Brewers making change at closer?
UPDATED at 12:10 p.m. CT — Braun is in. See below.
Manager Ron Roenicke may have had an overnight change of heart about the Brewers’ combustible closer situation.
On Sunday, after John Axford surrendered a home run for the third time in as many outings, Roenicke responded, “No, not at all,” when asked if he was considering a change. But when asked Monday morning whether he would use Axford to close the Cubs’ home opener if needed, Roenicke had a different answer.
“I need to have a discussion with ‘Ax’ on what we plan to do,” Roenicke said, “so I can’t really give you an answer until I talk to him.”
Asked to clarify whether that conversation would be about workload — Axford did go back out for a second inning of work Sunday, though he threw only 18 total pitches — Roenicke responded, “it could be that and a little otherwise.”
If the Brewers make a change, Axford’s likely replacement is 30-year-old Jim Henderson.
Roenicke would have much preferred to remove Axford after he preserved a 6-6 tie with a 1-2-3 10th inning against the D-backs on Sunday. Never mind that the first two outs drove Brewers outfielders to the warning track, or that during the third out, an Eric Chavez strikeout, Axford fired a fastball to the backstop — it was a positive inning considering Axford had surrendered a tying, ninth-inning home run against the Rockies on Opening Day and two more home runs two days later.
But Roenicke said he was forced to send Axford to the mound for a second inning because his bullpen, even though it is eight men strong — had been taxed so heavily in the season’s first homestand. When Axford entered the game, only left-hander Michael Gonzalez and right-hander Brandon Kintzler were left, because — as Roenicke revealed Monday morning — left-hander Chris Narveson is sidelined by an injured middle finger on his pitching hand.
Roenicke said Narveson was examined by a doctor Monday morning, and told reporters to expect some sort of announcement later in the day.
Reinforcements could be coming, even if Narveson’s injury is not serious. Roenicke hinted strongly that the Brewers would use a series of upcoming off-days to move fifth starter Mike Fiers to the bullpen and proceed with only four starting pitchers.
Further changes would be complicated by the Brewers’ full 40-man roster. The last pitcher cut in Spring Training, right-handed reliever Donovan Hand, is not on the 40-man.
“It’s not like we have pieces we can just slip in, and move chips around,” Roenicke said. “The pieces are a little difficult as well as [the fundamental decision about] do we move guys around?”
At the same time, the Brewers were dealing with a near-crisis of injuries to position players. Shortstop Jean Segura said Monday morning that he was unable to play because of a left thigh bruise suffered in Sunday’s loss, and left fielder Ryan Braun remained questionable with his stiff neck. Braun did take batting practice on Monday for the first time since his neck locked up during BP on Friday.
“We’ll see how it goes,” he said before taking the field.
Roenicke had two lineup cards ready. As of noon CT, 80 minutes before the first pitch, the choice had not been released to the public.
UPDATE: Braun’s BP must have gone well, because he’s playing. I can’t blame him, the way the wind is howling out to center field today. Here’s the lineup:
1. Norichika Aoki RF
2. Carlos Gomez CF
3. Ryan Braun LF
4. Rickie Weeks 2B
5. Jonathan Lucroy C
6. Alex Gonzalez SS
7. Martin Maldonado 1B
8. Yuniesky Betancourt 3B
9. Marco Estrada RHP
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