April 2013

If all goes well, Ramirez returns Friday

Aramis Ramirez was aiming for a Friday return to the Brewers’ starting lineup after another good day of testing his improving left knee on the basepaths.

“Everything is going as expected,” Ramirez said.

The veteran third baseman has been sidelined since spraining his left knee on April 5. He suffered a nearly identical injury in Spring Training and only missed two weeks, but took longer this time in order to lessen the likelihood of another setback.

If he meets his goal and returns Friday night against the Cardinals, Ramirez will have missed 22 games.

The Brewers are already discussing the corresponding roster move, and could opt to send-down outfielder Khris Davis to play regularly at Triple-A Nashville. Entering Tuesday, Davis had only taken seven at-bats in the Brewers’ last 19 games.

Manager Ron Roenicke was encouraged by Ramirez’s progress, and said he was scheduled to run the bases again on Wednesday morning before, “we’ll see where we are.”

Ramirez will attempt to jump from the disabled list to the active roster without a Minor League rehabilitation assignment, as is his right under baseball’s Collective Bargaining Agreement. Roenicke was asked whether such a leap represented a risk, either to Ramirez because he will not have a chance to test his knee, or to the club, which will have a player in the lineup who has not seen a live pitch in more than three weeks.

“I think management would always like a guy to go rehab, but a player has a right not to rehab,” Roenicke said. “So you work with whatever player it is, you explain things to him, and they have the decision.”

Roenicke has a plan in mind for Ramirez’s workload and does not plan to play the 34-year-old all nine innings from the start. Team off-days next Monday and Wednesday will help provide a break.

Hot or not, the Brewers will welcome the return of Ramirez’s bat. The team ranks 28th of 30 Major League teams with a .497 OPS from its cleanup hitters and is one of only two teams (Kansas City is the other) with no home runs from a four-hole hitter.

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Axford says Henderson should remain closer

Turns out John Axford falls into the “if it’s not broke, don’t fix it” school of thought as it relates to the Brewers’ closer conundrum.

Two and a half weeks after he was removed from the closer’s role, Axford entered the Brewers’ series in Los Angeles back in top form, having worked six straight scoreless appearances after allowing a run in his first four, and a home run in his first three. Opponents went 2-for-17 (.118) in those six games, with no walks and six strikeouts.

But the good friend who replaced him in the ninth inning, Jim Henderson, entered the Dodgers series pitching just as well, with five saves in as many opportunities. Henderson did not allow a run in nine of his first 10 games.

So what is manager Ron Roenicke to do?

Nothing, Axford, suggested.

“You want to keep with what’s going well. I think that’s the biggest thing,” Axford said. Things are going good right now, winning nine in a row. Losing that tough one [on Wednesday] in San Diego, we had a shot of winning that one at the end, too. You really want to keep with what’s strong and what’s working, I think.”

In other words, he’s just fine serving as setup man to Henderson.

“You don’t want to fix anything that’s not broken right now, that’s for sure,” Axford said.

This is the second straight season that Henderson has come to the bullpen’s rescue. Last year, his July 26 promotion to the Major Leagues after parts of 10 years in the Minors roughly coincided with the Brewers’ late-season surge. It was only a few weeks later that Axford was reinstated as the closer after being removed from the role.

“I think he made me kind of realize again that it’s about perseverance,” Axford said. “You want to keep going through the troubles of this game. He was there in the Minor Leagues for 10 years, and he fought and clawed his way up, and he was doing a fantastic job. It was a reminder to me, ‘You had to fight to get here, too, so keep doing it.'”

As far as fixing his own struggles this year, Axford credited pitching coach Rick Kranitz for identifying a minor mechanical flaw after Axford surrendered three runs on two walks and a hit in Chicago on April 9, the day after he was removed from the closer’s role. Kranitz had noticed Axford was too upright in his delivery.

The result has been a better arm slot, an uptick in velocity and better command of his breaking pitches.

“It was a small adjustment of literally being more athletic, the way Lee [Tunnell, the Brewers bullpen coach who was key to Axford's rise] told me to do it in the first place in 2009,” Axford said. “I was getting too upright on the mound, and now I’m making sure I’m more athletic and over my body. … It’s a very subtle change.”

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Weeks gets to swing through slump

Rickie Weeks was called into the manager’s office Sunday to talk about taking a day off. After an 8-for-18 start to the season, he had four hits and 22 strikeouts in his last 45 at-bats. Manager Ron Roenicke thought it might be time for a break.

But Weeks made a case to play. When the lineup was posted in the clubhouse, he was back at second base and batting cleanup.

“Rick, he doesn’t want it off,” Roenicke said. “Sometimes, it comes to [simply telling a player he’s sitting out]. But it’s not something he wants on his part.

“His thinking is, for him, probably right. Say we give him today off, how do we know today isn’t the day that he bounces out of this thing? If he’s not in there, he has not chance to get out of it. That’s his thinking, and it’s good thinking. It depends on the personality, whether that works or not.

“He’s going to get out of this. It’s a matter of what day it is, and the more I keep him in there, the more I feel like he’s going to get out of it.”

And Roenicke has made the argument (unpopular in social media circles, I know) before that Weeks is the Brewers’ best option to bat cleanup, that he is still a dangerous enough hitter, even amid a slump, to protect Ryan Braun. The second-best option might be catcher Jonathan Lucroy, but he was not in the lineup Sunday because Roenicke wanted to pair Martin Maldonado with starter Wily Peralta.

The cleanup spot has been problematic for the Brewers since Aramis Ramirez went to the disabled list with a sprained left knee. The Brewers entered Sunday ranked 28th of 30 Major League teams with a .531 OPS from their No. 4 hitters, and tied for 25th with five RBIs.

In other lineup news, Roenicke flipped Alex Gonzalez and Yuniesky Betancourt’s positions on Sunday, moving Betancourt to third base and Gonzalez back to first, where he played most of the spring before moving to third when Aramis Ramirez was injured.

“I’m seeing if maybe that gets him swinging the bat a little bit better,” Roenicke said of Gonzalez, who entered the day batting .136 with four RBIs. “He’s frustrated about it, but we need to get him going.”

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Burgos set for Saturday debut; Fiers sent out

The Brewers optioned Mike Fiers back to Triple-A Nashville on Thursday and will instead take a look at right-hander Hiram Burgos, the club’s reigning Minor League pitcher of the year who will make his Major League debut with a Saturday start against the Cubs.

Burgos was 0-2 with a 2.70 ERA and 15 strikeouts in three starts at Nashville and will be pitching on regular rest. He made his mark this spring with a strong showing for Puerto Rico in the World Baseball Classic.

Fiers, meanwhile, will head down to search for some rhythm. After struggling last August and September for the Brewers after a sensational start, he posted an 8.59 ERA in one start and two relief appearances this month. In his only start, Fiers surrendered six earned runs against Arizona and was subsequently moved to long relief.

“I guess nothing surprises me in this game,” he said. “I didn’t start off the year that well, so I have to go down. They need someone right now who is reliable, and I guess they feel like I’m not that guy right now. I guess I need to get better.

“They’re sending me to Nashville. It’s not the end of the world. I still need to pitch better and prove myself there and come back up and pitch again. It’s on me to pitch well and get back up here as soon as possible.”

Fiers was told to prepare for at least two Triple-A starts, the first on Saturday if Mother Nature will stop meddling with the Sounds schedule. Then, the Brewers, who will not need Burgos again after Saturday until April 30, will re-evaluate their options.

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Brewers have 30 days to decide on K-Rod

The Brewers re-signed veteran reliever Francisco Rodriguez to a Minor League contract on Wednesday that gives the team 30 days to evaluate Rodriguez and decide whether to add him to the big-league bullpen. If the team decides he is not a fit, Rodriguez can return to free agency.

General manager Doug Melvin declined to reveal the financial terms of the agreement, though MLB Network’s Jon Heyman reported it could pay $2 million or more in the Majors. The deal was sealed after Rodriguez reported to the Brewers’ extended Spring Training camp at Maryvale Baseball Park for a physical exam.

“Over the course of the year we’ve always talked about having guys in line in case you have injuries or other things happen,” Melvin said. “This gives us an option to go to if we want to and need to, and if he pitches well enough. It’s low-risk on our side.”

It was unclear when and where — or if — the Brewers would assign Rodriguez to a Minor League affiliate. He will need to secure a work visa first.

If he throws well, the 31-year-old Rodriguez could provide another late-inning option for the Brewers’ bullpen, which ranks 21st in the Majors with a 4.65 ERA this season and has already made a change at closer. But Melvin downplayed the role John Axford’s temporary demotion played in principal owner Mark Attanasio’s interest in bringing back Rodriguez.

Rodriguez’s agent is Scott Boras, who also represents Kyle Lohse, the right-handed starter who signed a three-year, $33 million deal with the Brewers a week before Opening Day.

Rodriguez spent the last two years with the Brewers after collecting at least 20 saves in seven straight seasons with the Angels and Mets. He struck out 72 batters in 72 innings last year with a 4.38 ERA, but faltered when offered an opportunity to close games in mid-July. The Brewers let Rodriguez depart visa free agency after the season.

Melvin conceded that there will be a contingent of fans and non-fans unhappy about Rodriguez’s return. Rodriguez was arrested in suburban Milwaukee in mid-September and charged with misdemeanor domestic battery after an incident involving his girlfriend, charges that were dropped by Waukesha County District Attorney Brad Schimel in November after Rodriguez and the woman returned to Venezuela.

Melvin said he spoke to a prosecutor involved in the case before re-signing Rodriguez to ensure that Rodriguez’s legal troubles were closed.

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Gallardo makes statement regarding arrest

Yovani Gallardo just made a brief statement for the cameras at Miller Park about this morning’s arrest for driving while intoxicated. He then left without taking questions.

Here’s what he had to say:

“You obviously know why I’m here. First of all, I just want to start out… Obviously, last night, I made a bad decision. You know, I made a mistake. I made a mistake. I’m sure I’ve lost a lot of respect from a lot of fans, but I just want to apologize. I apologize to the fans, to my teammates, my family. You know, like I said, it’s just a bad call. It’s something I shouldn’t have done. I regret it. But at this point, you know, there’s nothing I can do about it now. You know, it happened.

“Like I said, I just want to apologize to the whole organization and all the people in Milwaukee for my actions. It’s not very easy. It’s one of those things — I truly am sorry. I’m going to make sure something like this never happens again. Whatever circumstances, consequences, whatever I have to do so this won’t happen again, I’m going to do it.

“At this point, I wish I could answer your questions right now, but obviously it’s one of those things that’s — it’s an ongoing process. I mean, I don’t know how long it’s going to get this cleared up, the whole situation that happened. The main thing, like I said, I came out here to apologize, especially to the people that look up to me and things like that. Obviously, it’s something that I regret, and like I said, I’ll make sure it never happens again.”

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Gallardo cited for drunk driving

gallardo zaragoza, yovani arrest date 04 16 2013UPDATED at 11:20 to add Brewers statement.

Brewers Opening Day starter Yovani Gallardo was arrested early Tuesday and cited for drunken driving after driving erratically past Miller Park on Interstate 94.

Milwaukee County Sheriff’s Department spokesperson Fran McLaughlin said Gallardo registered a .22 blood alcohol level, nearly three times the legal limit in Wisconsin of .08. A first-time offense for operating while intoxicated is not a criminal offense in Wisconsin, so Gallardo was ticketed and released.

The Brewers issued a brief statement:

“We have been made aware of the situation with Yovani and we take this matter very seriously. We have expressed our disappointment to him and know he understands that behavior of this nature is of great concern to everyone in the organization. Yovani has acknowledged the seriousness of this incident and is taking full accountability for his actions.”

According to McLaughlin, another driver phoned 911 to report Gallardo’s black Ford F-150 driving slowly and deviating lanes as it headed westbound on I-94 near the stadium. A deputy in the area stopped Gallardo near 76th St. at about 2:10 a.m. and Gallardo indicated he had been drinking beer at Leff’s Lucky Town, a popular bar for Brewers fans in Wauwatosa, Wis.

Gallardo performed poorly on a field sobriety test, McLaughlin said, and was administered a preliminary breath test on the scene which recorded a .22 blood alcohol level. He was arrested at 2:30 a.m. and taken to a Sherriff’s Department substation in the area for a more accurate test. Again, Gallardo’s BAC registered .22.

As a matter of practice meant to deter repeat offenders, McLaughlin said the department books all alleged drunken drivers. Gallardo was booked into the downtown jail under his legal name — Yovani Gallardo-Zaragoza — at 4:25 a.m. CT and released at 6:25 a.m. His truck had been towed, so Gallardo was picked up and driven home.

The maximum fine for operating while intoxicated-first offense is $300, and Gallardo was issued a separate $300 ticket because of the level of intoxication and a $178.80 ticket for lane deviation. In addition, Gallardo will have to have an interlock ignition device installed on his vehicle, McLaughlin said.

The Brewers instruct their players during Spring Training about the dangers of driving drunk, and offer alternative transportation for instances in which players need it.

Gallardo’s next scheduled start is Thursday afternoon against Matt Cain and the Giants at Miller Park. In three starts so far, including an Opening Day no-decision against the Rockies, Gallardo is 0-1 with a 6.61 ERA.

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Brewers, Cubs postponed

From colleague Joey Nowak:

Wednesday evening’s game between the Cubs and visiting Brewers at Wrigley Field was postponed about four hours before the scheduled first pitch because of inclement weather heading into the Chicago area.

The game was rescheduled for Tuesday, July 30, at 1:20 p.m. CT, as part of a day-night doubleheader. Tickets for Wednesday’s postponed game will be good for admission to the makeup game. The regularly scheduled 7:05 p.m. CT contest will follow.

Frigid temperatures have blanketed the Chicago area this week, with winds of 20-plus mph dropping the wind chill to the low 30s. The forecast called for rain and possible storms through the end of the night.

“I think tonight would have probably been a little bit above anybody’s need to be playing baseball,” Cubs manager Dale Sveum said. “Last night was about as tough as you’re gonna get, and tonight would have probably been to where you can’t really function out there.”

A makeup date for the rubber match of the three-game series has yet to be determined. Sveum said the Cubs’ rotation order would remain the same, with Scott Feldman opening a four-game series against the Giants at Wrigley on Thursday, followed by Carlos Villanueva, Jeff Samardzija and Edwin Jackson.

Following a scheduled day off Thursday for the Brewers, Kyle Lohse will start Friday vs. his former team, the Cardinals. Yovani Gallardo will start Saturday, followed by Marco Estrada in Sunday’s series finale in St. Louis.

“[The postponement] comes at a good time for us,” said Brewers left fielder Ryan Braun. “We’re obviously not playing well, and nobody enjoys playing in this weather. The combination of those two things, I think we’re fortunate to have the day off tonight.”

Milwaukee won the first game of the series, 7-4, on Monday, before the Cubs won in comeback fashion on Tuesday, 6-3. Chicago’s next home series against the Brewers is July 29-31.

“I think you always want to keep playing after you win, and you had a little momentum [Tuesday] night,” Sveum said. “Guys had some good at-bats. So it’s not one of those things where you don’t want to play. But there was nothing you could do about today. I don’t even know if it’s football weather.”

So, the Brewers get an extra day off. It couldn’t have come at a better time, for a myriad of reasons I explored in a story set to hit Brewers.com tonight. Check it out, and enjoy the weekend series in St. Louis. I’ll be away for a few days before returning next week at Miller Park.

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Roenicke, Axford burned again by second inning

So much for using John Axford in low-leverage innings. Brewers manager Ron Roenicke argued he had no choice given the circumstances Tuesday but to shelve that plan, and the result was another loss for a closer and a team off to a very discouraging start.

Just like two days earlier against the D-backs, Roenicke went to Axford for a second inning and got burned. After stranding the go-ahead runner at second base in an uplifting seventh, Axford surrendered a double and two walks in the eighth and watched all three runners score, sending the Brewers to a 6-3 loss to the Cubs at frigid Wrigley Field.

Add those runs to Axford’s ugly start: He has recorded 10 outs this season and allowed nine earned runs on nine hits, with as many home runs (four) as strikeouts. In four outings, he has two losses and a blown save. He owns a 24.30 ERA.

“I’ve given up enough runs already to hurt a first half, probably even a full season,” Axford said. “Hopefully I can just hold on, carry on a decent year from here.”

The Brewers are 2-6 and facing the same relief woes that dug such a deep hole in 2012, when they tied the A’s for baseball’s best record after Aug. 20 yet still missed the playoffs.

Tuesday’s game might have actually gotten away before Axford entered, when the Cubs scored in the seventh inning to make it 3-2 and knock starter Wily Peralta out of the game in favor of left-hander Michael Gonzalez, who was called upon to face the Cubs’ Anthony Rizzo with two outs and the tying runner at second base.

The Brewers acquired Gonzalez via free agency for just such matchups — this one against a left-handed-hitting Rizzo who was 0-for-6 against southpaws entering the at-bat. But Gonzalez missed badly with his first two pitches, then threw a slider on the outside corner that Rizzo ripped for a double to right and a 3-3 tie.

Had Gonzalez recorded that out, then Roenicke would have had Axford for the eighth inning and Burke Badenhop for the ninth. Instead, with Rizzo at second base representing the go-ahead run, Roenicke called for Axford to face Alfonso Soriano, who hit an inning-ending flyout to center field. It was just the sort of uplifting outcome that Axford, Roenicke and the rest of the Brewers were looking for.

It was short-lived. After a terrific play by Cubs shortstop Starlin Castro robbed the Brewers of a run in the top of the eighth inning, Axford headed out for a second inning of work.

“You start looking at what you need to do, what you plan to do, and the game changes and it doesn’t allow you to do what you want to do,” Roenicke said. “If we come out and get the people out that we’re supposed to get out, it runs a lot smoother. …

“Our choices for the late innings, it’s the same thing. When [Jim] Henderson is down, then where do you go to?”

Henderson, Axford’s temporary replacement at closer, was unavailable after throwing 30 pitches on Monday. Left-hander Tom Gorzelanny was unavailable after pitching five times in the Brewers’ first seven games, throwing 32 pitches over the previous two days. Burke Badenhop was being held for a save in the ninth.

That left four right-handed options: Alfredo Figaro, who spent the past two years starting in Japan and had thrown 56 pitches in two shaky innings against Arizona on Saturday; Brandon Kintzler, who faced three Cubs hitters on Monday and retired none of them; Mike Fiers, who has no experience in close-and-late situations; or Axford.

Roenicke stuck with Axford. He surrendered a leadoff double to Nate Schierholtz on a 1-0 pitch, and Schierholtz advanced on a sacrifice bunt. Axford walked Luis Valbuena intentionally and pinch-hitter Dioner Navarro unintentionally, loading the bases.

Now, Roenicke went to Figaro, who surrendered a go-ahead sacrifice fly to another pinch-hitter, Scott Hairston, and a two-run single to David DeJesus. Ballgame.

Was Axford surprised when he was sent out for the second inning?

“I was told pretty much right away that I was going right back out,” Axford said. “I guess [I was] maybe more surprised by the situation. It was a tie ballgame and I was out there again. I don’t know.”

So was he surprised to be called upon in a tie game in the first place?

“Yes and no,” Axford said. “Based on what I heard, maybe more non-pressure situations. Obviously, that didn’t happen tonight. Either way, I should be getting the job done no matter what situation I’m in out there. I’m not saying it’s an excuse. It’s definitely not an excuse. I’m just saying — I don’t know. Just another tough spot for me to be in right now.” <p>

Roenicke was asked where he goes from here. <p>

“We’ll just keep doing the same thing and hopefully we’ll have him where we can use him just clean innings in the sixth or the seventh inning, somewhere in there. Once in a while, it may be the eighth, depending on what happens with the game.”

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Gomez apologizes for outburst

Brewers center fielder Carlos Gomez called home Monday night and was scolded by his young son. Yandel, who turns four next month, had been watching the Brewers-Cubs game on television and was not happy when dad snapped his bat in half over his knee after a seventh-inning strikeout.

¡Feo!,” Yandel said.

Ugly!

“He said, ‘Why are you mad?’ It’s so ugly. It’s not good,’” Carlos Gomez said Tuesday, after his emotions had cooled. “I felt bad, because a lot of kids follow me, a lot of kids look at me like a role model, and I should not have done this. … I don’t want kids to go and do the same stuff.”

So Gomez took to Twitter and issued an apology.

“I want to apologize to everyone for my actions today, sometimes you get caught in the heat of the moment,” he Tweeted. “I always try to be a good example and carry myself and uniform in a professional way, again I am truly sorry for my actions today.”

He was in a happier mood Tuesday night after singling in his first plate appearance and scoring on Jean Segura’s double.

(Nam Y. Huh/AP)

(Nam Y. Huh/AP)

(Nam Y. Huh/AP)

(Nam Y. Huh/AP)

(Nam Y. Huh/AP)

(Nam Y. Huh/AP)

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