They would be bringing in guys that are good. Well, there aren’t that many great players sitting around places where you can grab somebody and bring them in.”
How does he explain an entire bullpen struggling with command and results?
“It’s just a funk we’re going through, and I don’t know how long it’s going to last,” Roenicke said. “You guys act like I like sitting here and watching this every night, that it’s easy to have choices to make. It’s tough. It’s tough for us to watch, too. It’s tough for these players to go out and work their butts off. They’re not trying to walk people. They’re not trying to miss with breaking balls up in the zone. They work their butts off to pitch well, and they can’t get it going.”
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With the Nationals claiming Cesar Izturis off waivers, the Brewers have called up shortstop Jean Segura from Double-A Huntsville to take his spot on the 25-man roster.
Segura joined the Milwaukee organization as part of the trade that sent Zack Greinke to the Angels on July 27. He made his Major League debut just days before on July 24, going 0-for-3 in his only game.
Since the trade, Segura has played in eight games for Huntsville, batting .433 (13-for-30) with four RBIs. Segura, who is ranked as the Brewers’ top prospect by MLB.com and played in the All-Star Futures Game in early July, also stole four bases. In 94 games with the Angels’ Double-A club, Segura batted .294 with 44 RBI, seven home runs and 33 stolen bases.
Brewers manager Ron Roenicke has used a platoon at shortstop since Alex Gonzales was lost to a season-ending knee injury early in the year. Segura will join Cody Ransom at the position and replace Izturis, who was hitting .235 with 11 RBIs in 57 games this season.
-- Jeremy Warnemuende is an associate reporter for MLB.com
News from the Double-A Southern League:
Huntsville Stars first baseman Hunter Morris has been named the Topps Southern League Player of the Month for July, an award voted upon by Southern League Field managers. It is the second consecutive month for which Morris has received the honor, marking the first time a Southern League player has claimed the award in back-to-back months since Delmon Young of the Montgomery Biscuits did so in May and June of 2005.
The first native of Huntsville to play for the Stars, Morris led the circuit with 10 home runs and 20 extra-base hits – totals that ranked third in all of Minor League Baseball in July. He also topped the league with a .736 slugging percentage and a 1.129 OPS (on-base + slugging) and placed fourth with a .340 average.
From the beginning of June through the end of July, Morris connected for 17 home runs to rank second in MiLB over that span. Despite managing just three home runs in the season’s first two months, Morris was tied for the Southern League lead in that category through July with 20. He also finished the month ranked second in the league in both batting average (.308) and RBI (82) overall, giving him a legitimate shot at becoming the first Southern League player to top the circuit in all three Triple Crown categories since Mike Reinbach in 1972.
Morris enjoyed a sizzling stretch from July 5-11, batting .560 (14-for-25) with two doubles, a pair of triples, four homers and nine RBI in those six games. He connected for two of the Stars’ six home runs in a victory over the Jacksonville Suns on July 8 and added two more blasts against the Pensacola Blue Wahoos on July 25.
Riding a nine-game hitting streak to end July, Morris extended it to 10 with a pair of doubles on August 1. With a league-high 36 doubles through Huntsville’s first 109 games, Morris has a chance to eclipse the Southern League record of 47. Jacksonville’s Gabe Kapler and Robert Fick both established the league mark in that category in 1998.
In addition to Morris’ offensive achievements this season, the 23-year-old leads all qualifying Southern League first basemen with a .997 fielding percentage.
Prior to being selected by the Milwaukee Brewers in the fourth round of the 2010 draft, Morris established a school record with 23 home runs in his junior season at Auburn. He also batted .386 with 76 RBI that year en route to Southeastern Conference Player of the Year honors.
A four-time Huntsville City Player of the Year, Morris batted a .470 with 46 home runs and 198 RBI at Grissom High School. He originally was selected in the second round of the 2007 draft by the Boston Red Sox, with whom he did not sign.
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It happened with only a few hundred fans at Miller Park, most of them focused on the Astros taking batting practice. In the bullpen, Brewers starter Shaun Marcum passed a key test in his return from a right elbow injury.
Marcum, a free agent after the season who has not pitched since mid-June because of tightness in his elbow, pitched from the bullpen mound for about 20 minutes under the watch of pitching coach Rick Kranitz, sitting down at one point to simulate a break between innings.
Before the game, manager Ron Roenicke called it a “big” moment. After the game, he deemed it an “outstanding” success.
“He’s going to go for it,” Roenicke said earlier. “This is a big bullpen [session]. He’s going to throw breaking stuff, he’s going to bust it all out.”
Marcum’s next step is facing hitters in a simulated game Saturday or Sunday in St. Louis. He would then make at least two Minor League rehabilitation appearances. Marcum is eligible to return from the 60-day disabled list beginning Aug. 14, and Roenicke said that if all goes well, “The timing is somewhere in there. It will be close.”
Marcum will be a free agent for the first time, and when healthy, he is a quality pitcher. Since missing the 2009 season while recovering from Tommy John surgery on his elbow, Marcum is 31-18 with a 3.56 ERA in 77 starts, with a strikeout-to-walk ratio (K/BB) of better than three to one. In the last three seasons, only 11 qualifying pitchers have allowed fewer walks plus hits per inning pitched (WHIP) than Marcum’s 1.15.
The question is how he will be valued on the free-agent market after this elbow issue. Since Marcum knows what is at stake, Roenicke said the Brewers’ medical staff is keeping a very close eye on him.
“Hey, I want him to perform for us and win ballgames, but I also am concerned about him and his future, too,” Roenicke said.
In other injury news, left-hander Manny Parra was examined by Dr. William Raasch on Wednesday to determine what’s going on which his balky left shoulder. Parra said he has an impingement in the joint.
He is not expected to pitch against the Cardinals and will be re-examined on Monday when the Brewers return to Miller Park. “As of right now,” Roenicke said, Parra will avoid the 15-day disabled list.
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