May 2014

Brewers mulling merits of pitcher batting eighth

With Ryan Braun having success since a move up to the two-hole, Brewers coaches have been debating batting the pitcher eighth, and manager Ron Roenicke left open the possibility of giving it a try if the offense cools from its current red-hot state.

“It has been discussed for the past four or five days [and] there is merit to it,” Roenicke said. “It depends on your personnel, really on who is hitting first and second for you, and who is going to hit ninth, and it’s important who is hitting seventh.

“If you have all the right pieces, it makes a ton of sense. If you have an on-base guy [seventh] so you can get through the pitcher eighth, and you have a ninth hitter who is an on-base guy to get on base for what would have to be strong 1-2-3 hitters, it makes a ton of sense. That’s kind of what we have.”

Or rather, it’s what the Brewers will have when third baseman Aramis Ramirez returns from the disabled list, which could happen as early as Tuesday.

Ramirez’s return could allow Roenicke to re-install Carlos Gomez to the leadoff spot, with Braun second and catcher Jonathan Lucroy third. First basemen Mark Reynolds and Lyle Overbay would be the likely candidates for the seven-hole, and second basemen Scooter Gennett and Rickie Weeks could hit ninth, theoretically getting on base to give Gomez and Braun more opportunities to drive in runs.

Roenicke was clear that he would not disrupt the Brewers’ current hot streak. The team entered Saturday with at least 10 hits in nine consecutive games, matching a franchise record.

“The personnel dictates what happens,” Roenicke said. “I was telling them in Anaheim in 2000, when [Darin] Erstad … drove in 100 runs from the leadoff spot, we had Orlando Palmeiro, who was a really good on-base guy. And we hit him ninth. He probably should have hit up farther than that, but we hit him ninth, trying to get guys on for Erstad.”

Former Brewers manager Ned Yost batted his pitchers eighth for part of 2008, when catcher Jason Kendall hit ninth. Yost eventually dropped the idea.

Asked to guess the odds he’ll try it when Ramirez returns, Roenicke said, “I don’t know. We have to discuss it more and figure out what we’re doing with Gomez, figure out what we’re doing with [Jean] Segura. And not just while we’re hot here, because while we’re hot I’ll [continue] doing it this way [with Segura leading off and Gomez hitting cleanup]. We’re talking about where we see it in a month from now. If it makes sense, we’ll try it.”

Braun, for his part, has adjusted nicely to batting second.

“I like it. It’s good,” Braun said. “I don’t think you change anything now, we’re swinging the bats so well. Since we’ve gone with this alignment in the lineup, we’ve been really successful and there’s no reason to change anything.

“It’s the same thing. Obviously, I have a few less RBI opportunities unless we eventually go to the pitcher eight and somebody else ninth, which we’ve discussed, too. We’ll see. The more at-bats you get for your best hitters, the better off you’ll be over the course of a season. For me, it’s just about creating runs, whether I’m on base to score the runs or able to drive guys in.”

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Braun back among ASG contenders

2014-mlb-all-star-game-logoRyan Braun was back in contention for an All-Star Game start when Major League Baseball released a first round of fan balloting figures for the National League on Wednesday.

Braun, who made five straight All-Star teams from 2008-2012 before missing the cut during his injury- and suspension-marred 2013 season, is running third among NL outfielders with 446,780 votes from in-stadium and online ballots, trailing Charlie Blackmon of the Rockies (549,394 votes) and Andrew McCutchen of the Pirates (467,378 votes). Another Brewers outfielder, Carlos Gomez, was sixth with 370,630 votes.

The top three vote-getters among outfielders will be elected starters to the 2014 All-Star Game, to be played at Target Field in Minneapolis on Tuesday, July 15.

Other Brewers contenders included Aramis Ramirez, who is running second among NL third basemen with 282,843 votes despite a current stint on the disabled list. Ramirez trails the Rockies’ Nolan Arenado, who has 318,111 votes.

Jonathan Lucroy ranked fourth among catchers and Jean Segura was running fifth among shortstops. The leader at shortstop was the Rockies’ Troy Tulowitzki, who led all NL players with 745,823 votes.

Fans can cast their votes for starters at MLB.com and all 30 club sites — online or on a mobile device — using the 2014 All-Star Game MLB.com Ballot Sponsored by Experian until Thursday, July 3, at 11:59 p.m. ET.

Fans may submit up to 25 online ballots, but they can also earn a one-time bonus of 10 additional online ballots. To access these additional online ballots, you must be logged into your MLB.com account when you submit any online ballot. If you do not have an MLB.com account, register on the site in accordance with the enrollment instructions for a free MLB.com account.

The 2014 All-Star teams will be unveiled on the 2014 MLB All-Star Game Selection Show during the weekend of July 5-6, with further details to follow on MLB.com. The AL will have nine elected starters via the fan balloting program, while the NL will have eight fan-elected starters. Pitchers and reserves for both squads — totaling 25 for the NL and 24 for the AL — will be determined through a combination of “Player Ballot” choices and selections made by All-Star managers Mike Matheny (NL) and John Farrell (AL).

Immediately following the announcement of the rosters, you can select the final player for each league’s 34-man roster via the 2014 All-Star Game MLB.com Final Vote Sponsored by Experian. Choose again at that point from among five players in each league. The Final Vote returns for its 13th season with more than 430 million votes cast to date, and you’ll be able to make selections on MLB.com, club sites and your mobile device.

You’ll be on a voting tear at that point, having already selected starters and the last men, and the ritual will not end there. The final phase of All-Star Game voting will again have fans participating in the voting for the Ted Williams All-Star Game Most Valuable Player Award presented by Chevrolet. During the big game, vote exclusively online at MLB.com via the 2014 All-Star Game MLB.com MVP Vote Sponsored by Pepsi. The fan voice will represent 20 percent of the overall vote that determines the recipient of the Arch Ward Trophy.

MLB.com will provide extensive online coverage of the All-Star Week festivities.

The 85th All-Star Game will be televised nationally by FOX, in Canada by Rogers Sportsnet and RDS, and worldwide by partners in more than 200 countries via MLB International’s independent feed. ESPN Radio and ESPN Radio Deportes will provide national radio coverage of the All-Star Game. MLB Network and SiriusXM will also provide comprehensive All-Star Week coverage. For more information, please visit allstargame.com.

Here are the current figures at each position:

First Basemen   Catchers
# Player Club Votes   # Player Club Votes
Adrian Gonzalez Dodgers 349,762   Yadier Molina Cardinals 640,464
Freddie Freeman Braves 308,961   Buster Posey Giants 421,100
Justin Morneau Rockies 305,327   Evan Gattis Braves 241,005
Brandon Belt Giants 228,547   Jonathan Lucroy Brewers 236,935
Paul Goldschmidt D-backs 227,854   Devin Mesoraco Reds 154,489
                 
Second Basemen   Outfielders
# Player Club Votes   # Player Club Votes
Chase Utley Phillies 509,390   Charlie Blackmon Rockies 549,394
Dee Gordon Dodgers 304,258   Andrew McCutchen Pirates 467,378
Brandon Phillips Reds 187,067   Ryan Braun Brewers 446,780
Anthony Rendon Nationals 183,600   Giancarlo Stanton Marlins 426,228
Neil Walker Pirates 159,205   Yasiel Puig Dodgers 383,384
          Carlos Gomez Brewers 370,630
Third Basemen   Justin Upton Braves 312,574
# Player Club Votes   Angel Pagan Giants 287,338
Nolan Arenado Rockies 318,111   Mike Morse Giants 257,477
Aramis Ramirez Brewers 282,843   Hunter Pence Giants 221,604
David Wright Mets 278,840   Matt Holliday Cardinals 212,763
Juan Uribe Dodgers 270,425   Bryce Harper Nationals 211,565
Pablo Sandoval Giants 210,473   Carlos Gonzalez Rockies 207,875
          Michael Cuddyer Rockies 193,980
Shortstops   Matt Kemp Dodgers 162,681
# Player Club Votes          
Troy Tulowitzki Rockies 745,823  
Brandon Crawford Giants 218,123    
Andrelton Simmons Braves 207,402  
Hanley Ramirez Dodgers 206,866  
Jean Segura Brewers 202,597  
         

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With Ramirez DL-bound, Brewers mull options

Brewers third baseman Aramis Ramirez’s strained left hamstring will send him to the disabled list before Tuesday’s game against the Pirates, but club officials were still discussing options Sunday morning for a corresponding roster move — or moves.

The outcome will depend on whether right fielder Ryan Braun ready to return from a stint on the DL for a right rib-cage strain. Braun took full batting practice again Sunday morning, but the Brewers would like to see him play a Minor League game before making a formal move. Weather worries at Class A Wisconsin on Monday and travel challenges for the other affiliates complicated that desire.

If they cannot get Braun to an affiliate, there still exists the possibility that the Brewers will roll the dice and activate him Tuesday when Ramirez hits the DL.

“Yeah, if that’s what it comes down to, that’s what we talked about,” Roenicke said.

In that scenario, Mark Reynolds and Jeff Bianchi could fill-in at third base during Ramirez’s absence.

But if Braun needs more time, the Brewers would have to call-up utility man Elian Herrera from Triple-A Nashville. The switch-hitter has already played a stint in the big leagues this season.

Further complicating matters is the uncertain status of center fielder Carlos Gomez, who had an appeal hearing for his three-game suspension on Friday. The Brewers anticipate a ruling from Major League Baseball on Monday or Tuesday, and even if Braun is back, the team may consider adding Herrera to help fill the lineup with right-handed bats against left-handed Pirates pitchers on Wednesday and Thursday.

All of the personnel shuffling gave Roenicke an uncomfortable sense of déjà vu on Sunday. Last season, he routinely scrambled to fill out a lineup card because of injuries to key, middle-of-the-order hitters.

“When I was writing up the lineup today, yes,” Roenicke said when asked about the comparison. “It was a tough one today.”

Still, for all their issues, the Brewers entered the day with a 23-14 record and a five-game lead in the National League Central.

“It’s huge, health is huge,” Roenicke said. “We’ll get through this period, hopefully get everybody the same time, but we got to get through this period playing good baseball. Our pitching I think is good enough to do that. We’ve just got to figure out with scrapping some runs. Hopefully, we get through it.”

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Weeks says no to left field

With left fielder Khris Davis struggling at the plate and Rickie Weeks’ bat beginning to heat up on the bench, Brewers officials recently asked Weeks whether he would consider trying the outfield.

Weeks declined.

“I’m a second baseman,” he told reporters. “I feel like right now, I should be playing second base.”

Asked whether his stance was final, or whether the promise of more playing time as a left fielder might change his mind, Weeks said, “Like I said, right now, I’m a second baseman.”

Weeks is the right-handed-hitting half of the Brewers’ second base platoon with lefty swinger Scooter Gennett, who has been getting the vast majority of starts because so many pitchers are right-handed. Weeks on Saturday made his first start at second base since April 25 26 because a left-hander — CC Sabatha — was on the mound for the Yankees.

During the winter, Brewers officials knew they had a challenging situation at second base because both Weeks, who is due $11 this season in the final year of his contract, and Gennett, who came on last season after Weeks suffered a torn hamstring, are limited to that one position. They discussed then whether Weeks might work in the outfield or at first base, but opted to sign veterans Mark Reynolds and Lyle Overbay to share first base duties, and installed Davis, who had played admirably last year in place of a suspended Ryan Braun, in left field.

Second base was to begin as a straight platoon between Weeks and Gennett, Roenicke said, though performance could eventually change that. Gennett entered Saturday batting .284 with a .320 on-base percentage in 116 at-bats, and Weeks batting .257 with a .333 on-base percentage in 35 at-bats, mostly off the bench.

Weeks numbers have been boosted by three hits and two walks in his last five pinch-hit plate appearances.

“It’s not that easy to just put somebody in the outfield,” Brewers manager Ron Roenicke said in Weeks’ defense. “We did it so much last year, trying to switch guys around in Spring Training, that we had a discussion with Doug and tried to not do that as much as we did the year before. Try to keep guys in their position more so we could get a better defensive job out of one position.

“It’s hard when you’re moving guys everywhere and then you expect them to be really good defensively. I think that’s what we got into last year, so we tried to stay away from it this year.”

But Roenicke and other decision-makers have reconsidered that philosophy in light of Davis’ recent troubles. He entered Saturday batting .169 with a .180 OBP over his previous 15 games.

Asked what they would do if Davis does not begin showing signs of progress, Roenicke said. “We’ll have to figure out something. We’ll have to do something.”

A left field platoon is possible, Roenicke said, with Logan Schafer and Caleb Gindl currently available as left-handed-hitting options.

“We’ve already had discussions on it, but there will be a time when we need to make a move if things continue,” Roenicke said.

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Gomez states his case in appeal

With a three-game suspension still looming over him, Brewers center fielder Carlos Gomez told Major League Baseball his side of the story on Friday morning.

During a 90-minute video conference, Gomez went frame-by-frame through video of his involvement in an April 20 altercation between the Brewers and Pirates at PNC Park. He continues to maintain that the blame lies with Pirates outfielder Travis Snider, another of the four players who were suspended in the wake of the fight, and believes he did well enough to get “at least a couple games” knocked off the suspension.

Brewers assistant GM Gord Ash sat in on the proceedings, as did a representative of the MLB Players Association and someone from agent Scott Boras’ office. Gomez and the Brewers did not anticipate getting a ruling until next week.

“They heard [the umpires’ part]. Now they hear my part,” Gomez said. “We rolled the video over and over and explained what’s happening. I told them what it is. We all make mistakes, and that weekend was a little tough for me. I should have controlled it, but when someone is coming and screaming at you in language [like that], that’s how everything started.”

It started in the top of the third inning with a Gomez triple that smacked off the center field wall. When Gomez reached third base, Pirates pitcher Gerrit Cole scolded Gomez for not running hard out of the batter’s box, and Gomez popped up to respond.

Pirates players quickly spilled out of the dugout to come to Cole’s defense, and it was on.

In the ensuing melee, Snider tackled Gomez on the infield dirt. When Snider was pulled to his feet and spun around, Brewers catcher Martin Maldonado landed a punch to Snider’s face. Maldonado accepted a five-game suspension from the incident and has already served it.

Gomez (three games), Snider (two games) and Pirates catcher Russell Martin (one game) all appealed. Hearings for Snider and Martin were held earlier in the week.

Gomez said he told MLB, “I respect Cole. He’s emotional and competitive. I don’t feel anything about him coming after me and telling me something, because I’m the same way. But Snider is the one who took me to another level.

“I feel sorry about a thing like that because we’re all baseball players, and we don’t want to hurt nobody. This happened. In the moment, he deserved it.”

Gomez said he expected to hear a result of his appeal “for sure [by] Monday].” The Brewers are off that day before opening a series at Miller Park against — guess who? — the Pirates.

“If they suspend me, their guys, too, have to be suspended the same day against the Brewers,” Gomez said. “[If not], the Brewers have to tell them, ‘Come on.’ But everything is under control, and I think it’s going to be fair for both sides.”

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Gorzelanny nearing game action

A team with three left-handers already in its bullpen has another nearing a significant step in his return from injury as Brewers reliever Tom Gorzelanny nears a Minor League rehabilitation assignment.

Gorzelanny, who underwent surgery in December to repair damage to his rotator cuff and labrum, had hoped to be in Milwaukee before the end of April, but left shoulder did not cooperate. He is back on track now, and could be assigned to an affiliate in the coming days, assistant GM Gord Ash said.

“He’ll need the full 30 days,” Ash said. “It’s like starting Spring Training again.”

Because of that timeline, the Brewers will not need to make a decision on the make-up of their Major League bullpen for some weeks. Currently, Will Smith, Zach Duke and seldom-used Rule 5 Draft pick Wei-Chung are all active for the Brewers.

Brewers officials won’t worry themselves about the potential crowd there until Gorzelanny gets close to Major League-ready.

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Wooten up, Herrera down for Brewers

The Brewers recalled right-handed reliever Rob Wooten from Triple-A Nashville on Thursday in a move that was expected to help bolster a hard-worked bullpen.

The corresponding move was the interesting part: The Brewers optioned out utility man Elian Herrera, choosing to hold onto Rule 5 Draft pick Wei-Chung Wang and second baseman Rickie Weeks, the two members of the Opening Day roster who have played the least so far this season.

Herrera had been starting in right field while Ryan Braun recovers from a right rib-cage strain. Barring a surprise early return for Braun on Thursday night in Cincinnati — “He’s closer. He’s not going to play [Thursday],” manager Ron Roenicke said Wednesday afternoon — Mark Reynolds appears to be the top option to start there. He has appeared in right field three times in the Major Leagues, but never as a starter.

Lyle Overbay and Jeff Bianchi are also options for corner outfield spots while Braun heals. The Brewers could revisit the idea of a backdated stint on the disabled list for Braun when another outfielder, Logan Schafer, returns from the disabled list on Saturday.

With Wooten, who made four appearances during an April stint with the Brewers, Milwaukee is up to 13 pitchers for the first time this season. The team was able to make that move Thursday because third baseman Aramis Ramirez and shortstop Jean Segura are expected back in the starting lineup. Ramirez had missed two starts with a bruised left elbow, and Segura had been limited to bench duty since he was smacked in the face by Braun’s bat during a dugout accident on Saturday.

Wang, a 22-year-old left-hander who pitched in rookie ball for the Pirates last season, surrendered four runs and six hits in three innings against the Cardinals on Wednesday after Matt Garza exited with a bruised right thumb. Wang has pitched only four times this season, forcing Roenicke to use his other six relievers at a higher rate.

Only 24 big league relievers had been used at least 14 times through Wednesday, and the Brewers have three of them. Closer Francisco Rodriguez was second in the Major Leagues with 16 appearances (all of them scoreless) and was deemed unavailable on Wednesday. Left-hander Will Smith finally allowed a run on Tuesday in his 15th appearance. and Tyler Thornburg went two innings on Tuesday for his 13th consecutive scoreless appearance, and has pitched 14 times.

Asked Wednesday afternoon whether the Brewers may be forced to reconsider Wang’s spot, Roenicke said, “That’s a decision that Doug [Melvin, the Brewers' general manager] is going to make. I can say what I think, but he’s the one who puts this team together. We talk about things and try to do what’s best for now and best for the next couple of years. It can’t always be just ‘now.’ We have to think about what happens down the road.”

Was Roenicke willing to share publicly what he thinks?

“No, he said. “Really, it’s too hard for me. I’m seeing a guy that pitched rookie ball. I’ve been removed from rookie ball for a long time, and I really can’t make a judgment.”

He conceded it’s more difficult for a contending team to keep a Rule 5 guy than for a rebuilding team.

“It’s hard to have a crystal ball in Spring Training and think about getting off to a 20-8 start,” Roenicke said. “Things that happen, you can’t plan for everything. I thought he was a nice pickup, and we were hoping we could see enough of him to get a better read. I have a hard time where I am. I’m looking at Major League pitchers who have been out there for years pitching, and you get a comebacker and the guy looks at third base [as Wang did Wednesday]. Those things are going to happen.

“We know where he’s at. He’s got a nice arm, and we were hoping to see enough of him to get a good read. And we still may. We’ll get him out there enough.”

Because the Brewers have been playing — and winning — so many close games, Wang has pitched four times in the team’s first 28 games; two scoreless appearances, and two more during which he has surrendered 10 earned runs on 13 hits including three home runs.

Weeks is batting .188 with a .256 on-base percentage as the right-handed-hitting half of the Brewers’ second base platoon. The remainder of his $11 million salary this season is guaranteed.

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