February 2013

Olmsted creates buzz in Brewers camp

6-foot-7 Michael Olmsted and 5-foot-10 Scooter Gennett.

6-foot-7 Michael Olmsted and 5-foot-10 Scooter Gennett.

Ryan Braun needed one look at the redwood of a right-hander named Michael Olmstead to declare him the nastiest pitcher in baseball.

“I’m serious,” Braun said.

Braun was one of the Brewers hooting behind the batting cage Wednesday while 6-foot-6, 245-pound (or so the official roster says) Olmsted threw live batting practice. Olmstead could hear the buzz.

“You can’t miss it, it’s so quiet out there with no one else out there,” he said. “It’s a good feeling, you know? Obviously, it’s their first or second time seeing live pitching, so you don’t expect them to be 100 percent on everything. I know I’m going to fool a few guys; everybody’s going to fool a few guys the first couple of live BPs. But it’s definitely a good feeling.”

Olmsted’s size is only part of his intimidation factor. Add a fastball that he says varied between 93-97 mph last season — “With sink,” Scooter Gennet said. “Nasty.” — and a cross-body, three-quarters delivery to complete the package.

He is also comes with a compelling human interest story, having been released by the Mets in 2010 before toiling in Japan’s Minor League. He returned to the U.S. to be with his mother, who was suffering from cancer and was slipping in and out of a coma, for the final 23 days of her life, then asked for his release from Japan and considered his career over.

Only it was not. He was picked up by the Red Sox the following year and signed with the Brewers as a Minor League free agent in early November and was added to their 40-man roster. Olmsted will be 26 in May and is bidding for a bullpen spot.

“Not many guys get a second chance, let alone a third chance,” Olmsted said.


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Brewers urge Gonzalez to embrace utility role

Longtime shortstop Alex Gonzalez has told the Brewers he is willing to try first base this spring as the team seeks an early solution at that injury-riddled position, but did not exactly seem giddy about the proposition.

Manager Ron Roenicke said he understands if that is the case.

“Here is a guy that is a proven, plus defender at shortstop for a lot of years, and he was our guy last year,” Roenicke said. “Now he gets hurt and all of a sudden he’s not that guy anymore. That’s hard to take. He knows if he comes back healthy, why shouldn’t he be that guy again?”

The Brewers are instead committed to Jean Segura, who turns 23 next month. General manager Doug Melvin has wondered aloud whether Gonzalez could make a transition a’la former Rangers infielder Michael Young, who moved all over the infield later in his career.

Roenicke will sell Gonzalez on the positives of that transition.

“I don’t expect Alex to be happy about things that come up that I ask him to do,” Roenicke said. “I try to explain it, why we need him to do it, explain about what may happen with him in the rest of his career, whether he’s only wanting to play a couple more years or wanting to play five or more years.

“If he’s wanting to play a long time, then he needs to be a utility man that can play all positions.”

Other internal candidates to play first base include Bobby Crosby and Taylor Green, each of whom have played the position in the Majors. Catcher Martin Maldonado will play some first in the Cactus League, but is not considered a candidate to man the position full-time once the season begins because the Brewers need him behind the plate.


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Gamel brushes off bad luck, vows to move ahead

Mat Gamel reported to Brewers camp Tuesday with his head up and his eyes bright, vowing to plow through a second straight year of rehabilitation from right knee surgery with a positive attitude.

But he did allow himself one crack about the terrible news that his surgically-repaired ACL had torn again.

“They said 10 percent will do that,” Gamel said. “If there’s a one percent chance of it doing something bad, then it’s going to happen to me.

“But, what do you do, man? You go have the surgery and come back stronger and try to start it over again, I guess.”

A timetable has yet to be set for Gamel’s surgery, but it’s clear that his 2013 season is over before it began, and that another long rehab lies ahead.

He was Milwaukee’s Opening Day first baseman last season but tore his ACL colliding with a low wall in San Diego on May 1 and missed the rest of the season. Gamel rehabbed diligently and was presented with opportunity when Corey Hart suffered his own right knee injury during the offseason and underwent surgery that would sideline him at least through April and perhaps through May.

But bad luck struck Gamel again on Saturday, when he felt a tweak in his knee during the Brewers’ first full-squad workout. He described the sensation after that as “shifting” in the joint, “but it’s not like I went down or anything.” Even when Brewers head physician William Raasch ordered another MRI scan, Gamel never fathomed it would be another tear.

Yet that’s exactly what it was.

“It was shocking, to say the least,” Gamel said. “That was the <i>last</i> thing I would have expected it would have been.”

The repair had torn right through the middle, which Brewers head athletic trainer Dan Wright characterized as particularly rare. Yet Gamel always seems bit by bad luck, going back to 2010 and 2011 when more minor Spring Training injuries cost him shots at the Opening Day roster.

Gamel may take up Hart on an offer to move into Hart’s guest house in Phoenix’s west valley, and believes that his experience through rehab last year will help him this time. He will have a better idea when to push the joint without fear of further damage.

“I didn’t really expect to have to go through it this soon, but here we are,” Gamel said.

Does he ever ask, Why me?

“What’s that going to change?” Gamel said. “I’m not going to sit and pout and feel bad for myself because that isn’t going to change nothing, except put me in a bad mood. Right now, I need to be positive.”


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Brewers have checked on Carp

Mariners general manager Jack Zdurencik told me tonight that he was engaged with a “good number” of teams about Mike Carp, the outfielder-first baseman designated for assignment last week, and was closing on a trade.

“I would say there’s a good chance we get something done in the next 24-48 hours,” Zdurencik said.

Could he go to the Brewers? Milwaukee GM Doug Melvin, Zdurencik’s former boss when Zdurencik was the Brewers’ amateur scouting director, confirmed he’d called about Carp but reiterated he was focused at the moment on finding an internal solution to the club’s first base quandary. The Brewers will be without injured first baseman Corey Hart for at least the first month of the season, and on Monday they lost Hart’s fill-in, Mat Gamel, to a season-ending knee injury.

Zduriencik’s leverage is limited because Carp has been designated for assignment, but he does not intend to simply give the player away.

“This is a good player,” Zduriencik said. “He had a 20-game hitting streak for us [in 2011] and he’s been a 30-home run guy for us in the Minor Leagues. It’s just that with [Justin] Smoak and Kendrys Morales, Michael Morse … it’s gotten a little crowded and we needed a roster spot.”

The Mariners have until Friday to trade Carp, release him or assign him outright to the Minor Leagues. The 26-year-old opened last year as Seattle’s starting left fielder but sprained his shoulder diving for a ball in the regular-season opener in the Tokyo Dome and hit just .213 in 59 games while spending much of the season on the disabled list. He was expected to be limited to first-base duties this year.


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Gomez won’t play in Classic

Center fielder Carlos Gomez has informed Milwaukee officials that he will not play for the Dominican Republic’s entry to the World Baseball Classic, opting instead to focus on the Brewers and his final season before free agency.

That decision certainly did not bother Brewers manager Ron Roenicke, who is counting on the energetic Gomez to build on last season’s breakthrough. Roenicke is more comfortable keeping Gomez at Maryvale Baseball Park.

“You know, he’s got a lot of energy and he wants to help us play,” Roenicke said. “It’s a big year for him, what he does this year. That was part of the reason.”

With right-hander Nick Bucci’s withdrawal from Team Canada on Sunday, the Brewers still have 13 players participating in the Classic, the most of any team. Among them are left fielder Ryan Braun and catcher Johnathan Lucroy of Team USA, and starters Yovani Gallardo and Marco Estrada of Team Mexico.


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Corey Hart’s kind offer

Sure, it’s cliche to think of Major League teammates as family. But Corey Hart proved today that it can also be true.

Hart has already extended an offer for Mat Gamel to move in with Hart and his family for the remainder of Spring Training. Hart, recovering from his own knee surgery, has a guest house available, and figures Gamel could use some company while he begins another long year of rehab after knee surgery.

“I’ll try to help him out as much as I can,” Hart said. “It stinks, because I was pumping him up. Hopefully I’ll be here a long time, but I was trying to be realistic [about Hart’s impending free agency] and telling him, look, I might not be here and this might be your one month to showcase it. [Now] I can just hug him and hope it works out.”

The two have been providing support for almost a year now. It was Hart who stepped in to cover first base after the Brewers lost Gamel last season, and it was Gamel who was supposed to be stepping in for Hart to start this year. Since reporting to Arizona, Gamel had been driving 20 minutes out of his way each morning and afternoon to drive Hart, who is still on crutches, to and from Maryvale Baseball Park.

Now that Gamel is incapacitated, what will they do? Hart can’t drive until March 8, when he has another MRI on his own knee.

“My wife might be chauffeuring two guys around for a couple of days,” Hart said. “It’s tough luck. I hope his spirits are high — I know they’re not now — but if everyone supports him, at least he’ll have more confidence going forward.”


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Humble Morris: ‘I have to earn it’

A humble Hunter Morris said he does not intend to change anything in light of the bad news about Mat Gamel.

“I think I’m probably expected to go about my work the same way as I would [otherwise],” Morris said after the Brewers’ workout on Monday. “That’s my mentality right now — just continue to work the same way I came in preparing to work.”

Morris heard along with everybody else Monday morning that Gamel had suffered another season-ending knee injury. That news thrust Morris into the spotlight as a leading contender to man first base at the start of the season while Corey Hart recovers from his own knee injury.

Other in-house candidates include Taylor Green, Alex Gonzalez and nonroster invitee Bobby Crosby.

“I feel terrible for [Gamel]. I don’t know any of the details, but that’s such an unfortunate situation for him,” said Morris, who counted himself among those excited for Gamel to get a second chance after last season ended in such frustration.

While Gamel was rehabbing, Morris batted .303 with 28 home runs and 113 RBIs at Double-A Huntsville, winning Southern League MVP honors. But he spoke humbly on Monday.

“It’s a big jump [from Double-A to the big leagues] and us talking about it doesn’t mean I’m going to get the job,” Morris said. “I have to go out and I have to earn it and I have to do a lot of things extraordinary. Doing that also comes with not putting too much pressure on myself. I’ll be playing baseball somewhere this year, I don’t know where it will be.”

He added: “Opportunities arise in the game all the time, and it’s up to me to take advantage of it. But you don’t wish [injury] on another player — ever.”


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On to Plan C: Gamel out for the year

The Brewers were re-examining their options at first base Monday after learning Mat Gamel had re-torn his right ACL and would miss the 2013 season.

Gamel, who missed the final five months of 2012 after surgery for the same injury, was already the Brewers’ Plan B after Corey Hart suffered his own knee injury during offseason workouts and underwent surgery. Hart will be sidelined at the first month of the season, so the Brewers will first look at internal options for Plan C, including top prospect Hunter Morris, before deciding whether to seek help from outside the organization.

Meanwhile, 27-year-old Gamel faces a second straight summer of rehab. The Brewers will begin discussing a schedule for surgery on Tuesday.

“Clearly it’s a setback, and a tough thing as much mentally as physically for a guy to spend eight months rehabbing and then be told he’s got to start all over again,” assistant GM Gord Ash said. “I do think he has youth on his side. It’s not like this is a 38-year-old guy and he knows this is the end of the line.”

Brewers officials were stunned by Gamel’s setback. He rehabbed the original injury throughout the 2012 season and received positive check-ups both at the Brewers’ late-January “On Deck” event in Milwaukee and in a physical exam last week.

But Gamel reported discomfort after stretching and hitting during the team’s first full-squad workout on Saturday, and head physician William Raasch detected enough give in Gamel’s knee to order an MRI scan. It revealed the bad news.

“It’s a tear of the middle portion of the repair, which as Dr. Raasch explains to me is unusual,” assistant general manager Gord Ash said. “There are failures — I guess 10 percent seems to be the historical number. But of those failures, they’re mostly at either end, and this is in the middle, which is unusual.”

Gamel has a history of terribly timed injuries. In 2010, a torn muscle behind his throwing shoulder cost him a shot at the Opening Day roster, and in 2011 it was a rib-cage strain. Last year, he got his big break as the Brewers’ replacement for the departed Prince Fielder, but tore his ACL after banging into a low wall at Petco Park in San Diego on May 1.

Now Gamel will have to endure another repair and another year of rehabilitation, though the Brewers don’t expect this latest setback to threaten his career.

“There’s been numbers and numbers of athletes go through this,” Brewers head athletic trainer Dan Wright said, with Ash pointing to former Brewers infielder Tony Graffanino.

Ash said Morris “will be a strong candidate” to play first base at the start of the season, though that would necessitate adding him to the 40-man roster a year early. Other internal candidates include Alex Gonzalez, who is still waiting for his first baseman’s glove and has never played the position, plus Taylor Green and nonroster invitee Bobby Crosby.

Had the timing of the injury been different, the Brewers might have looked at free agent Casey Kotchman, but he signed a Minor League deal with the Marlins just last week. Brewers officials don’t think another notable free agent, Carlos Lee, would be willing to fill-in on a temporary basis, considering Hart is expected back relatively early in the season.


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Gamel to miss another season

May Gamel, who missed the final five months of 2012 with a torn ACL, will miss all of 2013, manager Ron Roenicke said. An MRI scan revealed bad news on the same knee.

Much more to come. The Brewers were already thin at first base because Corey Hart is recovering from his own knee injury. For now, they plan to cover with in-house options, but GM Doug Melvin will look for outside options, too.


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Shoulder issue bumps Bucci from Classic

Characterizing it as “a precautionary thing,” Brewers right-handed pitching prospect Nick Bucci has withdrawn from Team Canada’s World Baseball Classic entry because of what he called a minor shoulder issue.

“Definitely, my passion is with Team Canada, but honestly, having it nipped now is the best thing for me so I can start the season healthy and go from there,” the 22-year-old said.

Bucci said he felt similar aggravation in his shoulder at this time last year, and eventually developed a ‘lat’ injury that delayed his debut until July 18. He made up for some lost time by pitching in the Arizona Fall League and was added to Canada’s Classic roster after reliever Scott Richmond suffered a knee injury playing in Korea. But an issue popped up during Bucci’s physical exam last week that caused the Brewers concern.

He was not sure when he’d be cleared to return to the mound.

“It’s starting to progress [so] we’re just taking it day by day now,” Bucci said. “Being shut down for five days now is better than the season.”


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