August 2013

Axford says Braun call ‘satisfied quite a bit’

John Axford’s cellphone rang at about 1:30 p.m. CT on Friday as he was driving to Miller Park. Suspended Brewers slugger Ryan Braun wanted to explain himself.

Braun placed similar calls on Friday to a number of uniformed and non-uniformed Brewers personnel, the beginning of an apology tour that multiple clubhouse sources said would go public in the very near future.

Axford was satisfied after what he said was a back-and-forth discussion that lasted 10-15 minutes.

“I think he satisfied quite a bit,” Axford said. “I’m sure when he’s back next year, he’s going to be able to put this behind him. Talking to a couple of guys and being forthcoming, calling us and discussing things with us, I think that’s going to be good for him and good for all of us. If he wants to continue to discuss or talk about it, we’re definitely here for him and here for that.”

Braun called manager Ron Roenicke and a number of the team’s established players including Axford and catcher Jonathan Lucroy, who had been one of his staunchest supporters both in the wake of Braun’s successful appeal during the 2011-12 offseason, and during the time Braun was connected to the Miami wellness clinic Biogenesis. Some of Braun’s calls were to players not currently with the team, making it very likely that longtime teammates Corey Hart and Rickie Weeks were on his list.

After only vaguely admitting “mistakes” during a July 22 clubhouse meeting, hours before Major League Baseball announced Braun had accepted a suspension for the remainder of the 2013 season, Braun provided more details about his wrongdoings during the Friday phone calls.

“He definitely gave us more insight on things that have gone on,” Axford said. “I would expect that to be known [publicly] soon, too.”

Axford, who is the Brewers’ representative to the Players Association in addition to being a teammate of Braun’s since 2009, said it was important for Braun to reach out to key players before going public.

Braun is under contract with the Brewers through at least 2020.

“In here we’re close, we’re friends, we’re family, and you have to have faith and trust and belief in your friends and family,” Axford said. “Sure, you can be angry at your family, but if you want to make things better and turn things over, you have to be able to forgive and trust once again. I think that’s what we’re going to be able to do with Ryan.”

Axford made a point of calling Braun a “great teammate” and “great in the clubhouse” during his years with the Brewers.

“It’s not like he ever walked through this clubhouse with guys looking down at him or hating every moment that they spent with him,” Axford said. “He’s a great guy to be around, a great teammate. Guys care about him. …

“He knows he has my support. It’s unfortunate the way things have gone, but at the same time, you can’t just ignore somebody because of things that have happened. You can be upset, you can be angry, but at the same time, you have to be able to move past it at some point and still provide your support and friendship.”

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Brewers optimistic about Gomez injury

Carlos Gomez was sporting crutches and spoke of serious pain late Thursday, but the preliminary report about his sprained right knee was optimistic.

Gomez, injured when he crashed into the center field wall in the fourth inning of a 2-1 loss to the Reds, will undergo an MRI scan on Friday morning to determine the extent of his injury. The Brewers’ very early sense after head team physician William Raasch examined Gomez was that he avoided the sort of serious damage that led to ACL surgery last season for Mat Gamel and Alex Gonzalez.

Asked for his sense of the injury’s severity, Gomez said, “I feel really swollen and painful right now, but the doctor took a look and [said] it’s not as bad as I feel. He doesn’t think it’s something really serious. Right now, everything has started swelling and … it’s really painful right now and we’re going to find out tomorrow if there’s any damage.”

When Gamel and Gonzalez suffered torn ACLs on the same road trip last May, Brewers athletic trainers conducted manual tests and knew almost immediately what they were dealing with. Gomez underwent the same test on Thursday with much more promising results.

“It’s different,” Brewers manager Ron Roenicke said. “Dr. Raasch was in today and he already looked at [Gomez]. But you really never know until you have the MRI.”

Gomez also hit his right hip on the wall.

“It’s still really sore, but it’s not something I’m scared or worried about,” Gomez said. “I feel like when I hit the wall in the moment, my hip was really painful. But when I started walking around, it started to feel better. When I tried to run, my knee [did] not let me. I have to take the big step tomorrow and get the MRI to see if everything is fine. …

“The doctor said he doesn’t think we expect something bad. The way he checked my knee, he doesn’t expect something really dangerous. But the way I feel, it’s different. It feels painful.”

Gomez also missed some games earlier this season with a sprained left shoulder suffered in a crash with the same Miller Park wall.

“It’s part of the job,” he said. “You don’t want to hit the wall, you don’t want to get hurt, but sometimes you can’t control it. It’s part of the game.”

Said Roenicke: “It’s tough. He’s going to go after balls, he’s going to play hard, you want him to play hard. And yet, you certainly don’t want him to get hurt. If he is. we’re obviously not as good a team without him in the lineup or on defense.”

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Brewers weigh in on replay proposal

Brewers general manager Doug Melvin and manager Ron Roenicke each expressed skepticism about the “challenge” system of expanded instant replay proposed Thursday at the quarterly Owners Meetings in Cooperstown, N.Y., but players generally spoke in favor of more replay in baseball.

“I think it’s going to be strange because guys have been used to the human factor for so long,” catcher Jonathan Lucroy said. “But I’m a big believer in right versus wrong. I want to play the game the right way, and if they can determine the right call [via replay review] in a big situation, then that’s what’s right.”

Currently, instant replay is limited to boundary calls involving home runs. That system would be greatly expanded under a proposal introduced Thursday by a committee including Braves president John Schuerholz and former managers Joe Torre and Tony La Russa.

The new system, which still faces several levels of approval including a vote of MLB owners in November, would allow managers one challenge in the first six innings and two more challenges from the seventh through the end of the game. If the manager wins his appeal, he retains the challenge, but the challenge from the first six innings does not carry over. Replays would be reviewed by umpires at MLB.com headquarters in New York.

Precisely which plays will be reviewable, and which will remain non-reviewable, remains to be determined. Schuerholz said 89 percent of calls missed in the past would now be reviewable, but did not provide specifics.

Baseball expects to have the new system in place to start the 2014 season.

“I’m to the point now where I’m fine with instant replay. Let’s replay more things,” Roenicke said. “Actually, I’m getting tired of going out there and arguing. I am. So I’m in favor of replay.

“But I don’t like the ‘challenging.’ And the reason why is, in the NFL it works because they’ve got a guy sitting up there on a monitor, he’s got a headset. The head coach has a headset. What, am I going to start wearing a headset now? I don’t like that. There’s too many different things that happen in baseball that I don’t want to have that.”

Roenicke would prefer that an extra official sit in a press box booth and review close calls, similar to the system in the NFL during the final two minutes of each half.

Melvin said he was one of the few GMs — “I think we were four GMs out of 30,” he said — who voted in opposition of reviewing home run calls. He used a slippery slope argument.

“I was afraid that if we adopted it, that it wouldn’t end,” Melvin said. “You’d be wanting to replay something else. That was my fear of doing it the first time, and it’s what’s happening. I say maybe in the future. But I’m not for doing it just because the umpires had a bad year. Maybe think through it one more year.”

He added: “I’m always open to getting things right, but I’m a little concerned about totally taking instincts away from the umpires.”

Players were more receptive to the news.

“I know the umpires try to do their best, try to be perfect, but as a human being, you’re going to make mistakes,” said the Brewers’ other catcher, Martin Maldonado. “It makes so much difference when you get a call right.”

He was involved in one of the Brewers’ most controversial calls of the year on April 24 in San Diego, when Maldonado made the game-ending out for making contact with what he and the Brewers believed should have been ruled a foul ball. Instead of getting at least one more swing with a runner at second base, the Brewers lost, 2-1, and snapped a nine-game winning streak.

“I know that’s a tough call for the umpire, who is behind you and behind a catcher standing up,” Maldonado said. “But you don’t want to end a game like that.”

Said Lucroy: “Guys are going to have to get used to it, for sure. Hopefully it doesn’t make the games longer than they are, where everybody is waiting 10, 15 minutes for a call to be made. But think about it – if we had this, that dude [former Tigers pitcher Armando Galarraga] would have a perfect game. Whole playoff scenarios could be altered.”

 

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Weeks opts for surgery on hamstring

Rickie Weeks took the surgical route for his torn left hamstring, undergoing a procedure Thursday that will require a 4-6 month rehabilitation and should have Weeks ready for the start of 2014 Spring Training.

Dr. James Andrews performed the surgery in Pensacola, Fla. It was one of two options presented Weeks after a tendon in his hamstring tore from the bone on Aug. 7 in San Francisco. Because the tendon in question — the semitendinosus — is sometimes harvested and used in ACL repairs, Weeks could have simply strengthened the surrounding muscle and played on. The other option a surgery in which the tendon was re-attached to the bone.

The advantage of the surgical option, Brewers head athletic trainer Dan Wright said last week, “is it allows you to get back to the normal anatomy, so to speak. That’s the advantage — you try to get the leg as back to normal anatomy as you can. Without doing that, the leg can still heal and function, but theoretically you’re working on two-thirds of the hamstring as opposed to the full hamstring.

“Rickie’s a strong guy. He’s one of our best, most compliant, most dedicated guys. There’s no question he’s going to make a full recovery.”

When he returns, Weeks will be entering the final guaranteed season of his contract. The remainder of this season amounts to a try-out for second base prospect Scooter Gennett.

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Gomez, M’s catcher exchange words

The Brewers’ first run in Saturday’s 10-0 win was the most talked about after the game, with the potential to spill into Sunday’s series finale with the Mariners.

Carlos Gomez led off the seventh inning with a bunt single, then took second on Caleb Gindl’s hit-and-run infield single and broke for home on Khris Davis’ grounder to third. Instead of trying to slide, Gomez turned his right shoulder into Mariners catcher Humberto Quintero, jarring loose the baseball. As Quintero lay in the grass, nursing a right leg injury, Gomez touched the plate for a 1-0 Brewers lead.

Quintero remained in the game for what would become a big inning. Juan Francisco, Yuniesky Betancourt and Scooter Gennett followed with successive run-scoring hits, Gennett’s second Major League home run glancing off Mariners right fielder Michael Morse’s glove and clearing the fence to make it 6-0. All of those runs scored in the span of seven pitches.

When Gomez stepped to the plate for the second time in the inning, Quintero had sharp words for him.

“I don’t mean to hurt any player, but if he’s in front of the plate, what am I going to do?” Gomez said later. “You don’t even have a second to think, you run over [him] and after that, the guy says, ‘That’s not a clean play.’ I say, ‘What are you talking about? What do you mean? You’re in front of the plate.’”

Quintero, Gomez said, argued that he’d given Gomez an opening to slide. Gomez disagreed.

“He’s mad,” Gomez said. “He talked to me in bad language, and I talked to him back, too. I said, ‘Hey, come on. Keep it cool. You’re in front of the plate, what do you want me to do?’ And especially, I know what kind of catcher he is. I know he likes to drop the knee. I think it’s best to defend myself.

“I respect he has a lot of time and a lot of years in this job, but he has to take it like a man, not [complain] about [things].”

Did Gomez worry the disagreement would spill into Sunday’s series finale?

“I don’t think so,” Gomez said. ‘”I didn’t do nothing wrong. … If they want to go far, I’m ready for it.”

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Former All-Star Logan passes away

Johnny Logan, a four-time National League All-Star, the scrappy shortstop for the 1957 World Champion Milwaukee Braves and one of the great characters in Milwaukee’s history, baseball and otherwise, died Friday evening. He was 86.

Logan, who had battled kidney ailments for years, was surrounded by family when he passed away at the Clement J. Zablocki VA Medical Center in Milwaukee, which overlooks Miller Park and the former site of Milwaukee County Stadium, where Logan and future Hall of Famer Eddie Mathews were the enforcers for the great Braves teams of the 1950s.

More recently, Logan served as an area scout for the Brewers, and was a boisterous and beloved fixture at home games before his health failed.

“He’s one of my best friends, and even though you know it’s coming, it’s still hard,” said Brewers broadcaster Bob Uecker. “He’s been such a fixture around Milwaukee and with the organization. No matter what he did, he was always a Brewer. He wasn’t a Brave, he was a Brewer.”

The Brewers honored Logan in June with a star on the team’s Walk of Fame at Miller Park. Uecker served as emcee during a ceremony on the field before the Brewers played the Phillies.

“Believe me, this is the biggest honor that I received,” Logan said that day. “Getting an honor here in Milwaukee at Miller [Park] is outstanding. To me, I’m proud of being a Milwaukeean.”

He played in Milwaukee from 1953-61 and appeared in four All-Star Games as a member of the Braves. For his 13 year career, Logan hit .268 with 93 home runs and 547 RBI, leading the league in doubles in ’55, winning the World Series in ‘57 and the NL pennant in ’58. He finished his career with three seasons in Pittsburgh, then returned to Milwaukee and made a home there, twice running for Milwaukee County Sherriff in the 1970s.

“He was one of the toughest players I’ve ever been around,” Uecker said. “And a really good shortstop, too. He had a guy alongside him in Eddie Mathews who was another fireball, you know what I mean? I guy who wouldn’t take anything from anybody, and Johnny was the same way. Some of those games with the Cincinnati Reds with Johnny and [Reds second baseman] Johnny Temple — you knew something was going to happen every time. …

“Johnny has been such a great friend and I can think of hundreds of things that have happened with him.”

None of which are printable in full. One of them involved a brand new car and a banana bunch of Usinger’s sausage (I can’t believe I screwed that up in the original blog!) in the tailpipe.

“Some of the things that we did over the winter months, when I would come home and get all of the guys together,” Uecker said with a laugh. “Dan [Larrea, the Brewers’ traveling secretary] and Tony [Migliaccio, the clubhouse manager] and all the guys in the clubhouse, we’d go to lunch all the time. That was a regular event with Johnny, and I mean, some of the things that we did to enhance the lunches after were fantastic. To this day, until he really got sick there, Johnny would fight anybody in the world.”

The Brewers issued a statement:

“Johnny Logan was a longtime friend to Milwaukee baseball. His connection to both the Brewers and the Braves and the Milwaukee community was very strong. Virtually every person associated with the Milwaukee Brewers has been touched by Johnny through his many visits to the ballpark and terrific stories about his time in the game. We will miss Johnny deeply and will never forget his colorful character and personality.”

Funeral arrangements will be announced later, according to the club’s statement.

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Brewers react to Biogenesis suspensions

Brewers outfielder Ryan Braun remained silent Monday in the wake of 13 additional suspensions levied by Major League Baseball, a result of the league’s long investigation into the Florida wellness clinic known as Biogenesis. The new bans were levied exactly two weeks after MLB suspended Braun for the Brewers’ remaining 65 regular season games.

In the visitor’s clubhouse at AT&T Park, where the Brewers began a four-game series against the Giants on Monday, it was business as usual.

Asked whether he had a reaction to Monday’s suspensions, Brewers reliever and Players Association representative John Axford said, “Not really, other than to say it’s obviously a good step to clean up this game. That’s something every player wants, they want a clean sport. As far as that goes, I think that’s definitely a positive.”

At the same time, Axford said it was entirely appropriate for the union to help defend Rodriguez in his appeal.

“Our union is there for us and to defend us, and if we have a particular issue or gripe that we want brought up, we want to know our union is going to defend us no matter what the issue is,” Axford said. “I think this is exactly what the union should be doing.”

Several Brewers players expressed sympathy for the teammates of players suspended Monday, who were answering the same tough questions with which the Brewers struggled two weeks ago.

“You just have to step past it,” Axford said. “That’s what these teams are going to have to do. Some of these teams were looking ahead to this already — they had ideas and thoughts that this was going to happen. But until it actually happens, you don’t know what to expect. For us, it was just about moving forward and playing out the rest of the year. Obviously, we haven’t forgotten about Brauny, by any means, but it seems everyone has moved past it pretty well.”

Said Brewers catcher Jonathan Lucroy: “It’s tough for these other teams, especially the ones in the playoff races. You lose your big guys. It’s tough, but it’s part of the process, and I’m glad to see the game is getting cleaned up. Hopefully this will all be behind us soon so everybody can focus on baseball. This has been a dark cloud over the game for a little bit, and hopefully we can get this cleaned up, move on and guys don’t try to do it any more.”

With these other suspensions out there, is it time for Braun to talk? That question produced a variety of answers. No one would answer anything on the record other than, “That’s up to Ryan.”

“It’s absolutely up to Ryan,” Axford said. “The legal matters that still surround it, I don’t know enough — I don’t know anything, really — about what’s going on. That’s up to Ryan and the group that he’s with.

“Obviously, there’s a confidentiality in place for our union [as it relates to] the Joint Drug Program, and that needs to stay in place. Everyone wants to know everything all the time, but we have this agreement in place to protect confidentiality, and it’s just unfortunate that a lot of it has leaked at times. This is not MLB against the players, it’s the players wanting to clean up the game, too, and that’s why that confidentiality is in there.”

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