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Henderson down 4 months after shoulder surgery

At least Brewers reliever Jim Henderson had a smile on his face Tuesday as a tough 2014 season came to a formal end. 

The former closer faces a four-month rehabilitation after undergoing surgery to clean-up the labrum and rotator cuff in his right shoulder, a procedure recommended last week after a visit with Brewers head physician Dr. William Raasch. Henderson had the surgery with Dr. James Andrews on Tuesday morning in Florida after a second opinion confirmed the diagnosis. 

“Round 2!” Henderson told his more than 13,000 followers on Twitter when he posted a photo of himself smiling on a hospital bed. 

Henderson also had surgery on the shoulder in 2008 when he was in the Cubs organization. He signed with the Brewers the following April and was a 26-year-old closer at Class A Wisconsin, beginning a resurgence that led to the Major Leagues in 2012 after parts of 10 seasons in the Minors, and a closer’s role in 2013 after John Axford struggled. Henderson went 28-for-32 in save opportunities, and was expected to reprise the role in 2014. <

Concerns about his Spring Training velocities led to a change to Francisco Rodriguez. Henderson was placed on the DL in early May after posting a 7.15 ERA in 14 games.

“It’s a tough road. Rehabbing is always tough,” Brewers manager Ron Roenicke said. “I’m sure he’s got questions about whether he’s going to come back or not. That’s a tough thing to go through. Not a good year for it. Mentally, you get through it and hopefully you heal up physically and are able to get back out there.”

Henderson will turn 32 in October and would remain a cost-effective option for the Brewers next season if he can reclaim his velocity. He doesn’t project to reach arbitration eligibility until the 2015-16 offseason.

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Henderson, Thornburg shut down

Already ruined by injuries, the 2014 seasons of Brewers relievers Jim Henderson and Tyler Thornburg now appear over. 

Henderson will visit Dr. James Andrews next week for a second opinion on his right shoulder after Brewers physician Dr. William Raasch recommended surgery to clean-up damage to the rotator cuff and labrum. Thornburg had a platelet-rich plasma injection to promote healing in his right elbow this week and will be shut down for six weeks. 

Neither had a significant setback, Brewers assistant GM Gord Ash stressed, but simply were not progressing.

Henderson was removed from closer’s role before Opening Day because of club concern about his diminished velocity. He was placed on the disabled list May 2, and twice went on Minor League rehabilitation assignments that did not produce the results all parties concerned needed to see. Two weeks ago, Henderson finished the second of those assignments and returned to the team’s rehab facility in Phoenix. He visited Raasch in Milwaukee on Wednesday and underwent another MRI scan. 

“His Minor League rehabs were successful because he knew how to pitch,” Ash said. “But he wasn’t feeling 100 percent and he finally admitted that, even though he wanted to be optimistic. He would pitch well one day, but he couldn’t come back. That’s when he said, ‘I’ve got to get this looked at again.’” 

Henderson will turn 32 in October and has one more pre-arbitration season remaining. 

With Henderson struggling, Thornburg emerged as a bright spot for the Brewers, posting a 0.61 ERA and a .122 opponents’ average through the end of April. But he had a 6.00 ERA and a .319 opponents’ average in May and was placed on the disabled list during the first week of June with wrist-flexor irritation in his elbow. He never progressed to the point of a rehab assignment. 

The Brewers have also been monitoring Thornburg’s ulnar collateral ligament, the tissue, if torn, that sends a pitcher for Tommy John surgery and a year-long rehabilitation. Thornburg’s UCL is not torn, Ash said, but scans have detected what he termed “weakness.” 

“The follow-up MRI and second opinion he had 10 days or so ago showed there had been healing. Progress,” Ash said. “So, nothing to be alarmed about. But he just can’t get over the hump.” 

The PRP injection is intended to help. The Orioles’ Chris Davis and Matt Wieters and Reds’ Joey Votto are among the Major League players to undergo the procedure this season, in which a players’ blood is drawn and placed in a centrifuge, after which activated platelets are injected into the injured area to speed healing.

Thornburg will be 26 next month. 

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Thumb issue still bugging Braun

Little has changed since Ryan Braun first spoke in depth in early April about the nerve issue in his right hand that has bothered him since last season. It still flares up on occasion, forcing him out of the lineup as it did Thursday for the first time in a month. And there is still no definitive answer for how to fix it.  

“We’ve discussed a lot of different options,” said Braun, who is under contract through at least 2020. “We’ve looked into a lot of different things. We’re constantly evaluating it. We’ve talked to a lot of people. 

“There’s some thought that it could just eventually go away. And I think if there was a surgery that everybody was really confident would heal the injury and there wouldn’t be any side effects, we would have already done it. But because it isn’t something there is a lot of information on, it’s not something that’s been done often, we just need to continue to gather information. It’s not like I can’t play. I obviously can play.”

He has started 98 of the Brewers’ first 122 games and batted .279 with 14 home runs and 67 RBIs. 

Brewers manager Ron Roenicke didn’t like the defensive swings he saw from Braun in Wednesday’s loss to the Cubs, so he held his three-hole hitter out of the lineup for Thursday’s afternoon finale. Braun had one hit in his first 12 at-bats in the series. 

“A week ago, he was swinging the bat great,” manager Ron Roenicke said. “Probably the last four, five, six days, somewhere in there, it’s been bothering him. If he has a couple at-bats where he doesn’t square up the ball right, sometimes it flares it up, and then you see difference in swings, which I saw [Wednesday] a lot different swings from him” 

Braun has experienced pain in the hand since last May resulting from an inflamed nerve near the base of his right thumb. Because none of the surgical options were guaranteed to work, the hope was that an extended shut-down period from the start of Braun’s suspension last July into Spring Training in February would resolve the issue, but it did not. 

He remains a vital and expensive piece of the Brewers’ future plans. Braun will earn $12 million next season before his salary jumps to $19 million in 2016 at the start of a five-year, $105 million contract extension. 

Over the course of this season, Braun has worked with medical director Roger Caplinger, head athletic trainer Dan Wright and other members of the Brewers’ medical staff to develop methods of padding his bat without costing him “feel” during at-bats. 

“At this point, my only focus is dealing with it the best we can, managing it,” Braun said. “The trainers have been great. We’re trying to stay on the field and compete the best I can.

“Like I’ve said many times, we all deal with challenges physically, and this game is all about making adjustments. We all have different ailments, especially as you get to this point in the season. This is a unique and challenging one, because at times it really alters the way I hold the bat, the way I swing, my approach and some different things. It’s frustrating, but I try to deal with it the best I can.”

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Lohse in “wait and see” mode

By noon on Thursday, Kyle Lohse had already received two rounds of treatment on a sore right ankle. He remained non-committal about making his next scheduled start on Tuesday against the Blue Jays. 

“I’ve had two rounds already this morning, but we kind of have to wait and see,” Lohse said. “We have to figure out how to make sure I can do what I need to do without aggravating it. There’s not really anything I can say right now about what’s going to happen.” 

Because of an off-day preceding Lohse’s start, the Brewers could simply skip his turn and keep the rest of their starting pitchers on schedule.

Asked about that scenario, Lohse pointed toward the manager’s office and said, “That’s up to them. I’ll take the ball when I can. Right now, I don’t know when that will be, so we’ll see. It’s still five days away. I’m sure they’re already thinking about it, you guys [reporters] are already thinking about it. I’m just trying to think about what I need to do to try to get ready to take the ball the next time I’m on the hill, whenever that is.” 

Was it pretty sore on Thursday morning?

“Yeah, Lohse said with a sigh. “Yeah. It’s weird, because it’s not like a roll or a sprain that’s a big, blow-out thing. It’s where, when I’m pushing off, it’s affecting what I’m trying to do. It’s just one of those things where you can’t repeat your mechanics because you can’t get your balance, you can’t push off. You don’t want it to lead to something else. I was fighting it the whole time last night, and made it worse when I tried to check a swing. I don’t even know what happened. I didn’t look to see what exactly it looked like, but it didn’t feel good. I thought I could go and keep battling it out, but it wasn’t smart to keep going like that. …

“It’s just frustrating, because it doesn’t feel that bad. It’s just an annoying thing. It’s just not right. That’s all I can say right now.” 

He indicated he had yet to undergo an x-ray or MRI on the ankle. 

“That’s probably my fault because I was trying to push it,” Lohse said. “It’s probably my fault because I was telling them I’m good. I’ll be a little smarter this time.”

And here’s what Brewers manager Ron Roenicke had to say: 

“He’s sore today,” Roenicke said. “We’ll probably have to go here the next couple of days and see. He’s got to get a lot better. I hate to put him out there again if that thing is going to still bother him. Then you worry about the next start after it. We do have an off day — he was supposed to pitch Tuesday — so we could adjust it if it’s still sore.”

Roenicke’s primary concern is that an injury, even a minor one, will affect a player’s mechanics. 

“Always is,” he said. “Hitters do the same thing, and sometimes, well probably most of the time, when a hitter goes into a bad slump, it’s because of some injury changes his mechanics, and even when he gets well the mechanics are different, and all of a sudden he’s in trouble.

“You know, Kyle’s obviously very important to us the rest of the season. We can’t have him going out there if he’s going to scuffle with the physical part of it, and if we can skip him, which we can with this day off, then it may be the way to go. But I haven’t really talked to him about it, so we’ll see how he’s doing here in the next couple days.”

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Roenicke reiterates aggressive running philosophy

Carlos Gomez was thrown out trying to steal third base with two outs in the seventh inning of Saturday’s 4-1 win over the Dodgers, with Jonathan Lucroy at the plate going for his fourth hit of the night, and, no, manager Ron Roenicke was not happy about it.

But in a lengthy discussion about the matter Sunday morning, Roenicke explained why he’s going to continue giving Gomez the green light.

“I thought about [putting on a stop sign] last night because I really didn’t want him going and getting thrown out,” Roenicke said. “He knows that when he goes, he needs to be safe in that situation. It can’t be a question. He knows he needs to be safe.

“But in saying that, when you take things away from a player, and you don’t allow him to do things, they get frustrated and then you see it starting to get into the other parts of their game. It’s a battle I’ve tried to do before, and I do take guys off [running on] their own at times, but it’s just, ‘What are the negatives that are going to come from it?'”

The positives of letting a player be aggressive, Roenicke has argued and will continue to argue, no matter how loudly anyone screams about “bad baserunning,” far outweigh the negatives of an occasional “dumb out.”

No one is going to convince Roenicke otherwise.

“If you rein him back, then you don’t get any of the other [good] stuff you get from him,” Roenicke said. “That’s what this whole thing has been about. That’s why [Gomez] has turned into a good player, I think. They’ve tried to do this [pull back Gomez's raw aggressiveness] for years with him, and it hasn’t worked, and they haven’t gotten the player I think we have right now. The pluses outweigh the minuses.”

He feels that way in general — that being super aggressive on the bases generates more positive than negative, both because, in Roenicke’s view, it disrupts opposing teams and makes his own players better in every other facet of the game.

There’s no metric to measure that. Roenicke simply believes it to be true, and anyone arguing with him otherwise is wasting breath.

“Absolutely, there’s no question about it,” Roenicke said. “If you feel free to do things and you’re aggressive, it carries over into all parts of your game. No question. This whole game is about what goes on upstairs. These guys are all talented by the time they get to the big leagues, they all have physical talents. But it’s the mental part.”

Asked whether he developed this philosophy during his own playing career, or subsequently as a Minor League manager and big league coach Roenicke said, “I was a different player than these guys are. I was talented, but not even close to these guys, so I had to really think my way through it. So I did not make mistakes like this. Like, when you’re on second base and a ball is hit in front of you — you’re taught in Little League how you don’t go. Well, I never went.

“Sometimes these guys go. I saw Derek Jeter do it two weeks ago. So it’s a different game, a different era. Guys are freer to do things more now than they’ve ever been. Some guys, mentally, you can tell things to and it doesn’t affect their game. David Eckstein, I could tell him anything and it made him better. A lot of these guys, I tell them something and it restricts their game and now, all of a sudden, they’re not instinctive anymore. Now you don’t have a good player. It’s all types.”

Does it make him crazy sometimes?

“Sometimes,” Roenicke said with a smile.

 

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Brewers being cautious with Lucroy’s hamstring

Add catcher Jonathan Lucroy to the Brewers’ list of walking wounded.

Lucroy is batting a minor strain to his right hamstring, concerning enough to manager Ron Roenicke and the team’s medical staff that Lucroy was held out of the opener of the team’s weekend showdown with the National League West-leading Dodgers at Miller Park.

“We were going to give him a day somewhere,” Roenicke said. “He’s got a little bit of a hamstring issue. It’s there. I’m being cautious with it. I don’t want him to miss time.”

It’s that time of year. Shortstop Jean Segura and second baseman Scooter Gennett are still fighting nagging quadriceps strained (Gennett started Friday) and left fielder Khris Davis has a sore throwing elbow. Those are merely the bumps and bruises that have prevented players from starting games in recent days.

Lucroy, an All-Star Game starter, has been one of Milwaukee’s steadiest hitters this season. He entered Friday among the National League leaders in doubles (second, 38), extra-base hits (fifth, 51), batting average (seventh, .307), OPS (eighth, .867) and on-base percentage (10th, .374). Lucroy is on a pace to challenge Lyle Overbay’s franchise record 53 doubles in 2004, and to be the Brewers’ first regular catcher to bat better than .300 since Ted Simmons hit .308 in 1983.

 

Rk            Player   BA Year  AB   H HR RBI
1        Ted Simmons .308 1983 600 185 13 108
2    Jonathan Lucroy .307 2014 410 126 12  53
3       B.J. Surhoff .289 1991 505 146  5  68
4    Jonathan Lucroy .280 2013 521 146 18  82
5       B.J. Surhoff .276 1990 474 131  6  59

Chart data provided by Baseball-Reference.com.

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Kintzler, Roenicke on recent results

Brewers manager Ron Roenicke says he’s waiting for a right-hander to step up in the eighth inning. Despite a tough outing Wednesday, and conceding his signature sinker has not been as consistently sharp as a season ago, Brandon Kintzler believes he’s done enough to earn the job.

“I don’t know, he never throws me in there,” Kintzler said. “I threw well all of July, I never got a hold situation the whole time. I felt like I’ve done my job whatever they’ve asked me to do.”

During the second half of last season, after the Brewers traded Francisco Rodriguez to Baltimore, Kintzler was an effective set-up man for then-closer Jim Henderson. But both Henderson and Kintzler dealt with early-season shoulder injuries in 2014, prompting Roenicke to re-order bullpen roles.

Kintzler, who has been off the disabled list since April 24, has appeared in every inning from the fifth to the ninth and has eight holds with a 3.76 ERA in 42 appearances. Last season, he had 26 holds with a 2.69 ERA in a career-high 71 appearances.

“He was really consistent last year,” manager Ron Roenicke said. “It’s a lot — it’s confidence. His stuff seems to be fine. He’s fine. It’s the confidence that it gives you to relax and let your body work by and hit spots, and he’s not doing that. If you look at just velocity and things like that, it’s fine. He’ll throw some good breaking balls, but consistently he doesn’t, and he’s not getting the sinker down and in like he usually does. We always talk about confidence in this game. When it’s not there and it’s not there really well, you’re a little bit short.”

Roenicke also said, “He’s not throwing the same. He knows it. Until we find somebody that can get that spot done as a right-hander, we’ve had the two lefties [Will Smith and Zach Duke] that have done it most of the year, until recently.

“We need to get somebody going. We know that [Kintzler] has done the job really well. It’s like, who else do you try? I still think he’s got it in him, it’s just he’s got to believe that, he’s got to show it, and then get that confidence and get on a roll.”

Kintzler argues he was on a roll, pointing to a run from July 8 to this week in which he was not charged with an earned run and retired 13 consecutive batters in one stretch, but pitched only seven times. Kintzler said he was a “wake-up call” when Roenicke summoned him to the manager’s office for a chat on July 11 to stress the importance of Kintzler reverting to 2013 form, and felt good when he struck out Allen Craig that night to preserve a 6-6 tie in the seventh inning, starting a stretch of five appearances in which Kintzler allowed only one hit — a Denard Span single in Washington D.C.

The scoreless streak ended Wednesday when the Giants hit three singles and saddled Kintzler with two earned runs in a Brewers loss.

“I still feel good about what I’m doing,” Kintzler said. “If I gave up missiles everywhere [Wednesday], that’s one thing, but two broken bat hits and then a home run [off another reliever, Tom Gorzelanny].”

Asked whether his shoulder is 100 percent healthy, Kintzler said, “I’d like to think so. I’ve had my fair share where I don’t feel good. We warm up a lot, and sometimes we don’t pitch.”

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Garza to DL with rib-cage strain

Given the nagging nature of rib-cage muscle strains, it came as no surprise Tuesday when the Brewers placed right-hander Matt Garza on the 15-day disabled list, marking the first significant injury this season to one of the team’s starting pitchers.

The Brewers recalled reliever Rob Wooten from Triple-A Nashville to take Garza’s place on the roster, but they did not announce a timetable for Garza’s expected absence, nor did they immediately name a replacement for his spot in the rotation. Marco Estrada, who made 18 Brewers starts before he was bumped to the bullpen before the All-Star break, is the top in-house candidate to start Saturday against the Dodgers.

Garza felt the muscle grab on the 70th of his 71 pitches against the Cardinals on Sunday, and was forced to exit a one-hit shutout and watch the Cardinals rally for three quick runs against his replacements for a 3-2 Brewers loss.

“It was like, ‘Son of a gun,’” Garza said. “You put a bullpen in that situation where everybody is caught off-guard. Your starter has 70 pitches, nobody assumes he’s coming out.”

But there was no doubt, Garza said. He was coming out.

“I’m going to stay positive and say it’s not bad,” Garza said Sunday evening, “but it’s bad enough to where I had to take myself out of the game, and I don’t do that. I had to look at long-term more than short-term. I could have kept going and made it worse, and I could have been out, probably, the rest of the year.”

Garza has now been on the disabled list each of the past four seasons. He suffered what he described as a more severe strain in his rib-cage and back during Spring Training with the Cubs last year, and was sidelined until the third week of May. His four-year, $50 million contract with the Brewers includes some language that protects the team in the event of significant injuries.

Sunday’s setback came at an inopportune time for the team, which owned a one-game lead in the National League Central on Tuesday as it entered a homestand against the top two teams in the National League West (the second-place Giants, followed by the first-place Dodgers).

It was also ill-timed for Garza because he was pitching so well. He’d allowed only two runs on eight hits in 21 innings over his last three starts since a disastrous outing in Washington D.C. on July 19. Even with that one-out, five-run start included, Garza owned a 2.13 ERA and a .142 opponents’ average since the start of July.

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Garza knocked out by rib-cage injury

The conspiracy theorists can discuss the circumstances surrounding Matt Garza’s sudden departure all they want, but Sunday’s final result was not a matter for debate.

A crushing, 3-2 loss to the Cardinals sent the Brewers away from Busch Stadium with the slimmest of leads in the National League Central.

Garza exited a one-hitter after 71 pitches and six scoreless innings because of a left rib-cage strain, a troublesome development in itself that was made worse by the fact it was not relayed to the broadcasters covering the game. That opened Brewers manager Ron Roenicke to significant second-guessing as the Cardinals rallied quickly against Garza’s replacements.

Zach Duke retired only one of the three batters he faced and Jeremy Jeffress opened his outing by allowing three straight singles, including Oscar Taveras’ go-ahead hit, as the Cardinals scored three times in the seventh inning to claim the series, two games to one.

“They dodged a bullet today,” Garza said.

The Brewers, meanwhile, absorbed one. Including his outing Sunday, when Matt Adams mustered the only hit off Garza — a fifth-inning double — Garza has allowed only two runs and eight hits in 21 innings over three starts since his nightmarish outing in Washington D.C. coming out of the All-Star break. Against St. Louis, he struck out four batters, hit one, but did not walk any.

Garza said he felt a muscle grab on his left side on his second-to-last pitch.

“It was like, ‘Son of a gun,’” Garza said. “You put a bullpen in that situation where everybody is caught off-guard. Your starter has 70 pitches, nobody assumes he’s coming out.”

But Garza told reporters it was his own decision to come out of the game, even though television cameras saw him with a helmet on his head and a bat in his hand in the top of the seventh inning. Garza was quickly called back and replaced by pinch-hitter Lyle Overbay.

A miscommunication, according to Roenicke.

“He wasn’t going on-deck. He didn’t understand what I was telling him down below,” Roenicke said. “I told him he was done, but he figured he was still going to go up there. I talked to him before that. He said he couldn’t go [pitch]. When you’re talking about obliques, it’s not a question of whether a guy can go out there or not. He can’t go out there.”

Asked whether there was a chance of it being a long-term issue, Roenicke said, “there’s a chance.”

“I’m going to stay positive and say it’s not bad,” Garza said, “but it’s bad enough to where I had to take myself out of the game, and I don’t do that. I had to look at long-term more than short-term. I could have kept going and made it worse, and I could have been out, probably, the rest of the year.”

As it is, he could still miss some time. Garza will be examined in Milwaukee on Monday, an off day for the team, by Dr. William Raasch. Garza suffered a similar injury, but more serious, in his estimation, injury during Spring Training with the Cubs last year and opened on the disabled list.

If the Brewers need a replacement, Marco Estrada would be the likeliest choice. He made 18 starts this season before a move to long relief.

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Gennett, Segura sit out with stiff quads

With two important months remaining in the regular season, the Brewers have some concern about the lingering leg issues dogging their double play combination.

Both second baseman Scooter Gennett (right quadriceps) and Jean Segura (left quadriceps) were sidelined Sunday after previous injuries flared up in Saturday’s loss at Busch Stadium. Segura played the full game, but Gennett exited in the sixth inning.

“It’s OK ,” he said Sunday morning. “It’s just one of those things that obviously isn’t going to really go away. It probably will eventually. I just need to watch out, how much I’m using it. I can’t go out all-speed every time. That’s usually how I play, I’m running out every ground ball no matter what the case is. I think the only time I don’t run the ball out is when there’s a runner on first and I pop out and there’s nowhere for me to go. I just have to watch, have to be smart.”

Would it help to take off an extended stretch?

“I did. I took, like, five days off, and it felt good,” Gennett said, referring to a stretch just after the All-Star break. “Then it just got a little tight on me again. I think it’s just one of those things where us as players learn how to play through some things. At the same time, if I get on and I’m the winning run and I’m at second base, I don’t want to not be able to score for my team. I think that’s where we all have to be smart. I’ll have to communicate well with them to let them know how I feel. Right now, it’s not the right time to have a serious injury.”

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