April 2014

Brewers considering adding a reliever

Brewers manager Ron Roenicke had little time Wednesday to savor the fact his club had baseball’s best record by a full three games. There were injury reports to gather on his banged-up position players, and pitch charts to pore over for a hard-worked bullpen.

The good news was that shortstop Jean Segura is expected back in the lineup Thursday in Cincinnati, according to Roenicke, after missing four starts with a facial laceration, and that third baseman Aramis Ramirez should be back, according to Ramirez, after missing two starts with a bruised left elbow.

Left Right fielder Ryan Braun remained day-to-day with a right rib-cage strain, and the same status applied to a slew of Brewers relievers, who have pitched remarkably well and alarmingly often during the Brewers hot start.

Four extra-inning games in the span of 10 days didn’t help. Neither does the fact the Brewers are still being cautious with 22-year-old Rule 5 Draft pick Wei-Chung Wang, who pitched only three times in the team’s first 27 games.

“We need to worry about it,” Roenicke said. “[Brewers special assistant Craig] Counsell, when he gets in here a little bit, we need to talk about some things. We can’t keep saying we’re OK if the starter goes deep. You’re still having to cover some of the innings.”

Kyle Lohse on Tuesday delivered the Brewers’ Major League-leading 22nd quality start, but the relievers are nonetheless piling up innings. Only 20 big league relievers had been used at least 14 times through Tuesday, and the Brewers have three of them. Closer Francisco Rodriguez entered the day tied for the Major League lead with 16 appearances (all of them scoreless) and was deemed unavailable on Wednesday. Left-hander Will Smith finally allowed a run Tuesday in his 15th appearance. Tyler Thornburg went two innings Tuesday for his 13th consecutive scoreless appearance, and has pitched 14 times.

“We’ll try to figure out what we can do to ease this,” Roenicke said. “We hate to go shorter on the bench, because we’re so short already, but it would be nice to have another arm in here.”

A potential move would be dependent on the health of Braun, Ramirez and Segura. The Brewers have so far avoided assigning Braun to the disabled list, and Roenicke did not indicate Wednesday whether that was still a possibility. Utility man Elian Herrera has options, but his versatility is very valuable to the Brewers in their current state. Second baseman Rickie Weeks has contributed little, but is due more than $9 million for the remainder of this season.

Among the relievers available at Triple-A Nashville are Rob Wooten, who is on the 40-man roster and has already appeared for the Brewers this season. Another right-hander, Donovan Hand, is pitching well but is not on the 40-man roster. If the Brewers want length, they couldd call-up top prospect Jimmy Nelson.

Whether or not the Brewers adjust the roster before Thursday’s game in Cincinnati, they could have a move to make Saturday when outfielder Logan Schafer’s DL stint expires. Schafer had been on rehab assignment at Class A Brevard County, and was advanced to Nashville on Wednesday.

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MRI alters Braun’s diagnosis

Ryan Braun emerged from an MRI scan on Sunday with a slightly different diagnosis for his right rib-cage injury. Instead of strained intercostals, Braun actually has a strained oblique.

“The main thing is we know exactly what it is now,” Braun said, “and that means we know exactly how to treat it.”

Is one diagnosis better than the other?

“I don’t know if it makes a difference,” said Brewers manager Ron Roenicke, who gets daily status updates from members of the team’s medical staff. “Intercostals could take maybe a little longer to heal up than obliques. We don’t see too many intercostals anyore. Now we see more obliques for some reason. Intercostals — I did mine way back when — you start talking about things between the ribs, and it’s a little harder to get the blood flow there. That’s why they take longer to heal.”

Braun has been getting twice daily treatments, and walked around the clubhouse Monday wearing an “H-Wave” instrument, which electrically stimulates muscles to increase blood flow.

Roenicke mentioned a 3-5 day timetable for Braun on Sunday, but reiterated on Monday that it is notoriously difficult to predict recovery from rib-cage injuries. The Brewers were also without shortstop Jean Segura on Monday as he continued recovering from being struck in the face by Braun’s bat on Saturday night.

“I’m totally guessing when I say those numbers, too,” Roenicke said. “I ask the trainers what they think, but when you talk about the oblique muscle with Braun, it’s really hard to guess how long that takes. Siggy’s injury is a little bit different. When that swelling goes down, and he looked better today, if he looks better again tomorrow, hopefully he can take some BP [on Tuesday], and if he does, maybe he can see some action on Wednesday. Or maybe we have to go to Thursday.”

What about Braun? Is there any chance he plays against the Cardinals?

“He was a lot better today,” Roenicke said. “I didn’t think he’d be able to, but sometimes, these things, you come in and they’re a lot better. So if he’s a lot better again tomorrow, it probably means he can start taking BP, and then we’ll see where we are.”

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Brewers very shorthanded today

Ron Roenicke had his fingers crossed before managing the most shorthanded game of his career on Sunday, when right fielder Ryan Braun and shortstop Jean Segura were sidelined by injuries and backup catcher Martin Maldonado served the final game of his suspension.

A team doctor spent Sunday morning examining Braun, who exited Saturday win over the Cubs with a right rib-cage strain, and Segura, who was struck in the face by Braun’s bat earlier in the game as Braun got loose on the top step of the dugout, but Roenicke said there were no immediate plans to place either player on the disabled list.

Segura had stitches Saturday night and should be active in a few days. Braun’s absence is much more open-ended.

“I’ve dealt with it before, and it’s uncomfortable,” said Braun, who has been dealing with a strained intercostal muscle for several days. “Sleeping’s not very good. I’ll get treatment twice today and probably get treatment twice every day, and see what happens. Hope it gets better.”

Asked whether he worried he might end up on the DL, Braun said, “You know I don’t speculate on that. It’s day to day. I remain optimistic. I’ll get my treatment.”

Segura was not available to reporters during the open clubhouse session but had a nasty cut under his right eye. Braun has long warmed up by swinging his bat on the top dugout step when he is “in the hole,” especially of late because he has stopped taking pre-game swings in the batting cage to protect his troublesome right thumb. Teammates and coaches are aware of the practice and usually stay away.

Braun still felt terrible about the accident on Sunday morning.

“Whenever you hurt one of your friends, no matter how it happened, it’s always kind of disturbing,” he said.

Roenicke, meanwhile, was tasked with managing a game with only two position players available on the bench: Mark Reynolds, who could play anywhere but catcher, and Rickie Weeks, who is considered by the club a second baseman, period. Pitchers Yovani Gallardo and Kyle Lohse were at the ready Sunday just in case, Gallardo probably to pinch-hit and Lohse to play a corner outfield spot in an emergency.

As of Sunday morning, Brewers officials had not discussed with Roenicke a DL move for either Braun or Segura.

“We don’t expect them to be real long, but you never know,” Roenicke said.

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TJ surgeries relatively rare for Crew

While we await official word on right-hander Johnny Hellweg, who is seeking a second opinion on what the Brewers have diagnosed as a torn ulnar collateral ligament in his elbow, here’s some interesting data provided by the ballclub:

Over the last 3 years, the Brewers have experienced six Tommy John surgeries (all Minor Leaguers). For reference purposes, the most for any other organization in that span is 27, and the fewest is four. The Brewers have the third-lowest number at six. The median is 15.5 and the average is 13.3.

Five clubs, including the Brewers, have not had any Tommy John surgeries for Major Leaguers. Nine other teams have had at least four Major Leaguers undergo the surgery.

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So long, long relief: Thornburg thriving late

(Rob Tringali/Getty Images)

(Rob Tringali/Getty Images)

Brewers right-hander Tyler Thornburg still wants to be a starting pitcher in the Major Leagues, but for now, he sure looks good as a reliever.

Pegged as the Brewers’ long man on Opening Day, the 25-year-old has evolved quickly into a bona fide set-up man. In Wednesday’s win over the Padres, Thornburg made his 11th consecutive scoreless appearance since allowing a run in his season debut, and will enter a series against the Cubs on Friday with 12 strikeouts in 12 1/3 innings, a 0.73 ERA and a .143 opponents’ average.

During one stretch, Thornburg retired 21 consecutive batters over seven outings, the Brewers’ longest such streak since Derrick Turnbow set down 22 in a row during his run as a dominating closer in 2005. Thornburg’s streak was finally snapped when the reigning National League MVP, Andrew McCutchen, smacked a double last week in Pittsburgh.

“Who knows?” Brewers manager Ron Roenicke said. “This guy could end up being a closer. I don’t know.”

Roenicke isn’t playing hard to get: He really does not know what the future holds for Thornburg. Neither does general manager Doug Melvin, who, like Roenicke, is keeping an open mind about Thornburg’s ultimate role, saying the Brewers will make their call based on organizational need. Ditto, they say, for left-hander Will Smith, who is off to a similarly sensational start in relief.

Thornburg is honest about his personal preference.

“I mean, I honestly feel like throwing 200 innings a year to help your team win baseball games is going to do a little bit more than throwing 80,” Thornburg said. “Yeah, ultimately, I’d like to be a starter, just because I could help the team win more with that many innings. But again, the late innings decide a ton of ballgames.”

So far this year, Thornburg’s velocity is up (93.9 mph average fastball, according to data from FanGraphs.com), his curveball is still sharp and his change-up is being featured more often.

He’s staying open-minded about his future.

“Any time you’re doing something well, you can see yourself doing something like that,” he said. “But I don’t think it’s anything like, ‘I’m good at this, I want to be a reliever.’ Heck, what was my ERA as a starter last year? It’s one of those things that the toughest thing is bouncing around and not getting used to one thing. I feel like as long as I can get used to one thing — if I can get used to being a reliever, I can do a really, really good job.”

For more on Thornburg’s thriving in relief, check Brewers.com later today for the full story. For now, what do you think?

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Hellweg has torn elbow ligament

Right-hander Johnny Hellweg, the Brewers’ No. 7 prospect according to MLB.com, was diagnosed today with a torn ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow, an injury that often requires so-called Tommy John surgery and a 12-18 month rehabilitation.

The diagnosis followed an examination in Milwaukee with the Brewers’ head physician, Dr. William Raasch. Assistant general manager Gord Ash declined to say whether the ligament was fully torn or partially torn, pending Hellweg’s appointment next week with Dr. James Andrews. The club would know more then about a prognosis, Ash said.

Hellweg last pitched Sunday in Omaha, allowing two earned runs on four hits in 3 2/3 innings, with one strikeout and five walks. He felt a pop in his elbow and threw nine more pitches before leaving the game.

“There were no warning signs of any kind,” Ash said.

Hellweg joins a growing list of professional pitchers dealing with a potentially serious elbow injury this season, including the Rays’ Matt Moore and the Yankees’ Ivan Nova most recently. Brandon Beachy, Patrick Corbin, Kris Medlen and Jarrod Parker have undergone Tommy John surgery in recent weeks. 

“I don’t know if I’d call it an epidemic, but it’s certainly been an injury of note this season,” Ash said. “We had two [Tommy John surgeries in the Minor League system] last year. We’re probably on the lower number of clubs in this over the last four or five years.”

The 25-year-old Hellweg came to the Brewers from the Angels along with shortstop Jean Segura and right-hander Ariel Pena in a July 2012 trade for Zack Greinke. He was the Pacific Coast League pitcher of the year in 2013, going 12-5 with a 3.15 ERA, but struggled in a Major League call-up. He began 2014 back at Triple-A Nashville and was 1-2 with a 4.95 ERA in four starts.

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Gomez: ‘It’s 2014. It’s a game. Just enjoy it’

“I’ve got nothing to say because that’s in the past,” Brewers center fielder Carlos Gomez told reporters Monday afternoon, referring to his role in Sunday’s throwdown with the Pirates at PNC Park. “We’ve got a game today, and it is important.”

Then he talked anyway, for about five minutes. Gomezsoftened on his stance that he would appeal any suspension. Now he wants to hear Joe Torre’s ruling first.

“To be honest, I don’t know anything,” Gomez said. “I’ve just been watching TV, and the only thing I hear is my dad and my mother talking to me. They don’t want to see something like that. I said, ‘I don’t mean to do that, but things happen in the game. We know it’s not good for baseball, but when you have 50 men outside, something can happen. It’s not like we wanted things to happen like that. It’s what it is, and we have to move. That’s in the past.”

He referenced the fact he was suspended after a similar showdown with the Braves last year, when Gomez took a long look at a home run off Paul Maholm an then shouted at Maholm on the way to first base. Gomez believes Maholm intentionally hit him with a pitch on purpose in June. After the ensuing altercation, Gomez accepted a one-game suspension and apologized.

Not this time.

“Last year was a different case,” Gomez said. “Last year, I know I didn’t start running. That’s why I apologized last year, because I disrespected the Braves. I’m not that guy. It was the heat of the moment, and I don’t try to disrespect nobody. Before everything happened [on Sunday], I’m not planning this, like, ‘OK, I’m going to hit the ball, I’m going to do this.’ It just happened like that.

“I’m not looking at anything. Ninety-nine percent of my home runs, by doubles, I don’t know where the ball lands. Ask my teammates. I ask every day, ‘Where did the ball land?’ They say, ‘Is this a joke?’ I say, ‘No, I don’t look where the ball goes.’ I don’t look at the pitchers. That’s just the way I throw the bat when I hit the ball. And I run the bases hard, like anybody, with my head down. That’s it. People say the worst stuff about things I’ve been doing for a long time. It’s not like disrespect. It’s not like I show people up. I don’t get sensitive when they strike me out. I don’t say, ‘Hey, why you throw me 98?’ ‘Why you throw me a slider in the dirt? Why you throw me a fastball in the neck?’ This is baseball.

“It’s 2014. It’s a game. Just enjoy it. Whoever does the best job in the field is the one who’s going to win games. That’s the only reason we’re here, to win games. It’s not to go fight, it’s not for complicated stuff. It’s to compete. That’s what I like to do, compete.”

Ron Roenicke talked to Gomez today.

The message, Gomez said, was “It’s OK. We know what happened. You don’t have to apologize because you didn’t start nothing.”

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Report says no fines, suspensions today

Joel Sherman of MLB Network and the  New York Post is reporting via Twitter that the Fieldin Culbreth-led umpiring crew overseeing Sunday’s fracas between the Brewers and Pirates at PNC Park is traveling today and will not file its detailed reports on the incident to the Commissioner’s Office until late in the day. Because Major League baseball’s Executive Vice President of Baseball Operations Joe Torre will need time to review those materials, he is not expected to levy fines or suspensions until Tuesday.

That means the Brewers will be all hands on deck Monday night for their series opener against San Diego at Miller Park.

They probably would have been near full-strength anyway, because Brewers center fielder Carlos Gomez made clear Sunday night that he would appeal a suspension this time, unlike last September when he accepted a one-game ban after a showdown with the Atlanta Braves. This time, Gomez said he believes he did nothing wrong when he took some time getting out of the batter’s box on what proved a third-inning triple off Pirates starter Gerrit Cole.

You have probably already seen what happened next. Cole had sharp words for Gomez, who responded, drawing first Pirates players and then Brewers players out of their respective dugouts and bullpens. Punches were thrown, including Brewers catcher Martin Maldonado’s right hook to Pirates reserve Travis Snider, and Gomez, Snider and Brewers bench coach Jerry Narron were ejected.

“I’m not apologizing for nothing I did,” Gomez said after the Brewers’ 14-inning, 3-2 victory. “This is my job, I’ve been doing it for eight years like that. They know I play like that. It’s not to disrespect nobody.”

Countered Cole: “I grabbed the ball from [third baseman Josh] Harrison and I said, ‘If you’re going to hit a home run, you can watch it. If you’re going to hit a fly ball to center field, don’t watch it.’ I didn’t curse at him, I didn’t try to provoke a fight. I was frustrated, and I let my emotions get the better of me and I ended up getting one of my teammates hurt, so I’m not too thrilled about it.”

Snider had a cut on his face after the game but did not speak to reporters Sunday.

Maldonado posted on Twitter about the incident.

“To All Baseball Fans,” he wrote. “My sincere apologies for today’s incident. I hope you all understand that I have to back up my team.”

Brewers manager Ron Roenicke said he believes multiple players from each team will be suspended and fined. Players have the right to appeal, and continue to play until their case is heard. When a suspension is made final for on-field incidents like this one, players’ teams play short while they are banned.

In the case of Maldonado, that could be a bit tricky for the Brewers, who, like most teams, carry only two catchers. One of their emergency catchers is outfielder Logan Schafer, but he was placed on the disabled list, retroactive to Friday, with a right hamstring strain. So utility men Jeff Bianchi or Elian Herrera might be the next line of defense.

Herrera is the only true backup outfielder on the roster, and would presumably play during a suspension for Gomez.

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Brewers’ hot start has shades of ’87

620wtmj_041912sveumThe Brewers woke up on Easter Sunday with the best record in baseball thanks to an early-season hot streak fueled by high-leverage hits and shutdown relief.

Shades of 1987, anyone?

“These guys have a mentality right now, I think, that they feel like they can come back and win ballgames,” said Brewers TV analyst Schroeder. “They’ve got a lot of confidence. I remember feeling that way in ’87 when we started the season.”

Schroeder shared catching duties with B.J. Surhoff in 1987, when the Brewers started the season 13-0 to set an American League record and tie the mark for the best start in Major League history. Win No. 12 was one of the most memorable in franchise history, sealed on a sunny Easter Sunday at Milwaukee County Stadium when Rob Deer crushing a tying, three-run home run with one out in the ninth inning against the Rangers and Dale Sveum added a winning two-run shot with two outs.

Those Brewers came from behind again in Chicago two days later, getting seventh-inning RBI hits from Paul Molitor and Robin Yount to beat the White Sox, with Dan Plesac logging his fifth save in as many tries. The 13-0 start tied a record set by the ’82 Atlanta Braves.

Schroeder didn’t play Easter Sunday, but he worked a leadoff walk that sparked the winning rally in win No. 13.

“I try not to make comparisons, but I do remember that we felt like we were kind of invincible there for a while,” Schroeder said. “When I watch these guys today, I don’t really think of ’87. I really don’t ever do that because it’s hard to compare the two.

“But I think these guys have similar confidence in that when they make mistakes, they brush them off. The last two games [Friday and Saturday against the Pirates], they had no business winning.”

The ’87 team was different, Bob Uecker said, in that manager Tom Trebelhorn played much more station-to-station than current manager Ron Roenicke, and the Brewers had more of an identity as a powerhouse offense. They went cold in May, losing 12 in a row in one stretch.

But games like Saturday’s win over the Pirates offer some subtle similarities to the ’87 club’s hot start. Trailing most of the night after Rickie Weeks’ fourth-inning error led to a five-run Pirates rally, Ryan Braun homered in the seventh inning to make it a one-run game and added a two-run shot in the ninth against Jason Grilli, who had gone 17 straight appearances against the Brewers without allowing a run. Brewers closer Francisco Rodriguez worked the ninth for his sixth save in as many tries.

It was the Brewers’ fifth come-from-behind victory, and gave them an MLB-best 13-5 record.

“When you’re going good, bad things happen but you don’t even look at them as bad,” Uecker said. “They don’t seem like a big deal. When you get into one of those streaks, you expect to win. These guys expect to win right now.”

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Schafer slowed after hamstring tweak

Brewers manager Ron Roenicke wouldn’t hand his opponents an advantage by definitively saying so, but backup outfielder Logan Schafer was essentially sidelined Saturday by a minor hamstring injury.

Schafer said he felt a small pop in his right hamstring while stretching in the on-deck circle Thursday night, partially explaining why he opted to attempt to bunt with two strikes in the Brewers’ eventual loss to the Pirates, and why Elian Herrera, and not Schafer, entered the game Friday as part of a double switch.

“It’s a lot better today than it was yesterday,” Schafer said. “I’ve never had any problems with my hammy or anything. It was a little weird. I’m just getting treatment and staying on top of it.”

Said Brewers manager Ron Roenicke: “It’s better today, but it’s going to have to get a lot better by tomorrow and then we’ll make a decision with what we need to do.”

The Brewers will make a roster move Sunday morning to activate Lyle Overbay from the paternity list. If club officials are convinced Schafer won’t need a stint on the 15-day disabled list, they could return utility man Elian Herrera to Triple-A Nashville. That would leave Schafer as the only true backup outfielder.

Schafer is the first Brewer this season sidelined by a hamstring, an injury that happened to dog the Brewers last season despite the best efforts of the medical staff. This spring, Brewers medical director Roger Caplinger told MLB.com about additional steps the team was undertaking to limit leg injuries.

“Josh [Seligman, Milwaukee’s strength and conditioning coordinator] has done everything he could,” Roenicke said. “Stretching, he’s changed some things to try to get to where our hamstrings are better. I don’t know, just freak things.”

“It’s something we could not prevent,” Schafer said. “This game is a tough game, tough on your physically, and I wasn’t really doing anything. I wasn’t running for a fly ball, I wasn’t running down the line. I was just stretching it out. It was one of those random things. That stuff happens in this game, and you kind of get healthy and get over it as quick as possible and get back out there as soon as you can.”

More on that bunt, which I realize has been a topic of conversation on Twitter: Schafer wound up pushing a third strike foul, and I asked him whether he decided to bunt there because he’d just felt the pop in his hamstring.

“Yes and no,” he said. “I was able to swing away; that wasn’t the manager’s call. But he did say [earlier this month in Boston] that if I have a chance to bunt with two strikes, he doesn’t mind if I try to still try and get down the bunt. In that situation, I felt like I should make sure I should get the bunt down. It just didn’t happen. … I just didn’t get the job done. Sometimes that happens.”

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