His team off to the worst start in franchise history at 2-12, Brewers owner Mark Attanasio arrived at Miller Park on Wednesday and answered questions during batting practice. He could not have been more clear: For the moment, he’s putting the blame for the team’s poor start on the players, and not the likes of GM Doug Melvin or manager Ron Roenicke.
He also made clear that he’s just as frustrated as other fans.
“It’s brutal,” Attanasio said. “You turn on the TV every night and expect to see something different, and I know one of these nights we will.”
Here’s the full transcript:
On whether he’s regretting the decision to keep the core of the team intact following last season’s collapse:
“First of all, what I find in business and investing is you make you decisions based on the facts that you have in front of you looking forward, rather than trying to go back and say should you have done this or should you have done that. I had a fan write me a thoughtful letter today and I corresponded with him. One thing I disagreed with — I understood his pain, because I feel it profoundly. But one thing I disagreed with was that we just made decisions based on hope. We were just hoping for good karma. That’s not the case. We did a huge amount of analysis.
“We’ve got 25 players, virtually every one of them is an established Major Leaguer, and by my count all but five are below their career norms. Maybe six if you want to count [Francisco Rodriguez] in the bullpen, which I count. Frankie is doing fine. But you have 20 of 25 guys below their career norms. That is not what you would expect, because the sport is so analyzable and predictable. What makes a Major League player special is he can perform pretty much the same level year in and year out. We’ve got a lot of really established Major League players here, with very few newbies at this point. So this was not something built on false hope. I believe [the team will be better] if these guys play the way they can, including with the injuries. Injuries are part of the game. The guys who came in last night to play did a hell of a job, and I have a lot of confidence in Martin Maldonado. Ron showed the confidence he had in Elian Herrera by plugging him right into the lineup. It wasn’t like we brought him up from Colorado Springs and had him sit on the bench. So once everybody plays to their [usual] level of performance, we’ll be OK.”
On whether he’s content to just ride it out:
“Well, I’m not sure what else we could do at this point. We set our team. We’ve got established guys. What else can you do?”
What about personnel changes?
“Listen, Doug and the baseball staff are doing the analysis on different options for us. They are always analyzing. Every day, there are guys up in the ‘war room’ analyzing options. Last year, we were 10-4, they were upstairs analyzing options. This year we’re analyzing options while we’re [2-12].”
On whether he remains confident in the fundamental analysis that this is a good team:
“They need to demonstrate — each of these players needs to play to his expected [level]. They don’t need to do more. I think Matt Garza commented on that and some others. Players don’t have to do more, they just have to do their job and do what they’re good at. Last year we had one of the top pitching staffs in quality starts, and this year we have two quality starts. The starters have to step it up.”
On the challenge of remaining positive:
“It’s always a challenge to harness your emotions. Sometimes when you get emotional you make a good decision, actually. So you always try to balance between, ‘Am I being too measured,’ and, ‘What should we be doing here?’ We have a lot of people looking at this, a whole team of people looking at this. Most importantly, we have a whole clubhouse of guys who are expecting to play well any day now. We would like that to be tonight.”
On the status of Roenicke:
“I know how bad we’ve played. But we’re 14 games into the season, and Ron didn’t give up two grand slams last night. I think we have to kind of parse through it. Everybody needs to be accountable, but we have to look at what people are responsible for, and then hold them accountable for what they’re responsible for. So Ron had Mike [Fiers] pitching, and Mike was still at a point in the game with 70 pitches that he should have been pitching. He needs to execute his pitches better. Martin Maldonado took some accountability last night. I liked seeing that. He didn’t throw the ball, but he received the ball and he’s a guy who hit a home run last night, and he’s taking accountability. That’s a good thing to see.”
On the status of Melvin:
“Right now, my examinations are focused on how to improve our performance on the field. Relative to me, I’m not looking at the manager or the general manager right now.”
Follow me on Twitter @AdamMcCalvy
Two pieces of advice for today:
1. Pace yourselves. Between Opening Day against the Rockies this afternoon and the Badgers in the National Championship Game tonight, it’s a marathon, not a sprint.
2. Head to your seat early.
An edict from Major League Baseball requires teams to screen fans at they enter every game at every stadium this season, so it will take longer than usual to get through the gates at Miller Park, especially for sold-out games like today’s. To help ease the burden today, the Brewers will open the stadium gates 2 1/2 hours before game time, at 10:40 a.m. CT.
All fans will walk through a metal detector prior to having their tickets scanned. If the device detects the presence of metal, the guest will be checked with a hand-held wand. Bags will still be checked, just as they have been for the last several years.The Brewers will have an Express Lane at most gates for fans entering Miller Park without a bag or purse.
Bottom line: It will take some time to get to your seat. Come in early.
And hey, if you get stuck in line, you can revisit our Opening Day preview content at Brewers.com:
The key player: Return to form makes Braun, Brewers dangerous
The manager: Roenicke’s focus on future, not past
The festivities: Selig to throw out first pitch at Brewers opener
The opinion: NL Central is clearly the best division in baseball
The game preview: All eyes on healthy sluggers for Opening Day
Follow me on Twitter @AdamMcCalvy
Encouraged by his progress since undergoing treatment for a right hamstring injury 10 days earlier, Brewers catcher Jonathan Lucroy made the case Friday that he might actually get more work than usual this spring, despite being sidelined for a chunk of Cactus League games.
The prognosis calls for Lucroy to miss 4-6 weeks of Spring Training, but he has been working out at Maryvale Baseball Park since Sunday and participated all week in baseball drills that did not involve running. Lucroy expects to catch pitchers’ bullpen sessions and take part in defensive drills as usual. He will refrain from running until cleared by the athletic training staff.
“There’s no rush,” Lucroy said. “I can do everything but sprint, which I couldn’t really [do] to begin with.”
Lucroy suffered a similar injury last August that flared up last month when he ramped-up his running. After an MRI scan and visits with two physicians, he was diagnosed with what the Brewers called a “mild strain” (technically, according to Lucroy, a slight tear to one of his hamstring tendons) and prescribed a platelet-rich plasma injection on Feb. 10.
As pitchers and catchers reported to camp Friday, Lucroy reported significant improvement.
“I’ve seen a lot of people say, ‘Oh my God, he can’t play.’ Well, actually, I can,” Lucroy said. “I’ll just go on the Minor League side and probably get three times as many at-bats as I could over here. I actually like doing that. It’s fun, because I can lead off or hit second every inning and to a 70 percent jog.”
Even at the long end of his projected rehabilitation, Lucroy should be back to full health in plenty of time for the Brewers’ April 6 season opener. In the meantime, the Brewers have two other catchers on the 40-man roster (Martin Maldonadi and Juan Centeno) plus four non-roster invitees Nevin Ashley, Parker Berberet, Cameron Garfield and Adam Weisenburger). Bullpen catcher Marcus Hanel also helps handle the workload during the busy early days of Spring Training.
Follow me on Twitter @AdamMcCalvy
A hamstring injury will sideline Brewers catcher Jonathan Lucroy for 4-6 weeks, the team announced Wednesday, a surprise blow for a ballclub set to begin Spring Training next week.
The announcement came via Twitter and did not specify how Lucroy was hurt. He was in Milwaukee on Monday for an examination with Brewers head physician William Raasch, who diagnosed a “mild” right hamstring strain, then traveled to Miami on Tuesday for a second opinion from Miami Marlins medical director Dr. Lee Kaplan, who confirmed the diagnosis.
Brewers assistant GM Gord Ash was to provide further details about Lucroy’s status on Wednesday morning.
Even at the more conservative end of the Brewers’ prognosis, Lucroy, 28, should be healthy by the time the Brewers open the regular season on April 6 against the Rockies at Miller Park. But he will miss the bulk of Spring Training, and those lost at-bats are troublesome in light of Lucroy’s experience in 2013, when he sat idle for a few weeks in March as a backup on the U.S. roster for the World Baseball Classic. Lucroy cited that downtime as a factor in his slow start to the regular season that year, when he posted a .687 OPS in April.
He rebounded in the season half of 2013, then enjoyed a breakthrough last season, finishing fourth in National League MVP balloting. Lucroy led the league with 53 doubles while batting .301, broke Ivan Rodriguez’s Major League record for doubles as a catcher, and became the first Brewers catcher ever to start an All-Star Game. He was particularly devastated by the Brewers’ late-season slide from playoff contention, and spoke of assuming a more prominent leadership position in the clubhouse when he reported to Spring Training.
The Brewers have a quality backup catcher in defensively-minded Martin Maldonado, who signed a two-year contract last month. The other catcher on the 40-man roster is Juan Centeno, who briefly appeared in the big leagues with the Mets in 2013 and 2014 before the Brewers claimed him off waivers in October.
Brewers pitchers and catchers report to camp on Feb. 20. The first full-squad workout is Feb. 26.
Follow me on Twitter @AdamMcCalvy
The Brewers’ search for a reliever with closing experience led them to former Indians All-Star Chris Perez, who inked a Minor League contract Wednesday with invitation to big league Spring Training camp.
Perez, an All-Star in 2011 and 2012, has dealt with off-field drama and on-field struggles over the past two seasons, but is still just 29 years old and averaged a 94.3 mph fastball last season with the Dodgers, his best velocity since 2010. The right-hander met about 10 days ago in Tampa with Brewers Minor League pitching coordinator Rick Tomlin and pro scout Cory Melvin and made a pitch for a bounce-back.
“He’s geared up to get back to where he’s pitched before,” said Doug Melvin, Corey’s father and the Brewers’ GM. “Sometimes with relievers, they have good years, bad years, and can bounce back. He’s got a good enough arm.”
Perez took over as Cleveland’s closer in 2010 and, over his first three seasons in that role, compiled 98 saves with a 1.137 WHIP. But he began to fade in 2013, pleading guilty to a drug charge after a package containing marijuana was sent to his home. He converted 25 of 30 save chances, lost the closer’s role in late September as Cleveland chased a postseason position, and was let go in October.
He signed with the Dodgers for 2014 and posted a 4.27 ERA in 49 games as a set-up man. When Perez was struggling with unfamiliar mop-up duties in early August, the Dodgers placed him on the disabled list and sent him to a nearby Class A affiliate. When he returned, Perez pitched a spotless September, logging nine scoreless appearances while holding hitters to a .087 average.
According to a source,
Broxton Perez can top out at $3 million if he makes Milwaukee’s Opening Day roster and hits all of the incentives built into his contract. Per club policy, the Brewers did not release any salary details.
Melvin has been in the market for experienced bullpen arms all winter, and have had recent talks with the Phillies about closer Jonathan Papelbon, and with agent Scott Boras about the return of free agent Francisco Rodriguez. Melvin offered no updates on either of those possibilities Wednesday in the wake of the Perez news.
At the moment, the Brewers plan to enter the season with Jonathan Broxton as the closer. Left-hander Will Smith and right-hander Jeremy Jeffress figure to fill-set-up roles, and both have some closer potential. The Brewers also have right-hander Brandon Kintzler and newly-signed left-hander Neal Cotts penciled in for spots. Perez would join a group of players vying for other openings.
“The one thing is, I think we’re creating competition,” Melvin said. “You just can’t commit seven guys to the bullpen; you have to have some flexibility. But whether it’s the off-season or in-season, you’re always looking to improve your ballclub.”
Follow me on Twitter @AdamMcCalvy
Teddy Higuera, one of the best pitchers in Brewers history during his brief peak, is getting a star on the team’s Wall of Fame.
After finishing two votes shy last year, the Mexican-born left-hander garnered enough support this time from Wisconsin media and Brewers front office officials for induction, and will be honored on the plaza outside Miller Park on Aug. 14 before a Brewers-Phillies game.
Higuera, all 5-foot-10 of him, burst onto the Brewers’ scene as a rookie in 1985, going 15-8 with a 3.90 ERA and running second to the White Sox’s Ozzie Guillen in American League Rookie of the Year balloting. The next year, Higuera became only the third 20-game winner in Brewers history, going 20-11 with a 2.79 ERA and 207 strikeouts for a second-place finish in AL Cy Young Award balloting to Roger Clemens (who was also the league’s MVP). In 1987, Higuera won 18 more games and struck out 240, a club record that stood until Ben Sheets broke it in 2004. In 1988, Higuera’s 0.999 WHIP led the American League.
Injuries prevented Higueramania from taking hold. In 1989, Higuera underwent back surgery and was limited to 22 starts. In 1991, he tore his right rotator cuff underwent a series of surgeries that essentially ended his playing career. After missing all of 1992, Higuera made only 20 more Major League starts with an ERA that topped 7.00.
Nevertheless, he remains one of the most accomplished pitchers in franchise history. Higuera is the Brewers’ all-time leader in wins above replacement for a pitcher (30.6, according to the Baseball-Reference.com measure), and ranks third in ERA and victories, and fifth in WHIP.
“We are thrilled to honor Teddy Higuera with a plaque on the Miller Park Walk of Fame,” Brewers COO Rick Schlesinger said. “Teddy was a lifetime Brewer, and he still ranks among franchise leaders in many pitching statistics. Just as important, though, is that he’s always been an engaging personality and a terrific representative of those who have worn the Brewers uniform. We look forward to his return to Milwaukee and the opportunity to recognize his achievements with a permanent marker at Miller Park.”
A total of 32 votes were cast and Higuera received 25 votes (78.1%), exceeding the threshold of 65% needed for election. Former Milwaukee Braves first baseman Joe Adcock (20 votes) and Brewers pitcher Mike Caldwell (17) were the closest to qualifying among eligible former players and coaches.
The Walk of Fame already includes plaques honoring Hank Aaron, Rollie Fingers, Paul Molitor, and Robin Yount (inducted in 2001); Commissioner Bud Selig and Cecil Cooper (2002); broadcaster Bob Uecker and former Brewers GM Harry Dalton (2003); Jim Gantner and Gorman Thomas (20040; Don Money and manager Harvey Kuenn (2005). After balloting was opened to former Milwaukee Braves greats, Eddie Mathews, Warren Spahn and GM John Quinn (2007), Lew Burdette (2010) and Johnny Logan (2013) also gained induction.
Full balloting results:
The Brewers finalized their one-year pact with free-agent reliever Neal Cotts on Friday, adding the veteran left-hander to a bullpen that could see at least one more new arm added before the start of Spring Training.
To make room on a full 40-man roster, the Brewers designated utility man Elian Herrera for assignment.
Cotts, who turns 35 in March, will replace Zach Duke in Milwaukee’s bullpen as a second left-handed option alongside Will Smith. The Brewers struck gold last year with Duke, who inked a Minor League contract in January, made the team out of Spring Training and, for a relatively modest $850,000, delivered a 2.45 ERA over 74 appearances, struck out more than four batters for every walk and held left-handed hitters to a .198 average.
Duke parlayed his strong 2014 season in Milwaukee into a three-year, $15 million contract with the White Sox earlier this offseason. The Brewers had interest in bringing back Duke, but they could not match that financial commitment. They had been searching the market for left-handed relief ever since.
Because of Duke’s history as a starting pitcher, manager Ron Roenicke was comfortable using him against hitters from both sides of the plate. The same could prove true of Cotts, who has been a reliever most of his career but has fared better against right-handed batters (.703 OPS) than lefties (.753). Last season, right-handed hitters compiled a .680 OPS against Cotts, compared to .775 for left-handers. In his excellent 2013 season, right-handers had a .436 OPS against him and left-handers were at .565.
The Brewers’ top options against tough left-handed handers could include Smith (.516 OPS last season, .681 career) and right-handed reliever Brandon Kintzler (.648 OPS last season, .624 career).
Injuries kept Cotts out of the Major Leagues for three seasons from 2010-12, but he returned in ‘13 to post a career year for the Rangers, sporting a 1.11 ERA in 58 appearances while striking out 65 batters in 57 innings. He regressed last season, posting a 4.32 ERA that was closer to his career mark of 4.05.
Cotts is 20-24 in 415 games (five starts) in nine Major League seasons with the White Sox, Cubs and Rangers.
Follow me on Twitter @AdamMcCalvy
Another cheesehead is joining manager Matt Erickson’s staff at Class A Wisconsin, the Brewers made official Tuesday while finalizing their Minor League coaching assignments.
Gary Lucas, a former Major League reliever who lives in Rice Lake, Wis., was named the Timber Rattlers pitching coach under Appleton native Erickson, confirming a report in the Appleton Post-Crescent last month. Lucas is coming off 10 seasons as a coach in the Minnesota Twins’ farm system.
Among his students over the years was current Brewers right-hander Matt Garza.
“No matter what generation you are, the game never changes for me,” Lucas told the St. Paul Pioneer Press for a 2012 story. “This game is difficult and it requires a lot of patience in your teaching. They might be kids from a different era but they still have a love for the game, have a passion for the game that we had.
“How can I bring that passion out of them? How can I make them feel that someone is in their corner and tweak them up when they’re going good and be somebody they can lean on when they’re going bad?”
Erickson is returning for his fifth season as manager at Wisconsin but has three new staff members working under him. In addition to Lucas, the Brewers named Liu Rodriguez as a coach and Steve Timmers as strength and conditioning specialist. Another coach, Chuckie Caufield, and athletic trainer Jeff Paxson are holdovers from last season.
Most of the Brewers’ other coaching staffs remained unchanged, including at the Triple-A and Double-A levels, where Milwaukee has new affiliates in Colorado Springs and Biloxi. The coaching staffs at rookie-level Helena and Arizona also remained the same.
Here are the full assignments at the other affiliates:
Colorado Springs Sky Sox (Triple-A): Manager Rick Sweet, pitching coach Fred Dabney, coach Bob Skube, athletic trainer Aaron Hoback and strength and conditioning specialist Andrew Emmick.
Biloxi Shuckers (Double-A): Manager Carlos Subero, pitching coach Chris Hook, coach Sandy Guerrero, athletic trainer Steve Parera, strength and conditioning specialist Nate Dine.
Brevard County Manatees (Class A Advanced): Manager Joe Ayrault, pitching coach David Chavarria, coach Ned Yost IV, coach Reggie Williams, athletic trainer Tommy Craig, strength and conditioning specialist Jonah Mergen.
Helena Brewers (rookie): Manager Tony Diggs, pitching coach Rolando Valles, coach Jason Dubois, athletic trainer Luke Greene, strength and conditioning specialist Tim Gifford.
Arizona Brewers (rookie): Manager Nestor Corredor, pitching coach Steve Cline, coach Al LeBoeuf, athletic trainer Greg Barajas.
Dominican Summer League Brewers: Manager Jose Pena, pitching coaches Geraldo Obispo and Jose Ramos, coaches Luis De Los Santos, Victor Estevez and Joan Abreu, athletic trainer Alex Mena and strength and conditioning specialist Alistair Matthews.
Follow me on Twitter @AdamMcCalvy
Brewers COO Rick Schlesinger has released a statement about the passing of Joseph Attanasio, the father of club owner Mark Attanasio and a fixture of the past 10 home openers at Miller Park:
“Joe was a huge part of the Brewers family, and was revered by everyone in the organization,” Schlesinger said. “He loved his family and the Brewers, and he will be greatly missed. Opening Day, and the traditions that accompany that occasion, will never be the same, and our thoughts are with the Attanasio family during this difficult time.”
A military veteran turned entrepreneur who moonlighted later in life as an actor, Joe Attanasio sung the National Anthem before every Brewers home opener from 2005-14, beginning with the year his son assumed ownership of the Brewers from the Selig family. Team officials in charge of pregame ceremonies in ’05 were in panic mode because they couldn’t locate their talent minutes before he was to go on.
“They didn’t know if he could sing, what was going to happen, and then they can’t find him. Well, he’s up the first-base line taking pictures of the players,” Mark Attanasio said in 2008. “They were afraid he was going to be nervous, and he was just loving the whole thing.
“After the performance, they said, ‘I guess he’s not nervous’ and ‘I guess he can sing.’ So he’s done it a couple of times since then.”
He did it a couple more times, too, always flanked by his wife of 60 years, Connie, the Mark Attanasio family and sometimes by another son, Paul, a renowned producer of films and television series.
Donations can be made in memory of Attanasio to the Jonsson Cancer Center Foundation for the support of the Translational Cancer Research Laboratory or the University of California Regents to support the work of Dr. Brandon Koretz.
Follow me on Twitter @AdamMcCalvy
Ryan Braun won’t know for sure until February or March, after he begins the grind of another baseball season and fends off a few 95 mph inside fastballs. But so far, it appears his October thumb surgery was a success.
“It definitely worked,” Braun said Wednesday, when the Brewers right fielder took part in a Thanksgiving food drive at Miller Park. “It made a huge difference.”
Braun underwent a cryotherapy procedure in Los Angeles on Oct. 2, in which a needle was inserted at the base of his right thumb to essentially freeze a troublesome nerve that forced Braun to alter his mechanics throughout 2014, contributing to the least productive season of his career.
Ten days later, Braun swung a bat for the first time and was relieved to find the pain had disappeared.
“Right now, I don’t feel any [discomfort], and I haven’t been able to say that for two years,” he said. “I think I’ve told you guys, it [bothered him] shaking hands, writing — you know, just everyday activities. Now I don’t feel it at all, so I’m excited.”
His optimism came with a dose of caution.
“I’m encouraged by how it feels, but at the same time, I think I have to be cautiously optimistic [until] I get into Spring Training and see how it responds,” Braun said. “But it hasn’t felt this good in a really long time.”
Braun said he had 100 percent medical clearance for all offseason activities, but has been taking a break from baseball since his initial round of hitting following surgery. He will resume his regular offseason routine in late December.
“I’m excited,” Braun said, “but at the same time, I went into last year and felt really good in Spring Training. For the first four of five weeks, it felt great, I played great, and then kind of re-injured it. But last year we also just rested it. We didn’t do a procedure. So I’m optimistic and excited. I feel like I have to be somewhat cautiously optimistic until we start playing a little bit. …
“I don’t think there’s enough information out there on the procedure to have any specific knowledge of how it’s going to respond or how long it will work or anything like that. We’re just trying to figure it out as we go.”
Considering the swift and dramatic improvement, Does Braun wish he had done something in-season?
“Hindsight is always 20/20,” Braun said. “It’s easy to say that now. At the time, I definitely wanted to do it, but I understood why we decided not to. I’m just thankful we were able to do it after the season, and it feels a lot better now.”
A better Braun would mean a better Brewers offense compared to the group that slumped to the finish of 2014. After ranking second to the Rockies in most offensive categories before the All-Star break, only the Braves and Reds scored fewer runs than the Brewers in the second half.
Braun knows he played a significant role in the slump.
“We should be significantly better,” he said. “I said it last year a few times, I really believe if I was anywhere near healthy, the season ends up differently. Hopefully, this thing continues to feel good like it does right now, and I can get back to being one of the best players in the league.”
Braun also discussed other matters:
— On the trade for first baseman Adam Lind amid an otherwise quiet Brewers winter to this point:
“It’s early in the offseason,” Braun said. “Sometimes it takes time for any big moves to happen or occur, but I think getting Adam Lind is huge for us. Adding a left-handed bat to the middle of our lineup should be something that really benefits us. It’s probably been one of our bigger issues over the last couple of years is that we’ve been a predominantly right-handed hitting lineup, and our division has really good right-handed pitchers.”
— On the Brewers’ second half collapse sinking in:
“I think it’s like that every year, there’s years that are far more enjoyable to digest than what happened in this year,” he said. “For all of us, it was a disappointing finish, so I think you take some time to reflect and try to figure out what happened, what went wrong, and how we can avoid having it happen again.”
— On the addition of hitting coach Darnell Coles:
“It’s great, because a lot of us are familiar with him, especially a lot of the young guys,” braun said. “He has a relationship with a lot of the younger guys. It’s a really difficult and challenging position. If you’re a hitting coach, you’re basically a psychologist or a psychiatrist, so having a relationship with a lot of the guys will be really beneficial for him or for us.”
— On fatherhood:
“The whole experience is indescribably beautiful,” Braun said. “So much fun. Every day is a unique adventure. A couple of days ago, she figured out how to stick her tongue out. It’s her new trick, so every time she does it she gets a reaction out of us. It’s so much fun.”
He was outside Miller Park on a 25 degree day accepting donations at a Thanksgiving food drive staged by the Hunger Task Force and Brewers Community Foundation. Braun attended the same event on a much colder day last year, making his first public comments since being suspended by Major League Baseball for the final 65 games of the 2013 season.
“It’s a rewarding feeling for all of us volunteers who are out here,” Braun said. “Hunger Task Force does an incredible job and Brewers Community Foundation does a great job being involved. It’s just a really special time of the year to have an opportunity to give back.”
Follow me on Twitter @AdamMcCalvy