Matt Lepay has called seven Rose Bowls and two Final Fours as the statewide radio voice of the Wisconsin Badgers for the last 26 years, his latest basketball national semifinal not two weeks ago. Yet he was a nervous rookie before his first Major League Baseball broadcast on Thursday.
“If I told you anything else, I would be lying,” Lepay said as the Brewers prepared for batting practice Thursday. “I am a nervous dude.’”
Lepay is the newest member of the FS Wisconsin television team, and is teaming with veteran color analyst Bill Schroeder during the Brewers-Pirates series this week while regular play-by-play man Brian Anderson works the NBA playoffs for TBS.
Lepay has very little experience calling baseball, and was clear with Brewers officials about that as they conducted their search. As a budding broadcaster in southwest Ohio, he called some American Legion games for a local station, and later broadcast a Class A Madison Muskies game as a favor to that team’s GM.
“I told them, ‘I did it, but you’ll have to take my word for it, because I have no idea where the cassette tape is,’” Lepay said.
The Brewers and FS Wisconsin announced the addition of Lepay in January, and the plan called for some practice broadcasts during Spring Training following the Badgers basketball season. But Frank Kaminsky & Co. had other plans, beating American, Oregon, Baylor and Arizona to earn a date in the Final Four against Kentucky.
Each time, Lepay had to push back his trip to Maryvale Baseball Park. In the end, the Badgers’ run extended into the Brewers’ regular season. So how did Lepay brush up on baseball?
“It’s hard to explain, but guys who do what I do — at least I think this is the case — can sit at home, watch the game, and in my mind, I’ll call it,” he said. “The At-Bat app became my very good friend. Even toward the end of the [Badgers’] regular season, I could be in a hotel in Lincoln, Neb. or you name it after my Badger work was done, and I’d be watching Brewers [Spring Training] games on my phone or my iPad. That was how I did it.”
It will be a significant adjustment from the pace of football and basketball.
“The pace will be different, the fact it is TV will be different, but I’m trying not to make it more than it is,” Lepay said. “Baseball is my first love, but it’s one thing for it to be your first love, and another to be the guy calling the game.”
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Rickie Weeks’ Spring Training began with such promise after the longtime Brewers second baseman made what he called a “minute” adjustment to the position of his hands. He was aiming for a quicker, smoother swing, and more consistency should the Brewers return to a right/left platoon system between Weeks and Scooter Gennett.
More than two weeks into the regular season, that platoon is in place, the mechanical change is still in place, but Weeks is off to a terribly slow start. Gennett entered Wednesday’s start hitting .273/.314/.333, while Weeks was on the bench, hitting .150/.150/.200. Pinch-hitting on Tuesday night against Cardinals left-hander Kevin Siegrest, Weeks struck out looking at a fastball down the middle.
“I see him in [batting practice], he still looks good,” Brewers manager Ron Roenicke said. “But somewhere along the line, you need to have that feeling and get some hits and feel confident, and then hopefully that carries you for a long spell.
“There’s a lot of platoon systems that work really well. The guy who’s the right-handed hitter, he’s the one who’s got the games where you might not play for two weeks.”
So the challenge for the manager is figuring out how to get Weeks going.
“It may be difficult,” Roenicke said. “We’re trying to win as many games as we can win, and I have to figure out who are the best guys to put out there that day. It’s difficult on some of them. It’s no different than a guy who is playing every single day [in the Minor Leagues], he comes to the big leagues and now he’s a bench player. It’s the same thing.”
Weeks typically does not like to discuss tough times. When a reporter approached him last week to ask about how the platoon was going, he said, “It’s just one of those things you have to do.”
Has Roenicke had more in-depth conversations?
“We talk about what I have planned, what I’m thinking,” Roenicke said. “But I don’t know past that too much.”
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Brewers fans will see something Saturday they have not witnessed in a generation: A player receiving his Rawlings Gold Glove Award.
Center fielder Carlos Gomez will be so honored in a pregame ceremony at 6 p.m. CT, 10 minutes before the Brewers face the Pirates at Miller Park.
To Gomez, a proud defender, this is a big deal.
“I’m trying to continue the good job to get more,” he said. “I don’t think one is enough. To be one of the best, you have to be consistent about it.”
Gomez’s is the 10th Gold Glove Award in franchise history, spread among five different players. George Scott won five in a row at first base from 1972-76, Cecil Cooper won in back-to-back years at first base from 1979-80, Sixto Lezcano won as an outfielder in 1979, and Robin Yount at shortstop in 1982. After Yount, the Brewers had gone 30 seasons without a Gold Glove winner, which was the longest streak in the 57-year history of the award.
Gomez won his award in part by making five home run-saving catches, and he did not commit an error over his last 32 games. He was actually presented the hardware in November — Gomez posed for a photo with Willie Mays that appears in the Brewers’ media guide — but gave the award back to the folks at Rawlings, who forwarded it to the Brewers so they could host a local ceremony in Milwaukee.
“It makes sense, they give it to you in front of your own fans,” Gomez said.
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Normally on a day Cliff Lee takes the mound, one says something like, “Team X has its hands full tonight.”
Tonight, it might be the other way around.
Lee may have his hands full at Citizens Bank Park on Thursday when he faces a Brewers offense that has turned things around in a big way since scoring four total runs while losing two of three to the Braves in Milwaukee’s opening series. In their first five road games at Boston and Philadelphia entering tonight, the Brewers are a perfect 5-0 while putting up some promising numbers at the plate and on the mound:
– On the trip, the Brewers have scored 36 runs on 67 hits while batting .321 as a team. In the first two games in Philadelphia, they have 19 runs on 27 hits, including 13 extra-base hits. Khris Davis and Jonathan Lucroy have at least one hit in every game on the trip. Davis is 10-for-24 and Lucroy is 8-for-21 in that span. Aramis Ramirez has a hit and an RBI in all but one of those five games.
– Brewers radio man Joe Block points out that the last time the Brewers went without a hit in an inning was the sixth inning on Sunday in Boston. Since then, they have a hit in 21 consecutive innings, which, according to Elias, is a franchise record. The previous club mark was 18 innings in May 1972. The streak is the longest in the Majors since the Yankees had a hit in 22 consecutive innings in May 2009.
– The Brewers have a Major League-best 1.95 ERA this season (74 innings, 16 earned runs) while opponents are batting .207 (56-for-270). Brewers relievers have been especially good, with a Major League-best 1.09 ERA this season (24 2/3 innings, three earned runs) with opponents batting .165 (14-for-85).
– Even though Kyle Lohse and Matt Garza had to grind through their starts in Philly, the Brewers’ starting five still ranks fifth in baseball with a 2.37 ERA, and no pitcher on the team has surrendered more than three earned runs in a single outing. They are keeping the team in games.
– Thanks to this trip, the Brewers are the No. 1 team in MLB in run differential as of today at plus 18, as pointed out by Buster Olney of ESPN.
– Brewers PR man Mike Vassallo says the Brewers have not won six in a row on the road in a single season since a franchise-record 9 straight from July 18-Aug. 2, 2008, when CC Sabathia was just introducing himself to Brewers fans.
– Paul Imig of FSWisconsin.com says the Brewers are 5-0 on the road for the first time since 1987, when Team Streak started the season 7-0 away from County Stadium on the way to an American League-record 13-0 start over all.
– And Kyle Lobner of Milwaukee Magazine’s Frosty Mug (yes, it has a new home, and you should make it part of your daily reading) points out that the Brewers have sole possession of first place in the National League Central for the first time since the end of the 2011 season.
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So much happened after the second inning on Saturday night on the way to the Brewers’ 11-inning win over the Red Sox that manager Ron Roenicke forgot to say something to reporters about catcher Martin Maldonado’s sensational pick-and-throw to catch a runner trying to steal second base.
Roenicke rectified his oversight on Sunday morning.
“I don’t think I’ve ever seen a better play from a catcher,” Roenicke said.
Maldonado, a superior defensive catcher, called it his best throw ever. Brewers pitcher Kyle Lohse ranked it high on his list, too.
“I saw a lot of [Yadier] Molina, but I don’t remember seeing anything quite like that one,” Lohse said.
The play was great for several reasons, starting with the fact the Brewers were having a terrible defensive inning and had already given away one unearned run. The runner, Red Sox infielder Jonathan Herrera, got a good jump. The called pitch, a backdoor slider, was pulled low and inside and bounced near Herrera’s feet. The throw, with left-handed hitter Jackie Bradley, Jr. in the way, had no tail and came from Maldonado’s knees, a perfect strike to shortstop Jean Segura. Herrera was out easily.
Maldonado loves those types of throws because he grew up idolizing fellow Puerto Rican Benito Santiago, who always threw from his knees.
“That was the best throw I’ve had,” Maldonado said. “It’s like a reaction. I was expecting a backdoor slider, and instead it was right behind the hitter. … I saw it in here [on replay]. I’m more comfortable throwing standing up, but in that case, that was the only chance I had.”
Said Lohse: “That’s one of those things you can’t teach. We were having a bad inning, and that stopped it right there. That was awesome.”
Roenicke wants to see it again.
“If that’s not the play of the week somewhere, somebody doesn’t know what they’re doing,” Roenicke said.
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Here’s a transcript of what Ryan Braun had to say about his absence from the Brewers’ lineup today because of a mixture of pain and numbness in his right thumb:
“It just is what it is,” he said. “I deal with it the best I can. There will probably be some ups and downs, and hopefully, it gets better.”
Did it get worse yesterday?
“I mean, not really. It’s similar,” Braun said.
Of his poor at-bats in the Brewers’ win over the Red Sox: “The challenging thing is when I can’t take a normal swing. I think the first series, I did, I took a lot of good swings and lined out quite a few times, had some good at-bats. Yesterday, that wasn’t the case. It’s frustrating. I’ve dealt with it a long time. Like I said, I’m optimistic we’ll figure something out to make it better, but when it gets to a point I can’t come close to taking a normal swing, it’s counterproductive to the team and to me to continue to play.”
Is the trouble the pain? That he can’t grip the bat? Can’t feel it?
“All of the above,” Braun said. “The analogy is like, if you touch a hot stove, no matter how badly you want to keep your hand there, the natural reaction will be to take your hand off of it. That’s kind of what happens every time I make contact when it gets bad. No matter what I want to do or try to do, I can’t keep two hands on the bat. I’ve tried lots of different things, lots of different padding. Hopefully, we’ll figure something out, some type of treatment, something that eventually helps.”
Does he hope to play Sunday?
“I’m optimistic,” Braun said. “For the most part, it was there in Spring Training [when Braun hit three homers and batted better than .400]. It helped that I didn’t take BP [batting practice] much in Spring Training. I didn’t hit a whole lot, and that helped a little bit. I won’t hit today. I won’t do anything today.”
So why didn’t Braun have surgery last year during his suspension?
“The only two surgeries we knew of last year, neither of them were appealing,” he said. “Look, I rely on the advice of people who are much more knowledgeable on this stuff that I am. The only two surgeries they described last year, one is I would never feel anything in my thumb again, because they would completely remove the nerve. That doesn’t make sense just long-term, living life. The other one, there would be nerve endings, because they would remove the nerve but the nerve endings would still be there, which could be really painful, and [Dr. Don Sheridan, the specialist who examined Braun several times] said he didn’t think that would be a great option, either. Then, when we saw him in the spring, there is a third option that he thinks could potentially work, but it’s not something that’s been done very often. Without getting into too many details, because I’m not an expert and I don’t want to say something that’s inaccurate, I know it hasn’t been done a lot but it’s something that he thought might work.”
If he did a surgery, would be have to miss the season?
“I’m not even thinking about doing it, so I don’t know,” he said. “I would imagine if I did it, it wouldn’t be a two-week fix, because I would have done it in Spring Training, to be honest with you. I have no idea. And again, because it’s probably not something they know much about, they wouldn’t be able to put a specific timetable on it and say.”
He didn’t hit much in the offseason.
“I didn’t swing a bat for five months. Nothing. Zero,” Braun said. “But I feel it shaking hands, writing. So it’s not just swinging. Anything that I use that area for, basically. But there’s times it’s better than others. I was encouraged in Spring Training because there were times I definitely thought it was improving. It might be something that just ebbs and flows and is good at times and not so good at others, and [he has to] just make the best of it and do the best I can.”
He admitted it’s not easy to maintain his optimistic facade.
“It’s frustrating, for sure,” Braun said. “It’s frustrating. But I don’t think it’s overly surprising, because it never went away in the offseason. It got better, but it never went away, so I had an idea it would be something I would deal with off and on. When I first experienced it last year and we started to get some feedback and the opinion of experts on this, I understood that it was kind of a long-term thing, that there probably wasn’t going to be a situation where it completely recovered, at least not quickly. So I don’t think I’m shocked by it, but it’s not fun.”
Other players deal with nagging pain. Might this just be a new normal?
“I don’t know. I hope not,” Braun said. “In spring, it was the best Spring Training I’ve had. The sample size [was small], and I think I’ve told you guys, I don’t put much value in results of Spring Training, but in the 40-plus plate appearances, however many I had, it was probably the best I’ve done. So I was encouraged I would find a way to deal with it, and hopefully I will.”
He dealt with the same pain in his hand last season, when Braun’s power was drained by the issue beginning in May. He said the problem began not when he was jammed by a pitch, but when he hit a ball off the end of the bat. Before that, he contends he was off to a great start to the season.
The cynics will say my numbers were down. My numbers weren’t down. My numbers were up,” Braun said. “I was on pace to have my best season. I think at the end of 25-30 games, I was hitting .320, had eight homers and was on pace to probably have my best year. I dealt with it for 25 games, for ever how many games I played after that.
On that walk back to the dugout when he was first hurt, “My thumb was numb. The whole thumb was numb. But I didn’t know. There’s always little things within the hand. You get jammed, you hit a ball off the end of the bat, your hand hurts. You just kind of assume it’ll go away after a couple of days. That’s what I was hoping would occur. It didn’t. And still hasn’t.”
He compared it to getting hit on the funny bone.
“That’s exactly what it feels like,” Braun said. “If you hit the funny bone, and the funny bone never got better for eight months. Not even minimally better. … In light of everything I’m dealing with, it makes it a little bit more frustrating for me than it would otherwise. I just deal with it the best I can. That’s all I can do.”
It’s not difficult to see that Braun is alluding to his comeback from last season’s suspension. He vowed when he reported to Spring Training that he would be better than ever in 2014, and now the hand issue represents a major impediment to that.
“I’m not oblivious to the circumstances that are surrounding me,” Braun said. “Trust me. I want more than anything to go out and have my best season.”
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Bad news for the Brewers: The thumb issue that compromised Ryan Braun’s 2013 season long before he was suspended is an issue once again.
Braun was limited to designated hitter duties for Friday’s Fenway Park opener because of the troublesome nerve between his thumb and forefinger. Braun can manage the pain he experiences when swinging the bat, but now is dealing with numbness throughout his thumb, which led to “crazy bruises and blisters” because he cannot tell how hard he is gripping the baseball for throws.
The hope, Braun said, is that a day off from throwing would give the Brewers’ athletic training staff time to treat the blisters. He hoped to be back in right field when the series continues Saturday.
Asked whether he worried this would bother him indefinitely, Braun said, “I hope not. I’m optimistic that eventually we’ll figure something out. It just kind of is what it is. Everybody deals with different things. I know what the alternative is, and I’m not ready to consider anything like that.”
That alternative, Braun learned during multiple visits this spring with hand specialist Don Sheridan, is surgery. Braun did not detail what sort of rehabilitation such a procedure would require, but suggested it would not be a quick fix.
Braun was bothered by the same thumb in the early months of last season, when he batted .298 with nine home runs and 38 games. He hit only two home runs after April 26, and none in 20 games from May 24 through his July 22 suspension for the remainder of the season.
Braun did not have surgery at that time because there are no guarantees it will work, and the hope existed that rest would resolve the problem. It did improve during his hiatus, and Braun belted a home run in his first Spring Training at-bat and hit three homers in the spring overall.
But as the at-bats piled up and Spring Training wore on, the problem returned, even as Braun and the medical staff found acceptable ways to pad his thumb when batting.
“I had the luxury of five months off. I’d never had that luxury before and I won’t have it again, so if that didn’t make it go away I don’t know what will,” Braun said. “I just deal with it the best I can. I know that it is what it is. I’m optimistic that eventually, we’ll figure something out.”
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The Brewers sent out tentative rosters for their Minor League affiliates this afternoon, and here’s a look:
Triple-A Nashville (28)
RHP Blazek, Michael
RHP Burgos, Hiram
RHP De La Torre, Jose
RHP Fiers, Mike
RHP Figaro, Alfredo
RHP Hand, Donovan
RHP Heckathorn, Kyle
RHP Hellweg, Johnny
LHP Mills, Brad
RHP Molleken, Dustin
RHP Nelson, Jimmy
RHP Pena, Ariel
RHP Wooten, Rob
C Diaz, Robinzon
C May, Lucas
C Pagnozzi, Matt
IF Falu, Irving
IF Gomez, Hector
IF Green, Taylor
IF Herrera, Elian
IF Morris, Hunter
IF Orr, Pete
IF Parker, Stephen
IF Velez, Eugenio
OF Gindl, Caleb
OF Halton, Sean
OF Hermida, Jeremy
OF Mattison, Kevin
(Here’s a story breaking down the Sounds’ roster from NashvilleSounds.com.)
Double-A Huntsville (28)
RHP Cravy, Tyler
RHP Gagnon, Drew
RHP Goforth, David
RHP Hall, Brooks
RHP Holle, Greg
RHP Jungmann, Taylor
LHP Leach, Brent
RHP Leon, Arcenio
RHP Lowe, Johnnie
RHP Marzec, Eric
RHP Medlen, Casey
RHP Moye, Andy
RHP Shackelford, Kevin
LHP Suter, Brent
C Paciorek, Joey
C Weisenburger, Adam
C Zarraga, Shawn
IF Hopkins, Greg
IF Prince, Josh
IF Ramirez, Nick
IF Rogers, Jason
IF Shaw, Nick
IF Statia, Hainley
IF Vucinich, Shea
OF Davis, Kentrail
OF Haniger, Mitch
OF Kjeldgaard, Brock
OF Richardson, D’Vontrey
Advanced Class A Brevard County (26)
RHP Barnes, Jacob
LHP Bradley, Jed
LHP Johnson, Hobbs
RHP Lopez, Jorge
RHP Magnifico, Damien
LHP Peterson, Stephen
RHP Pierce, Chad
RHP Poppe, Tanner
RHP Ross, Austin
LHP Strong, Michael
RHP Toledo, Tommy
RHP Viramontes, Martin
RHP Wagner, Tyler
C Berberet, Parker
C Garfield, Cameron
IF Arcia, Orlando
IF Cooper, Garrett
IF Garza, Mike
IF Macias, Brandon
IF Orf, Nathan
IF Rivera, Yadiel
IF Rodriguez, Alfredo
OF Reed, Michael
OF Roache, Victor
OF Sermo, Jose
OF Taylor, Tyrone
Class A Wisconsin (28)
LHP Alexander, Tyler
RHP Archer, Tristan
RHP Astin, Barrett
LHP Banda, Anthony
RHP Diaz, Victor
RHP Fernandez, Rodolfo
RHP Gainey, Preston
LHP Linehan, Tyler
RHP Martin, Harvey
RHP Quintana, Zachary
RHP Razo, Chris
LHP Seidenberger, Trevor
RHP Spurlin, Tyler
RHP Williams, Taylor
C Coulter, Clint
C Neda, Rafael
C Eshleman, Paul
IF Brennan, Taylor
IF Castillo, Francisco
IF Denson, David
IF Halcomb, Steven
IF McFarland, Chris
IF Ortega, Angel
OF Davis, Johnny
OF Garcia, Omar
OF Pena, Jose
OF Ratterree, Michael
OF Roenicke, Lance (player/coach)
(Story here, with more on Roenicke’s role coming at Brewers.com this evening)
Extended Spring Training
(many of these players will populate the rookie-level Helena- and Arizona Brewers rosters.)
RHP Deeter, Ryan
RHP Diaz, Miguel
RHP Ghelfi, Drew
RHP Gomez, Milton
RHP Harvey, Seth
RHP Hillis, Andy
LHP James, Kevin
RHP Lavandero, Alex
RHP Lieser, Scott
RHP Lorenzo, Leonard
RHP Moore, Brandon
RHP Ortega, Jorge
LHP Ortega, Luis
RHP Rizzo, Gian
RHP Semmelhack, Eric
LHP Terry, Clint
RHP Thompson, Chad
RHP Torres, Josh
RHP Uhen, Josh
RHP Ventura, Angel
LHP Walla, Max
RHP Williams, Devin
RHP Williams, Mark
C Cleary, Jack
C Houle, Dustin
C Mejia, Natanael
C Narron, Connor
C Norton, Tanner
C Otano, Leudy
C Post, Milan
IF Aviles, Luis
IF Delmonico, Nicky
IF Leonardo, Daniel
IF Matos, Sthervin
IF Munoz, Gregory
IF Neuhaus, Tucker
IF Quiterio, Jorge
IF Sharkey, Alan
OF Belonis, Carlos
OF Diaz, Brandon
OF Rivera, Edgardo
OF Rubio, Elvis
OF Williams, Eric
- The game itself offered the Brewers a taste of what they were missing most of last season from Ryan Braun, Aramis Ramirez and Yovani Gallardo, a core trio that will have a lot to say about what happens to the team this year. For those three players and everyone else, Opening Day offered an opportunity to turn the page from a tough 2013, though turning the page wasn’t enough for GM Doug Melvin.
- MLB.com columnist Mike Bauman wrote about Brewers fans embracing Braun in his return to active duty. Here’s video of the ovation that greeted Braun before his first at-bat.
- Braun had a hit taken away upon review, marking some baseball history.
- The final three outs offered a bit of a surprise, as Francisco Rodriguez, not Jim Henderson, was called upon in a save opportunity. Brewers manager Ron Roenicke explained after the game, and both K-Rod and Henderson reacted.
- Shortstop Jean Segura was in the starting lineup after fighting a sore shoulder in recent weeks. That news capped a remarkably healthy spring for the Brewers compared to recent years. That notebook also includes Mark Attanasio discussing the Brewers’ payroll situation, and, of course, a Hank the Dog mention. Click on the video of Opening Day festivities to see Joseph Attanasio’s rendition of the National Anthem.
- Bauman also wrote about MLB Commissioner Allan H. “Bud” Selig, who attended his final Opening Day on the job, fittingly, in Milwaukee.
- Attanasio laughed when asked whether he was interested in following in Selig in that job.
- Clutch moment of the day: Ramirez’s go-ahead double.
- Defensive play of the day: Ramirez’s dive-and-throw in the seventh inning.
- Sausage of the day: Hot dog.
It’s back to normal tonight at Miller Park, where Kyle Lohse is set to face the Braves. Check out my colleague Mark Bowman’s look at Atlanta’s recent futility at Miller Park, and why Lohse on the mound usually means something weird is going to happen.
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Last season, the Brewers changed closers after one week. This season, they changed closers before the season’s first pitch.
It was Francisco Rodriguez, not presumptive closer Jim Henderson, who logged the final three outs of Monday’s 2-0 Opening Day win over the Braves, a switch surprised a sellout crowd at Miller Park and some players on the field alike.
“I didn’t know what was going on there,” third baseman Aramis Ramirez said.
Brewers manager Ron Roenicke explained.
“We had a conversation about Henderson yesterday and until we feel like he’s throwing the way he can and was last year, we’re going to put him in a role that we can give him a couple outings to get his stuff back and his confidence going,” Roenicke said. “That’s just a decision we had to make. I talked to him about it and I talked to ‘Frankie’ today about closing. We feel good about it.”
Henderson did not allow a run in any of his final four Spring Training appearances, but pitched with diminished velocity and “life,” to the point Brewers officials were concerned. Rodriguez also had an uneven spring, missing time in March after he stepped barefoot on a cactus and then allowing at least a run in each of his final three outings.
He pulled four more cactus spines from his foot on Sunday but is now pitching pain-free, and while Roenicke indicated he would eventually like to restore Henderson to the role, Rodriguez is Milwaukee’s closer until further notice.
“Definitely, I was surprised,” Rodriguez said. “Especially [because] coming out of camp, ‘Hondo’ was supposed to be the guy who was throwing the ninth inning. At the same time, it’s a challenge that I’m looking forward to.”
Henderson took the news in stride.
“That’s how it’s going to start off, and we’ll take another 162 games just like that [victory] today,” Henderson said. “I’m a reasonable teammate and player, and I realize I didn’t have a great spring. It was fine. Whatever is best for the team.”
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