July 2013

Brewers aiming for Thursday with Braun

After a good day in the batting cage on Saturday, Brewers left fielder Ryan Braun was on track to beat the earlier estimates and return to the Brewers’ lineup before the All-Star break. Thursday’s series opener in Arizona looked like a good bet.

On the disabled list since June 14 because of an inflamed nerve between his right thumb and forefinger, Braun took dry swings last week in Washington D.C., then took batting practice on the field Saturday for the first time in weeks. He was scheduled to hit in the batting cages on Sunday, on the field Monday and Tuesday, and, if those sessions go just as well, could return to the Brewers’ lineup by Thursday, then the team begins its final four-game series before the break.

Braun could be ready earlier than that, but Thursday looks like a convenient day for the Brewers to make a roster move, with young right-hander Johnny Hellweg slated to start against the Reds on Wednesday afternoon.

Braun and the Brewers have resisted setting firm timetables, so neither the player nor manager Ron Roencike would make any pronouncements on Sunday.

“I wouldn’t say [Thursday] is as soon as he could play,” Roenicke said, “but I think that’s probably a good thing to shoot for. I know he’s probably wanting to go before that, but we’ll see how it goes [Monday] and the next day.”

Braun would not play all nine innings at the start, nor would he play all four games against the D-backs.

“He’s got to get his legs under him,” Roenicke said. “If we can get him maybe back before the All-Star break and let him play in some games, and then use the break as kind of how you would recuperate in Spring Training, that would be ideal.”

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Gallardo on trade rumors

The first serious Yovani Gallardo trade rumor is on the board, linking the right-hander to the Arizona Diamondbacks, but Gallardo said this morning that he had more important things to worry about.

“You can think about it all you want, but there’s nothing you can do,” Gallardo said. “There’s really nothing you can do. You just have to go out there and pitch and then wait around to see what happens. It’s already hard enough to pitch at this level to begin with, so the last thing you need is to be thinking about things like that.”

Two reports late Wednesday said the D-backs and Brewers had talked about Gallardo, and one of the reports said Arizona had also inquired about relievers John Axford, Jim Henderson and Francisco Rodriguez. But both reports said no deal was imminent.

Gallardo is signed through next season, with a club option for 2015.

“We’ve got control over Yo for this year, next year and an option year — and it’s at a pretty friendly price for the type of pitcher he is,” said Brewers manager Ron Roenicke, who planned to talk with Gallardo about staying focused amid the swirling rumors. “So unless Doug [Melvin] gets something that really makes sense, he’s going to be with us.”

Said Gallardo: “Like I said before, I obviously haven’t been in this situation before. I still have to go out there and pitch, no matter what happens. It seems like there’s names being brought up every year, so it’s not like it changes. It’s something that happens in this business. Whether I’m here or somewhere else, I still have to go out and pitch and perform for whichever team.”

Would it get to the point he asked Melvin about the veracity of a specific rumor?

“No, I wouldn’t ever ask,” Gallardo said. “The main focus for me is pitching. Whatever rumors are out there with whatever teams it is, I’m going to go out there and pitch every five days. Yet again, I understand the business side of it. That’s how this game is. I just have to focus on what I can control, what I can do.

“But like I said, we all hear things. I’m not going to lie. We all hear rumors or talks and things like that. But basically I just leave it at that. I hear them, and then don’t think about it too much. If it’s going to happen, it’s going to happen.”

A couple of weeks ago, Gallardo said he could not name any of the 10 teams on his limited no-trade list. Now he said he could name “a few.”

“It’s obviously depending on the situation,” he said. “It’s 10 teams. If you think about it, that’s really not a lot.”

Asked what he would tell Gallardo, Roenicke said, “It’s pretty basic. Just making sure they’re staying focused on the things they need to do. This game — this life, really — we don’t control much that goes on. We can control our attitude, and that’s about it. We wake up in the morning, you tell yourself your attitude is going to be good and then the rest of the day you’re not in control of anything. A pitcher goes out there, he can make great pitches, and in this game a hitter can cue one off the end of the bat and end up driving in two runs. To worry about everything that goes on can really beat you up if you let it.”

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Reports say D-backs eyeing Gallardo

The D-backs have been discussing a trade for Brewers Opening Day starter Yovani Gallardo, according to two reports late Tuesday.

Both FoxSports.com and CBSSports.com reported the teams had talked, with the former saying Arizona had also shown interest in relievers John Axford, Jim Henderson and Francisco Rodriguez, and the latter saying Milwaukee was eyeing left-handed D-backs prospect Tyler Skaggs. Gallardo is 27 and is under contract through next season, with a club option for 2015.

Both reports said no deal was imminent.

Brewers general manager Doug Melvin has been open about his willingness to consider trades, with the team sitting in the National League Central cellar even after back-to-back wins over the Nationals. He is in Washington D.C. but did not attend Tuesday’s rain-threatened game, opting to remain at the team hotel to work the phones with pro scouting director Zack Minasian and special assistant Dick Groch.

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Roenicke insists Brewers haven’t quit

Milwaukee manager Ron Roenicke forcefully disputed the latest Major League scout to criticize the Brewers’ hustle, insisting he’s seen no signs of quit despite his team’s spot in the National League Central cellar.

Roenicke made his comments in response to a column by FoxSports.com’s Ken Rosenthal, who quoted an anonymous scout saying of the Brewers, “There’s a lot of quit on that team.” Last month, another scout offered similar criticism to CBSSports.com’s Jon Heyman.

“I don’t see it,” Roenicke said. “I see sometimes that a guy isn’t running down to first base hard. A couple guys I’ve told not to. We had one [injury] blow-out last year because of it, and Aramis [Ramirez], I just flat-out tell he can’t do it. But there’s some other guys once in a while that don’t run hard down to first base.

“Other than that, whoever makes that comment [doesn't] know what they’re talking about. Because we’re still getting after it the way I think we should. Whenever you do not score runs, it always looks like you’ve got no energy. Offense brings energy. It brings it to the dugout. So when you don’t score runs, I don’t care what team it is in baseball, you can look at every single one of them, if they get shut out and you watch the bench during the game, you’ll say, ‘Hey, they didn’t have any energy.’”

The anonymous criticism irks Roenicke.

“There’s nothing to it,” he said. “If there was something to it, believe me, I would have meetings about it. I haven’t had to do that, which I think is really good, as bad as we are playing. I’m glad these guys are still trying to get after it, going out and playing hard every day. We’ve got a lot of guys banged up who won’t come out of the lineup. They need to [rest], and they’re still wanting to play every day. For the people who don’t know these things, they have no idea what they’re talking about.”

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New information on Aoki contract

Contrary to previous reporting, and with potential implications for the July 31 nonwaiver Trade Deadline, Brewers outfielder Norichika Aoki will be a free agent when his current contract expires after this season or next.

Previously, a club official told MLB.com that Aoki’s two-year contract, which runs through the end of 2013 and has a $1.5 million option for 2014, did not include language calling for the Brewers to release him when that deal is up. Under that scenario, assuming the Brewers exercised his ’14 option (a near certainty considering Aoki’s successful transition to the U.S. Major Leagues and reasonable price tag), Aoki would have had three years of arbitration-eligibility from 2015-17 and would have remained Brewers property.

But that is not the case, according to Aoki’s agent, Nez Balelo of CAA Sports, and Brewers assistant general manager Gord Ash, who double-checked the language in the contract on Monday. It includes language stipulating Aoki will be an untethered free agent at the end of his current deal, whether or not the Brewers exercise their option.

That is common practice for players making the jump from Japan to the U.S. like Aoki, who was a three-time batting champion for the  Tokyo Yakult Swallows. That team posted Aoki in December 2011, and the Brewers won negotiating rights with a $2.5 million bid, then signed Aoki to a two-year deal that guaranteed $2.5 million plus incentives.

Aoki, 31, entered Monday batting .284 with a .362 on-base percentage, 43 runs scored and nine stolen bases. Considering he is at most a season and a half from free agency, and the Brewers are expected to be sellers at the Trade Deadline, Aoki could be an appealing trade chip. Brewers general manager Doug Melvin has already fielded calls about his relievers, including right-handers John Axford and Francisco Rodriguez, and has indicated an openness to making trades with an eye toward the future.

The Brewers have a strong stable of outfield prospects, including Logan Schafer, who began this season as a Major League reserve but has been playing regularly with left fielder Ryan Braun on the disabled list, and Triple-A Nashville’s Khris Davis, Caleb Gindl and Josh Prince. Davis and Gindl are each on MLB.com’s list of the top 20 Brewers prospects (Davis at No. 14 and Gindl at No. 16), as are Double-A Huntsville’s Kentrail Davis (No. 19), advanced Class A Brevard County’s Mitch Haniger (No. 10) and Class A Wisconsin’s Victor Roache (No. 7) and Tyrone Taylor (No. 13).

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