September 2012

Sheets: ‘No regrets’ about end of ’08

Ben Sheets returned to Miller Park on Monday and responded to those who questioned his toughness when an elbow injury forced an unceremonious end to his eight years with the Brewers.

“I don’t think about it, but I’ll get asked about it, and that makes me think,” Sheets said Monday, when he returned as a member of the Braves. “Really, I wasn’t bitter or mad or anything. It just — that was what the arm said I had. The arm was done. Regardless of what I wanted or the team wanted, there was nothing else in there. There was nothing left to give. The elbow was pretty shot.

“If you didn’t believe it at the time, look at my career since then, since ’08. There hasn’t been much of one.”

There was surgery for a torn flexor tendon, the injury that sidelined Sheets for his final days with the Brewers, including their first postseason series in 2008. There was Tommy John surgery for a torn ligament. There was a 2009 season spent rehabbing, and a 2010 season with the A’s in which Sheets re-tore the flexor tendon.

He signed with the Braves in July and won his first three starts and four of his first five. Then he lost three consecutive poor starts and was placed on the disabled list with shoulder inflammation.

So Sheets returned to Miller Park on Monday with his right shoulder aching but functional, and his sense of humor intact. He threw a simulated game in an effort to convince the Braves to reinstate him from the disabled list, whether to start, to work long relief or even an inning at a time. Asked how that session went, Sheets didn’t miss a beat.

“I had to get three outs, so somewhere between 70-100 pitches,” he quipped.

He readily admits he is not the same pitcher he was in 1999, when the Brewers made him a first-round Draft pick; or 2000, when he pitched the U.S. to a gold medal in the Sydney Olympics; or 2001, when he was a rookie National League All-Star; or 2004, when he might have contended for the Cy Young Award if he pitched for a winning team; or 2008, when he started the All-Star Game.

He ranks among the Brewers’ all-time top 10 in every statistical category, including first with 1,206 strikeouts, but fell just short of being beloved because of a string of ill-timed injuries. The most serious was in 2008, when Sheets was 13-7 with a 2.82 ERA through his first 28 starts, his elbow just beginning to give him trouble. He was a pending free agent with two young sons, one just born the year before, and had he shut down then he would have received a mega-contract in the offseason.

But the Brewers were chasing their first postseason berth in 26 years and Sheets wanted to be part of it, so he kept pitching. He struggled through a Sept. 11 game in Philadelphia, then lasted only two innings in Chicago six days later and felt a tear in his elbow. Ten days after that, Sheets lasted into the third inning against the Pirates and was done.

Four trying years later, he insisted he has no regrets.

“I wouldn’t change a thing,” Sheets said. “I had a great time here.”

These days, he is working with a shoulder that “hates baseball” but a heart that remains in the game. Sheets would not commit to pitching again in 2013, but wants badly to get back on the mound as the Braves try to pin down the NL’s top Wild Card spot.

His return to Miller Park was a bit strange. He’d only been in the visitor’s clubhouse once in eight years with the Brewers, for a fan event.

“I definitely remember the last four years as opposed to the first four years,” Sheets said. “In ’01 we had a lot of fans because it was the opener [of Miller Park], but ’02, ’03, ’04, it was kind of slim. At the end, we put a better product on the field and they started to come out in support. The group [of prospects] they brought up around ’05, ’06, that was a pretty special group. …

“I had a great time. They were terrible when I got here, and then when I left, we were a pretty good team. You saw it kind of build early.”

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Hart in holding pattern with foot injury

First baseman Corey Hart was absent from the Brewers’ lineup Monday with a left foot injury that is troublesome in terms of its timing, if not its severity.

Hart was hurt when he planted and returned to second base in the fourth inning of Sunday’s extra-inning loss to the Cardinals. He exited that game an inning later and was to be examined by head team physician William Raasch at Miller Park before the Brewers’ series-opener against the Braves.

“Hopefully, it’s nothing,” Hart said. “The best case, they can give me a [cortisone] shot in the foot and I can play the next couple of days later.”

The Brewers initially called the issue a sprained left ankle, but Hart, who has sprained and broken ankles before, said the pain was in his arch. He downplayed the limp with which he walked around the clubhouse.

“All I did was push off to go back to the base, and it felt like I got shot in the foot,” he said.

Hart’s absence was significant because he batted .351 with 20 RBIs over his last 20 games and, as the five-hole hitter, represents a key cog in the National League’s second-best scoring offense.

But there was better news Monday on left fielder Ryan Braun, who exited Sunday’s game an inning after Hart with because of a flare-up of the right wrist injury that has been bothering him for weeks. Braun was back in the lineup on Monday and said he was confident he’d be able to continue playing through the pain.

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Twenty years since “Three thousand for Robin!”

Twenty years ago, The Kid cemented his place in Cooperstown.

Sunday marked the 20th anniversary of Hall of Famer Robin Yount’s 3,000th hit, an opposite-field single off Indians reliever Jose Mesa at Milwaukee County Stadium on Sept. 9, 1993. In an interview with MLB.com last year, just before Yankees captain Derek Jeter joined the club, Yount recalled the uncomfortable run-up to his milestone.

“It almost feels like you’re out there alone. It’s kind of a weird feeling,” he said. “At least it was for me. I remember that we were in a pennant race the year I got mine and it was late in the year. I felt very uncomfortable because it seemed like the focus was on me, and I felt that it should have been on the team because we had a legitimate chance to win that division last year.

“I found myself getting caught up in it because everyone else was caught up in it. I’ll be honest — for me, it was a bit of a distraction. I can remember when I got within one or two hits, I got real angry at myself because I was distracted. I had a long talk with myself after one of those games, I don’t remember which one.”

It was somewhere from Sept. 7-9, 1992. The Brewers were hosting the Indians for a quick, three-game homestand, and Yount felt pressure to reach his milestone at County Stadium before heading out for a seven-game trip to Baltimore and Boston. <p/>

He got a hit apiece in each of the first two games of the series, then went hitless in his first three at-bats in the finale before knocking a seventh-inning single against Mesa.

“I can remember saying, ‘Hey, snap out of it. This isn’t about one hit,’” Yount said. “I was trying to get back to the guy who had played 19 years at that point on a daily basis instead of focusing on this one silly hit. I guess it’s human nature. So many people are making such a big deal out of this one hit out of 3,000, and it’s amazing what happens when there’s something in your mind that hasn’t been there before.”

When he got his milestone hit, longtime teammates Paul Molitor and Jim Gantner were the first to embrace Yount at first base.

“You get 3,000 hits because of longevity, and I guess what I’m most proud of,” Yount said.

Veteran scribe Ton Haudricourt noted Sept. 9, 1992 was also the day Brewers president Allan H. “Bud” Selig’s fellow owners named him Chairman of the Major League Executive Council. The vote made Selig the interim Commissioner in the wake of Fay Vincent’s resignation two days earlier. Selig has run Major League Baseball ever since.

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Brewers back to within a game of .500

When Mike Fiers is delivering run-scoring hits, you know the Brewers are running hot.

Fiers is a rookie right-hander so futile with the bat that catcher Jonathan Lucroy suggested a few weeks ago — seriously — that he try bunting instead. It worked that day, but Fiers was 1-for-26 with 15 strikeouts before he finally swung and connected on Saturday night.

Fiers’ RBI single in a two-run second inning was a key early hit for the Brewers, and Aramis Ramirez’s ninth-inning home run came late in a 6-3 win over the Cardinals at Busch Stadium. It was 15th victory in 19 games for the Brewers, who pulled within five games of the Cardinals for the National League’s second Wild Card berth.

All of a sudden, everything is going right for a team that finds itself one game under .500 for the first time since April 30, when Fiers was still pitching at Triple-A Nashville. They have not been a .500 team since April 24.

“I think it’s big because we’ve been under for so long,” Brewers manager Ron Roenicke said. “We’ve talked about it. We talk about if we get back to .500 and we stay hot, this could be very interesting.”

The Brewers can get there by finishing a three-game sweep on Sunday afternoon. Shaun Marcum will start against St. Louis righty Joe Kelly.

Can Milwaukee make up five games with only 23 to go, and the Dodgers and Pirates lurking in the way?

“Sure we can,” Roenicke said. “What we talk about is how many teams in front of us. That makes it way more challenging than if there’s just one team. But, sure we can. Look at what the Cardinals did last year. Absolutely, we can.”

Fiers has believed that for a while.

“I always thought we were still in it, no matter how far we were back,” he said. “I just thought with the hitting and pitching combined, and the defense we play, it was definitely a team that deserved to be in the playoffs. We just needed to put it together.”

Over the past three weeks, they have.

One more note: Ramirez returned to the lineup in a big way Saturday after missing two games with a tight back. He had three hits including that big home run, and emerged with a .300 batting average.

“He pretty much told me he was playing,” Roenicke said.

“I don’t really like to be babysit,” Ramirez said. “I’ve been around long enough to know what I can play, when I can’t. As soon as I walked in here today I went to his office and told him I was good to go.”

Asked whether he back to 100 percent, Ramirez said, “Nobody is. It’s September. … We’ve only got 20-plus games and it’s going to take a lot for me to leave the lineup.”

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If they play, Green to start for Brewers tonight

Taylor Green’s long, long Friday began on Vancouver Island and ended in St. Louis, where he was supposed to be in the Brewers’ starting lineup before Mother Nature threatened to get in the way.

Green, passed over when the Brewers made their September call-ups, was belatedly added to the roster on Friday while third baseman Aramis Ramirez sat out a second straight game with a tight back.

Green got the call Thursday when he was just outside of Spokane, Wash., on a long drive home to Comox, British Columbia from Triple-A Nashville. He finished the drive, rose at 3 a.m. for a flight from Nanaimo, B.C. to Vancouver to Chicago to St. Louis, and arrived at Busch Stadium after 5 p.m. CT.

He found himself in the starting lineup. Manager Ron Roenicke preferred Green over Jeff Bianchi because Green is a true third baseman; Bianchi is a shortstop.

“If you’re here, you might as well play, right?” Green said.

He played briefly with the Brewers earlier this season and batted .198 in 44 games. Green spent most of the year at Nashville, hitting .279 with seven home runs and 29 RBIs in 77 games.

Was Green upset the Brewers didn’t promote him with their first wave of September call-ups?

“Not really,” he said. “I understood why. A guy like me has to put up big numbers in order to deserve it. So I completely understood, and I’m just really happy to be here.”

Green’s agent, Joshua Kusnick reported via Twitter on Friday that Green will also play this winter in the Dominican Republic.

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Morris, Burgos named Brewers’ top Minor Leaguers

News from the front office:

The Milwaukee Brewers today announced the recipients of the 2012 Robin Yount Performance Awards, which recognizes the Brewers’ Minor League Player and Pitcher of the Year. Infielder Hunter Morris was named Minor League Player of the Year and right-handed pitcher Hiram Burgos (pronounced HI-rum BUR-gose) was named Minor League Pitcher of the Year.

Morris, 23, batted .303 with 28 home runs and 113 RBI in 136 games with Double-A Huntsville. He was named the Southern League’s Most Valuable Player on Monday, becoming the first Huntsville player to win the award since Brewers first baseman Corey Hart in 2003.

Morris, who made a run at the Triple Crown, led the Southern League in home runs, RBI, hits (158), slugging percentage (.563) total bases (294) and extra-base hits (74) and ranked among the leaders in doubles (2nd, 40), runs (T3rd, 77) and batting average (4th). Additionally, he led all qualifying Southern League first basemen with a .995 fielding percentage as he committed just six errors all season. His 40 doubles tied Huntsville’s single-season record (tied D.T. Cromer, 1997 with Oakland Athletics organization and Corey Hart, 2003).

The Huntsville, Alabama native was named to the Southern League All-Star team and earned TOPPS Southern League Player of the Month honors in June and July. Morris was drafted by the Brewers in the fourth round of the 2010 First-Year Player Draft out of Auburn University.

Burgos, 25, went a combined 10-4 with a 1.95 ERA in 28 games (27 starts) between Class-A Brevard County, Double-A Huntsville and Triple-A Nashville. He struck out 153 batters compared to 49 walks and allowed 128 hits in 171.0 innings pitched. His 1.95 ERA was tops among Brewers minor leaguers and ranked 10th-best overall in the minors this season.

Burgos was named to the Florida State League Midseason All-Star team but did not play due to his promotion to Huntsville. He earned Brewers Pitcher of the Month honors in April (Co-Pitcher with RHP Drew Gagnon), June and July. Burgos was drafted by the Brewers in the sixth round of the 2009 First-Year Player Draft from Bethune-Cookman University. He was signed by area scout Tim McIlvaine.

On Thursday, MLB.com will release an updated Top 20 prospects ranking for each club, and there were some interesting changes on the Brewers’ list. I’ll just tell you that I was particularly surprised by Morris’ move.

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Brewers shut down Rogers for season

It’s official: Brewers right-hander Mark Rogers has made the final start of a successful bounce-back season.

Club officials informed Rogers on Saturday afternoon they were shutting him down, a preemptive move meant to protect Rogers’ surgically-repaired right arm from injury after he pushed into uncharted innings this season.

In 25 starts between Triple-A Nashville and the Brewers, including Friday’s win over the Pirates, Rogers was 9-7 with a 4.49 ERA. He worked only 44 1/3 innings in a 2011 season cut short by a wrist injury and a suspension that stemmed from a tainted supplement.

“I kind of expected it, but at the same time, I still want to be pitching,” Rogers said. “I think if I didn’t want to keep pitching, that would be a problem. I still feel very good, I’m competitive, and things are going well right now. Obviously you want to take the ball every five days, especially because I don’t feel like we’re out of it right now. We’re right there.

“Then again, there’s a lot of people smarter than me making that decision. I’ve been down the injury road before. That is the very last thing I want to happen, so it’s nice to go into the offseason being able to say I am 100 percent healthy.”

He allowed one Pirates run in 5 1/3 innings on Friday night to win his third consecutive start. Brewers manager Ron Roenicke was reluctant to make Rogers’ shut-down official after the game because the organization’s decision had not yet been communicated to the player himself.

Rogers, 26, will remain active with the Brewers throughout September, but barring an emergency pinch-hit appearance, he is very unlikely to play.

The Brewers will probably promote right-hander Wily Peralta following Nashville’s season-finale on Monday to replace Rogers. Peralta also pitched Friday, and could easily slide into Rogers’ spot beginning Wednesday in Miami.

Peralta made his Major League debut in relief on April 22, but would make his first big league start.

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