June 2013

Hand to make first career Major League start

The Brewers announced Friday that right-handed reliever Donovan Hand will make his first Major League start in Saturday’s game against the Braves at Miller Park.

The spot in the rotation remained up in the air until Friday with starters Marco Estrada and Hiram Burgos still rehabbing from injuries. Brewers manager Ron Roenicke said there was discussion about starting left-handed reliever Tom Gorzelanny for the second time this season, but ultimately it was Hand’s chance.

“It seemed like everybody wanted to [start Hand],” Roenicke said. “He’s been stretched out enough where we’re not that concerned. We’re not going to throw him 90 pitches, but we’ll see how the game goes.”

Hand has pitched in the long reliever role out of the Brewers’ bullpen since he was promoted from Triple-A Nashville on May 26. He holds a 3.38 ERA in eight appearances and said the goal is to pitch three or four innings on Saturday, with anything after that being a bonus.

“I’m going to go out like I’m the long guy in the bullpen, which I’ve done. I’ll go out until they tell me to stop,” Hand said. “It’s an opportunity, if nothing else to go out and work on some pitches. Get off to a good start with two good innings, three good innings and see what happens after that.”

Hand will be the ninth Milwaukee starter used this season after numerous injuries plagued the rotation. Burgos is currently rehabbing from a right shoulder impingement and Estrada is working back from a strained left hamstring, forcing Hand to start Saturday and fellow reliever Alfredo Figaro to make his fifth start of the season on Sunday.

He was a starting pitcher last October and November in the Venezuelan Winter League, which Hand says will help him Saturday.

“I try not to play it up or anything. It’s just the same business,” Hand said. “Go about my business the same way, throw ground balls and hopefully it works out well.”

Before his late-May callup, Hand made 16 appearances out of the bullpen and had a 3.18 ERA for Nashville. He will oppose Atlanta right-hander Tim Hudson on Saturday.

– Kevin Massoth

Braun will need more DL time

A second opinion of Ryan Braun’s painful right hand injury confirmed the original diagnosis but raised the likelihood of a much longer stint on the disabled list to allow the issue to heal.

The hope when Braun was placed on the 15-day disabled list for the first time in his career that it would be a minimum stay, making him eligible as early as Tuesday against the Cubs at Miller Park. That remains an outside possibility, but the more likely scenario after Braun’s visit with hand specialist Don Sheridan in Phoenix has him taking more time — as long as a month — to allow healing time for a bruise and an inflamed nerve near his right thumb.

Braun was reluctant to share the precise plan he was discussing with club officials but did say the recommendation was merely rest, and that some sort of surgical fix would not be necessary.

“It was nothing that we didn’t expect,” Braun said. “What’s kind of nice is we get some clarity, at least. We have a better idea of, confirmation, of what we’re dealing with.”

Braun played for several weeks with pain but lost his power, going homerless in his final 65 plate appearances before exiting a June 9 game against the Phillies. The Brewers held Braun out of the subsequent three-game series in Miami hoping rest would correct the issue, and when it did not, opted to place him on the DL.

In the ensuing days, Braun continued to take swings to keep his hands and arms loose and in shape. After visiting with Sheridan, the decision was made to shut down completely, Braun said.

“We’ll see what happens at the end of this DL, and it sounds like he’s going to have to swing and see how it feels and see if we can cushion it enough to when he goes out there, we don’t go back to where he was when we went on the DL,” manager Ron Roenicke said.

Asked about the prospect of a longer stay on the DL, Roenicke said, “I can’t answer that until he really starts swinging and we see what’s going on. … I know he told me what [Sheridan] thought, and it could be longer, but we’ll have to see.”

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Aoki on paternity list, Prince up

Brewers right fielder Norichika Aoki traveled back to Milwaukee on Wednesday to be with wife Sachi, who is scheduled to deliver the couple’s second child (a son) on Thursday. The Brewers placed Aoki on the paternity list and called-up utility man Josh Prince from Triple-A Nashville to take Aoki’s place.

The right-handed-hitting Prince and left-handed Caleb Gindl will presumably start the final two games of this road trip in Aoki’s absence. Left-hander Erik Bedard is on the mound for the Astros on Wednesday night, and right-hander Lucas Harrell starts Thursday afternoon.

In other news, FoxSports.com’s Jon Paul Morosi attended Major League Baseball’s Diversity Business Summit in Houston on Wednesday and spoke to Brewers principal owner Mark Attanasio, who quelled any speculation that manager Ron Roenicke’s job is in danger because of the team’s 28-41 record.

“We’ve had a lot of success under Ron,” Attanasio told Morosi. “Ron’s best attribute is that he’s the same person when we won 96 games [in 2011] as, unfortunately, [during] a season where we’re in last place.”

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Braun seeks second opinion

Brewers left fielder Ryan Braun was in Phoenix on Tuesday to see Dr. Don Sheridan, the hand specialist who has worked on a number of players over the years including second baseman Rickie Weeks.

Assistant general manager Gord Ash said the trip represented “a due diligence second opinion” on the injury that sent Braun to the disabled list for the first time in his career, and was not a reflection of any new development.

Braun had been playing through an inflamed nerve between his right thumb and forefinger for several weeks, hitting with diminished power. When skipping the Brewers’ three-game series in Miami did not cure the problem, the club opted to put Braun on the DL.

Ash said Braun was expected to rejoin the team on Wednesday. He is eligible for reinstatement from the DL on June 25.

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Williams gets $1.35 million

The Brewers finalized a $1.35 contract Sunday with right-hander Davin Williams, their top pick in this month’s First-Year Player Draft.

Williams, from Hazelwood West High School near St. Louis, received a bonus in excess of the $1,017,300 slotted by Major League Baseball for the 54th overall pick. Part of his package included compensation for forgoing a scholarship to the University of Missouri, which is common practice in signing high school picks.

All along, it was clear the Brewers and Williams’ agent, Jason Wood, were going to strike a deal. Williams was in Milwaukee last week for a physical exam and motion analysis test, then returned to St. Louis for a going away party with family and friends. Brewers officials met him there Sunday with his contract.

Williams will travel to Phoenix on Monday to begin his professional career with the Brewers’ rookie league affiliate. Among his teammates there will be infielder Tucker Neuhaus, who received a $771,000 bonus as Milwaukee’s supplemental second-round pick.

On Draft night, the Brewers’ buzzwords on Williams were “athleticism” and “upside.” Most scouting reports used the word “projectable” to describe the 6-foot-3, 165-pounder, who throws a fastball in the low- to mid-90s, a slider, changeup with fade and curveball.

He touched 96 mph at a pre-draft workout for the Cardinals at Busch Stadium but mostly pitched at 90-94 mph during his senior season, when Williams went 6-1 with a 1.02 ERA and one save in nine games, with 93 strikeouts in 48 innings and a .102 opponents’ batting average.

With Williams in the fold, the Brewers have signed each of their top 11 selections from the Draft.

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Aoki about to be a dad twice over

Outfielder Norichika Aoki will be on high alert this week as the Brewers continue their long road trip. His wife, Sachi, is about to give birth to the couple’s second child.

“Any day now,” Aoki said.

Her due date is Thursday, when the Brewers finish their three-city trip with an afternoon game in Houston. Sachi is back in Milwaukee with her mother, and if she goes into labor while the team is still on the road, Aoki will return early to be by her side.

The couple has a daughter named Emily, and is expecting a son this time.

“It’s always on my mind,” Aoki said through translator Kosuke Inaji. “Ron [Roenicke, the Brewers manager] joked about it, saying I’d better have my phone on me when I’m out in the field. I was planning on having the phone while I’m at bat.”

Aoki smiles and assumes his batting stance, with one hand holding an imaginary cell phone to his left ear.

“I like to play in games and contribute to the team, but at the same time, my wife is in a foreign country and she doesn’t understand too much English,” Aoki said. “I would like to be there for her when she is having the baby.”

Any day now.

“Today is Father’s Day, and it got me thinking,” Aoki said. “Maybe today.”

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Braun appears DL-bound

Brewers slugger Ryan Braun appeared bound for the 15-day disabled list after experiencing more of the same sharp pain in his right hand during batting practice Friday.

The session, Braun’s first swings in five days, were viewed as a last chance to avoid the DL for what the player has described as an inflamed nerve between his right thumb and index finger. He was removed in the third inning of Sunday’s game against the Phillies at Miller Park and sat out the Brewers’ entire three-game series in Miami, hoping the pain would quiet with some rest.

On one of his first swings behind the batting cage Friday, it was clear from his grimace it did not work.

“More of the same,” Braun said. “It basically has been the same for a while. Everything we have tried to get to the point where I can take a regular swing [has not helped. We’ve tried different wraps on the bat, different padding on the batting gloves. We’ve basically tried everything we can think of.”

The last resort would be Braun’s first-ever trip to the disabled list.

“The next step is something I don’t want to do,” manager Ron Roenicke said before those batting practice swings. “But if that’s the best way to do it, then we’ll do it. That’s why we want to see where he is today. If he’s really good, then we know where to go.”

And if he was not really good?

“We’ve talked about all the different things,” Roenicke said.

Braun has been dealing with pain near his right thumb for about a month, yet still entered the weekend among the National League leaders in slugging percentage (ninth, .509), on-base percentage (10th, .380) and OPS (10th, 890). He was batting .304 with nine home runs and 36 RBIs.

The conundrum for the Brewers has been this: Braun can play, and even swinging at 60-70 percent of full strength he can be a dangerous hitter. But is it worth perpetuating the injury over the entire season, or even making it worse?

With no signs of progress, it appeared club officials would answer “no” to that question. If Braun goes to the DL, Logan Schafer would continue playing regularly in left field and the Brewers would bring back either Khris Davis or Josh Prince from Triple-A Nashville.

EDIT: Or Caleb Gindl, who is also on the 40-man roster, batting .364 over his last 10 games and was a last-minute scratch from the Sounds’ lineup on Friday night.

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Good signs for Brewers and top pick

There was nothing official from the Brewers or agent Jason Wood on Thursday, but all signs pointed to the team finalizing a contract for second-round Draft pick Devin Williams by the end of the weekend.

Williams, a right-handed pitcher from a St. Louis-area high school, was Milwaukee’s top pick in the First-Year Player Draft because the team surrendered its first round selection to sign Kyle Lohse. Williams was in Milwaukee for a physical exam on Wednesday (he Tweeted a nice aerial shot of Miller Park on his way into town) and was to undergo a motion analysis study on Thursday — standard operating procedure for pitchers in the Brewers pipeline.

Look for Williams to receive a bonus above the $1,017,300 slotted by Major League Baseball for the 54th overall pick.

So, barring an unforeseen snag, a deal will get done. In the meantime, you can revisit my story about Williams and the Brewers’ other Day 1 Draft pick, Tucker Neuhaus. The Brewers have not formally announced any Draft signings, but they already have finalized a $771,000 bonus for Neuhaus, who was also in Milwaukee on Thursday, and third-round pick Barrett Astin.

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Braun exits with sore thumb; Roenicke worried

UPDATE: Braun just left the game in the bottom of the third inning. Updated information below. 

The Brewers removed left fielder Ryan Braun in the third inning Sunday because of soreness in his right thumb, the same ailment of which manager Ron Roenicke spoke with some urgency only a few hours earlier.

The Brewers were leading the Phillies, 4-0, when Braun abruptly exited. He struck out in the first inning and was replaced by Logan Schafer when that spot in the lineup came around again in the bottom of the third.

“We’ve got to figure out what to do there,” Roencike said. “We’ve got to start going in the right direction with him, and sometimes it’s not. … I’m hoping we don’t have to [place him on the disabled list], but we start making gains and he says, ‘Yeah, I feel really good today,’ and then all of a sudden it’s a bad day and a setback.

“We keep going this back and forth. He’s out there playing, hitting third for us, and I expect the Braun that I’ve seen for the last two years, and he’s not the same. He’s still getting hits, he’s still helping us win games, but he’s not that guy that can carry a team like I know he can.”

Roenicke said he had a plan for Braun on the upcoming, three-city road trip, which includes a pair of off-days between stops.

Braun, who has contributed at least 30 homers and 110 RBIs in Roenicke’s first two full seasons as Brewers manager, entered Sunday hitting .305 with nine home runs and 36 RBIs, a pace for 24 homers and 94 RBIs. He has been adjusting his swing to compensate for pain in his thumb, and was homerless in his previous 64 plate appearances.

That Braun’s power has been sapped was evident by the Brewers’ first-inning strategy Sunday. After Norichika Aoki took a walk from Phillies starter Jonathan Pettibine, Jean Segura popped out a bunt attempt and Aoki was caught trying to steal second base. Braun then struck out on a foul tip.

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Brewers appear close with top two Draft picks

The Brewers reportedly had an agreement in place Sunday with the second of their two Day 1 selections in the First-Year Player Draft, Florida prep infielder Tucker Neuhaus, and were bringing top pick Devin Williams to Milwaukee for a physical exam.

Brewers amateur scouting director Bruce Seid followed policy by declining to comment on signings before they were official.

“I will say this,” Seid said. “We’re definitely very confident about signing most of our guys in the top 10 rounds.”

Patrick Ebert of Perfect Game USA, which organizes showcases for Draft prospects, reported that Neuhaus had a deal in place for a $771,000 bonus. That is exactly Major League Baseball’s slot recommendation for the 72nd overall pick.

Meanwhile, Williams, a right-handed pitcher who went to the Brewers in the second round at No. 54 overall, posted Sunday on Twitter that he was, “Heading to Milwaukee Wednesday then I’m off to AZ Thursday!”

Milwaukee would be the site of a physical, and the Brewers’ summer rookie league team is in Phoenix. But Williams’ agent, Jason Wood, said no agreement was in place as of midday Sunday.

MLB assigned a value of $1,017,300 for the 54th overall pick, but Wood said the Brewers and other clubs were aware going into the Draft that Williams sought a bonus above that figure. Williams, of Hazelwood West High School near St. Louis, has said he hoped to be a first-rounder.

“They know exactly what Devin wants and I’m very confident that something will get done,” Wood said.

The Brewers have a $3,944,600 bonus pool allotted for their top 10 selections. If the team exceeds its amount, it faces financial penalties or the loss of future picks.

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