June 2013

Brewers’ next step: Sign Williams, Neuhaus

It turns out the Brewers drafted a serious Cardinals fan and the son of a Cubs fan with their two picks on Day 1 of the First-Year Player Draft.

“I couldn’t be a Cardinals fan anymore last night,” said right-hander Devin Williams, Milwaukee’s top pick.

Things should be a bit easier for the Brewers’ second pick, Florida prep infielder Tucker Neuhaus. He was born in Minnesota, has family in central Wisconsin, and his father, Kenneth, played baseball at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire. But Kenneth Neuhaus grew up a big Cubs fan, and took his son to many a game at Wrigley Field.

“To see me get drafted by the Brewers, right away he said, ‘Now I’m just a Wrigley Field fan but a fan of the Brewers,’” said Tucker Neuhaus, who called himself a big fan of the Green Bay Packers.

Williams, who went to the Brewers in the second round Thursday with the 54th overall pick, and Neuhaus, who went 72nd overall in the Competitive Balance phase, participated in conference calls with reporters on Friday afternoon.

Even though Brewers area scout Harvey Kuenn Jr. had shown keen interest in Williams throughout the process, the pick still came as a surprise.

“I actually thought I would be off the board before they picked,” Williams said, “but I know they had been pretty interested. They sent a lot of people to see me play this spring, and I’m happy to be their first pick. … I was pretty surprised. I thought I would go there at the end of the first round, but I’m happy with where I went.”

Does that mean he could be a tough sign? Williams has a scholarship waiting for him at Missouri.

“No, I don’t think I will be that tough of a sign,” Williams said. “I’m ready to get my pro career started.”

Neuhaus, who is represented by agent Barry Meister and has a college commitment to Louisville, sounded even more eager.

“My area scout [Tim McIlvane] came over today and we just talked about everything that’s going to go down in the next few days and the summer,” Neuhaus said. “My agent and advisor, I think, are just doing a little bit of negotiations right now but I think that’s going to be probably over by the end of the day. Hopefully I’ll sign tomorrow or Sunday and be out in Arizona by Tuesday.”

Neuhaus has had a challenging few months. His older brother, Tyler, was killed in an auto accident in November, and Tucker’s senior season was ruined by injuries, including a ruptured eardrum suffered with Brewers amateur scouting director Bruce Seid in the stands, and a right quadriceps strain.

He finished his senior season with fewer than 30 at-bats, but still had a good feeling about being drafted by the Brewers. He worked out for the Royals in Kansas City on Sunday, for the Twins in Minneapolis on Monday and for the Cubs in Chicago on Tuesday morning. On Monday afternoon, McIlvane requested that Neuhaus make Tuesday a doubleheader, so after his morning session at Wrigley Field he hustled up to Miller Park.

“That work paid off — it did everything for me,” Neuhaus said. “I went over there for a private workout and got to hit on the field and meet all the guys. That was just a blast. Walking out of there, I remember saying to  my dad, ‘I don’t know what it was about Miller Park, but that was my favorite out of all of them.’”

He remembered another conversation from months earlier, when he was called over to the fence by a stranger who apparently knew about Neuhaus’ family tragedy and injury woes.

“He just said, ‘It’s good to see you have a smile on your face, that shows a lot about you,’” Neuhaus said. “I said, ‘Thank you, sir,’ and right at the end, he goes, ‘By the way, I’m the scouting director with the Brewers.’ That was the first time I really met [Seid]. The first impression was that after all the adversity, I was still staying positive. I think that first impression really helped me with Bruce.”

How did his brother’s death change him as a person and a baseball player?

“It really just made me tougher mentally,” Neuhaus said. “Adversity builds character, and a lot of kids don’t go through that type of adversity at this kind of age, or really ever, in their life. I knew that right away it’s only going to be one more thing that lights the fire every morning. In the long run, it’s going to pay off; going through adversity like that is only going to make me stronger. When I go through adversity in the Minors and the Majors, it’s not going to compare to what I’ve already been through.

“I try to be positive with almost everything. It’s a terrible thing that happened, but at the end of the day I try to look at it as a positive.”

The 2013 First-Year Player Draft is still going. You can follow all of the picks with MLB.com’s Draft Tracker.

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Braun sits because of sore thumb

Ryan Braun was absent from the Brewers’ lineup Wednesday, with manager Ron Roenicke citing a flare-up of a right thumb injury that has bothered Braun for weeks.

Braun’s absence came with him squarely in the sports spotlight, after an ESPN “Outside the Lines” report renewed worry at Miller Park that he could face a suspension. But it was also notable because the Brewers sat cleanup man Aramis Ramirez on Wednesday as well, leaving the team without both of its usual middle-of-the-order hitters in the lineup against A’s right-hander Bartolo Colon. Ramirez has been missing most day games following night games to rest a still-healing knee.

“I would prefer, ideally, to have them different days,” Roenicke said. “Sometimes the way the schedule works out — what was it, a week ago I had them off the same day, also?”

That was May 27, the first day Braun needed a break because of a painful thumb injury that has forced him to adjust his swing.

“It’s the same thing with ‘Braunie’ [on Wednesday],” Roenicke said. “We gain a little bit, and then he’ll have a game where it really bothers him. Somehow, we have to get rid of this thing in the thumb. We need our third and fourth hitters. We’ve got both of them that I’m kind of nursing along, and we really need production.

“I think for us to get on a roll — we’re pitching better now, and hopefully that continues – but I’m concerned that the offense with [Jean Segura and Norichika Aoki] getting on base a lot, both [Braun and Ramirez] need to drive in runs, and both of them are trying to get by nursing some injuries that’s really preventing them from playing well. Braunie hasn’t swung the bat well for a while, and ‘Ramie’ is kind of off and on, but he’s not himself, either.”

Braun entered Wednesday batting .292 with nine home runs and 35 RBIs. He is batting .213 with one home run and seven RBIs in his last 15 starts, and was homerless in his last 51 plate appearances.

On top of that, the Brewers went into Wednesday’s game 22-35, and, personally, Braun was back in an unwanted spotlight after ESPN reported that Anthony Bosch, the former head of the Miami anti-aging clinic accused of providing banned substances to a number of high-profile players, had agreed to cooperate with Major League Baseball’s ongoing probe. According to the report, MLB will seek to suspend some 20 players connected to the clinic, including Braun, based on Bosch’s testimony.

Roenicke insisted he has seen no outward signs of frustration from his star left fielder.

“Not outwardly,” Roenicke said. “He’s frustrated, just like a lot of guys on the team are. He’s frustrated for two reasons: Because we’re not playing well as a team … and he’s not performing at a level he’s used to performing at. He has spurts where he does well, but he really hasn’t been consistent for a long period of time. Because we’re not winning, it becomes bigger to him.”

Of the Miami issue, Roenicke said, “It really doesn’t bother me, because I don’t know what’s going on, and really it’s not an issue to me. If something comes up, it comes up later on, but I really haven’t thought about this. The rest of the team, it’s not an issue. It’s something that’s been ongoing for a while now. Why it came up yesterday, I have no idea. There’s no reason for me to think any different about it now than I did in Spring Training.”

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Braun: ‘The truth has not changed’

A smiling Ryan Braun faced reporters Tuesday night and remained defiant in his innocence, a few hours after an ESPN “Outside the Lines” report raised new concerns among the faithful at Miller Park that Braun could face a suspension in the coming weeks.

ESPN ran a story minutes before the Brewers took the field against the A’s indicating that Anthony Bosch, the former head of the anti-aging clinic accused of providing banned substances to a number of high-profile players, had agreed to cooperate with Major League Baseball’s ongoing probe. According to the report, MLB will seek to suspend 20 players connected to the clinic, including Braun, based on evidence provided by Bosch.

After the Brewers’ 10-inning, 4-3 victory, Braun was greeted by a crowd of cameras and microphones at his locker.

“A lot of people here,” he said. “I assume I know why everybody is here. I’ve already addressed everything related to the Miami situation. I addressed it in Spring Training. I will not make any further statements about it. The truth has not changed. I don’t know the specifics of the story that came out today, but I’ve already addressed it, I’ve already commented on it, and I’ll say nothing further about it.”

He did field several questions, saying the threat of a suspension was not on his mind during the game.

“No, of course not,” Braun said. “I’ve dealt with this off and on for the last year and a half, I guess. I think I’m pretty good at avoiding distractions.”

He said he informed about the story by a member of the club’s public relations department after the game, and “I haven’t read the story or heard any specifics about it. … I have nothing else to say about any of that stuff tonight.”

Except that, “We all deal with challenges in life. I think for all of us as baseball players there’s distractions, whether it’s your family situation, relationship situation; there’s all kinds of things that come up throughout the course of the season. For all of us, we have a job to do regardless of what those distractions are. Obviously, this hasn’t been fun. It’s not easy. It’s not something I enjoy. But regardless, I have a job to do and I do my best to do my job every day.”

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Brewers shake-up roster

The Brewers have made some major roster changes today. They:

– Recalled second base prospect Scooter Gennett from Triple-A Nashville in the most notable portion of the shake-up. Gennett, 23, was batting .297 in the Minors and may not be the sort of player who want to stash on the bench. This could be significant for the still-slumping Rickie Weeks.

– Released veteran infielder Alex Gonzalez, who returned from knee surgery and could not take advantage to start at first base, batting .177 in 113 at-bats.

– Optioned right-hander Mike Fiers back to Triple-A Nashville, a day after Fiers surrendered seven runs, five earned, in 1 2/3 innings of what he termed an “embarassing” loss to the Phillies.

– Acquired third baseman Juan Francisco in a trade with the Braves for Minor League left-hander Thomas Keeling. Francisco, 25, is a career .254 hitter with 19 home runs and 77 RBIs in 209 Major League games with the Reds and Braves. He hit .241 with five homers and 16 RBIs in 35 games with Atlanta this season but was designated for assignment on Thursday.

Francisco will be in uniform No. 21 for Tuesday’s game against Oakland at Miller Park.

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Lucroy, Roenicke say umps got it right

For a few fleeting moments in the eighth inning Sunday, Jonathan Lucroy had homered for the third straight day, this time a grand slam. Then the umpires went to the video tape.

In the first use of replay review this season involving a Brewers batter, Lucroy’s slam was turned into a three-run triple by an umpiring crew led by Tom Hallion. Lucroy was eventually stranded at third base, and the Brewers went to the bottom of the eighth inning trailing by three runs in what became a spirited, 7-5 loss to the Phillies.

Neither Lucroy nor Brewers manager Ron Roenicke mounted an argument.

“I thought it was the right call,” Roenicke said. “They said it has to clear that little fence there, and to me, it looked like it hit the little fence. My eyes aren’t that good, but that’s what it looked like.”

“It didn’t go out,” Lucroy said.

The Brewers trailed, 7-0, entering the eighth before staging a rally against Phillies starter Cliff Lee. He’d allowed only three hits through seven innings before surrendering four singles and a run in the eighth, exiting in favor of right-handed reliever Justin De Fratus with two outs and two runners on.

Aramis Ramirez walked to load the bases for Lucroy, who homered twice in Friday’s series opener, added a key insurance homer Saturday and entered Sunday batting .462 over a seven-game hitting streak that was on the line entering his final at-bat. He fouled off four consecutive two-strike pitches, then connected with a slider and sent it down the left-field line where the ball caromed off the top of the outfield fence.

The initial call was home run, but after a lengthy review, Hallion emerged with a reversal.

“It hit the top of that wire fence and kicked hard to the right back into play,” Hallion said. “I had thought it hit the back green [a wall beyond the fence], but it hit the top of that fence and kicked right. So once we realized it was not home run, I had the crew and we each put together where the ball went to, who picked the ball up and then we just put the runners where [their best judgment said they should be].”

The outfield fence at Citizens Bank Park is particularly tricky. It consists of a green padded wall topped by two metal fences with a flower bed in-between. A hit that lands in the flower bed is a home run, but Lucroy’s struck the railing in front of the flowers and caromed back into play.

Illustrating one of the challenges of instant replay in baseball, Hallion said positioning the runners took time.

“The easy part was seeing where the ball hit and seeing that it was not a home run,” Hallion said.

“He ruled it a triple. In our yard, I don’t know,” Phillies manager Charlie Mahuel said. “First of all, you can’t argue with the decision anyway. At the same time, I look at it and I was hoping it was a double. It would save two runs that way [versus a grand slam]. It didn’t happen. It’s just the way it went. It turned out OK for us.”

Here are some photos of the area where Lucroy’s hit struck the railing atop the padded wall, and a look at that complicated set-up of plantings. There is a sizable gap of several feet between the railing that Lucroy struck, and the green wall from which some fans speculated the baseball must have caromed:

photo (7)

photo (8)

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