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Brewers play big role in ASG

Considering his teammates comprised a third of the National League’s starting lineup and a prominent piece of the bullpen, Aramis Ramirez had a hunch Tuesday afternoon that his Brewers would “have a big influence” in the 85th All-Star Game.

In the end, he was exactly right.

For the first time, multiple Brewers collected multiple hits in an All-Star Game, as Jonathan Lucroy delivered a pair of RBI doubles and Ramirez scored a run in the National Leaguers’ 5-3 loss to their American League rivals. Before Tuesday, Ryan Braun in 2012 owned the only multi-hit All-Star Game for a Brewer.

Francisco Rodriguez pitched in a non-save situation — a spot that has given him trouble at times this season — but delivered a scoreless sixth inning, working around a walk and getting help from Dodgers second baseman Dee Gordon on a slick, inning-ending play.

Carlos Gomez, meanwhile, was 0-for-2 with a pop-out behind home plate and a strikeout.

“We’ve got to get on ‘Gomey,’” Ramirez said. “He didn’t do anything.”

Ramirez was joking, so he added:  “I think we represented our team well.”

Lucroy played a central role from the bottom of the first inning onward. As Yankees captain Derek Jeter stepped to the plate for the first plate appearance of his final All-Star Game, Lucroy rose and moved back from home plate while NL starter Adam Wainwright vacated the pitcher’s mound, allowing Jeter to stand alone and receive a long standing ovation. When Lucroy and Wainwright finally took their positions, Jeter turned and offered congratulations to Lucroy, a first-time All-Star.

Jeter looked at Ball 1 low before driving a fastball out over the plate to right field for a double. Wainwright later suggested that he planned from the start to deliver Jeter “a couple of pipe shots.”

Later, Lucroy distanced himself from that notion.

“I think [Wainwright] was trying to get him out,” Lucroy said. “We were going to win. I can tell you that right now. I’m back there catching, and I’m calling the game to win. If that ball is located down, it’s probably an out.”

Lucroy appreciated his part in Jeter’s final Midsummer Classic.

“You kind of appreciate what it means to be a guy like that, who has played as long as he has and been successful as long as he has,” Lucroy said. “He plays the game the right way and has always been a clean-cut, hard-working, hard-playing guy, and I think everyone appreciates that.”

Said Ramirez: “He deserved that and more. The guys a class, class act, on and off the field. Never heard negative stuff about Jeter and I don’t think we will.”

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Tragedy in the Brewers’ family

The toughest defeat amid the toughest stretch of the Brewers’ season was the very least of manager Ron Roenicke’s worries late Friday.

Twenty minutes after the final out of a 7-6 loss to the Cardinals, his voice cracking, Roenicke briefly addressed reporters.

“There’s been a death in one of the families of one of our players so I don’t want to answer questions,” he said. “For respect of him right now, we’re not going to let anybody in the clubhouse. Sorry, but these things are tough and I just don’t want to leave any players open to anything.

“I don’t want to say who it is or anything, but we’ll get this figured out tomorrow and we can talk then.”

“Tomorrow” would come quickly, as the Brewers were to regroup at Miller Park on Saturday morning ahead of a 3 p.m. CT game against the Cardinals. Jimmy Nelson is scheduled to pitch for Milwaukee, making his second start of the season and the third start of his Major League career, opposite Cardinals ace Adam Wainwright.

After Roenicke returned to the clubhouse, the Brewers did not issue any further statements.

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Roenicke on Nelson, Estrada, Wang, weekend

Check Brewers.com later tonight for Jonathan Lucroy’s reaction to being named an All-Star Game starter and Jimmy Nelson’s take on returning to the big leagues amid a miserable team slump. For now, here are some highlights of Ron Roenicke’s session with reporters on a busy day:

Why now for Jimmy Nelson?

“Good question. We’ve been talking about him for a while, and I think it had both to do with him pitching so well and Marco not pitching as well as we know he can. Even though Marco’s pitched, we think, better the last four games, Jimmy was making it impossible for us to keep him down there. … [Marco Estrada, who was bumped to the bullpen] understood. He wasn’t happy. I don’t want him to be happy. But he understood.”

Is Nelson here to stay?

“We’ll see. I don’t want to make a comment on that and then change it in three weeks. We’ll see what happens. This guy deserves a chance to pitch up here and see what he can do.”

Will his earlier start in Miami start help him hit the ground running?

“Yeah, I think last year coming up in the bullpen … and the one start he got last year, the one start this year, all of that helps to be more comfortable with the surroundings here. And he’s been throwing his bullpen sessions in Triple-A with Major League balls to get him used to the feel of the ball. All that helps.”

Even though an offensive outage is to blame, is this move a response to the losing streak?

“During a season, you have all phases that go bad at times. So I don’t think it was necessarily just looking at what wasn’t going well. It’s just that I think this guy deserved a chance. Doug has been talking to me about him and wanting to make a change. Regardless of which area of our game isn’t going well right now, we felt it was the right time to do it. …

“I think the team is where we are, things aren’t going as well the last week, week and a half, and I think that any time you do something that the players are excited about, I think it’s good. That’s not a snub on Marco, it’s just a guy that has probably been the best pitcher in the Minor Leagues.”

Roenicke said Estrada would be used in long relief, and was asked whether the Brewers considered keeping him to the rotation and adding Nelson to the ‘pen instead, to help solve recent shakiness among the set-up men. 

“We talked about that also. Trying to figure out what the best thing was to do for him and us. We did talk about him in the bullpen.”

Regarding Wei-Chung Wang’s move to the disabled list with left shoulder tightness. Is there a chance he won’t be back with the Brewers until September?

“Oh, I don’t know. The plans are 2-4 weeks to get this calmed down and then start up his throwing program. So you just have to kind of project out where it ends up.”

Might he be converted back to a starting role when he’s ready for a Minor League rehab assignment?

“I don’t know. This came up pretty fast yesterday, and I think with me just finding out what we were going to try to do with him and the switch we were going to make that but we haven’t talked about whether he was going to start once he comes back or whether he was going to relieve. So, I don’t know.”

Could this be good for his development?

“Sure. That’s the hard thing with what we were doing with him, is it was so inconsistent as to what we were doing. He would go 10 days, sometimes 12 days. That’s what makes it so hard — you want to develop him, and you also want him to pitch well for you, yet the inconsistent work is tough on a guy. He’s been a starter, he’s been used to pitching whatever days he was going to go. So he went from a starter to a reliever and then with the inconsistent work, it becomes difficult.”

Is this a big series against the Cardinals?

“It’s another series is what it is. We need to turn this around. I thought the last series was important to turn it around, and we didn’t. So this series is important to turn it around. … We have to win games. We’re not playing against one team; we’re playing against the whole league. And we have to win more games. We have to win more games than they do, we have to win more games than Pittsburgh does, Cincinnati and the Cubs. That’s what we have to do.”

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Brewers acquire international dollars from A’s

The Brewers traded Class A right-hander Rodolfo Fernandez to the A’s on Monday in a deal that moved Milwaukee closer to signing Dominican infielder Gilbert Lara to the richest international contract in club history.

The Brewers and Lara already have an preliminary agreement for $3.1-$3.2 million, though the club has yet to confirm the agreement or finalize the contract because it would face penalties for exceeding its original international bonus pool of $2,611,800. Teams are allowed to increase their pool by as much as 50 percent by acquiring portions of other teams’ allotments, which is exactly what happened Monday afternoon.

In return for Fernandez, the Brewers received international signing bonus slot No. 57, with a value of $339,000. It boosted Milwaukee’s total bonus pool for international deals to $2,950,800 — still shy of Lara’s club-record-shattering bonus.

Barring additional trades, the Brewers could face penalties for exceeding their pool. Teams that exceed the pools by 0 to 5 percent have to pay 100 percent tax on the overage. Teams that exceed the pools by 5 to 10 percent pay the tax, plus are not allowed to sign a player for more than $500,000 during the next signing period. Teams that exceed the pools by 10 to 15 percent are not allowed to sign a player for more than $300,000 during the next signing period in addition to paying the tax, and teams that exceed the pool by 15 percent or more are not allowed to sign a player for more than $300,000 during the next two signing periods in addition to the tax.

Once a team exceeds its pool, it cannot make additional trades for slot dollars. So the Lara deal could remain in administrative limbo for some time.

Fernandez, 24, had a 2.87 ERA in 14 games at Class A Wisconsin. Born in Cuba, he signed with the Brewers in 2012.

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Gomez has interest in HR Derby

When the National League’s Home Run Derby captain passed through Miller Park last week, Brewers center fielder and All-Star Game hopeful Carlos Gomez saw an opportunity. He asked teammate Ryan Braun to put in a good word with Rockies shortstop Troy Tulowitzki.

“I told him I want to be there,” Gomez said.

Braun went a step further.

“It’s his dream, dude,” said a smiling Braun, who took part in the event in 2008. “He’s been wanting to do it since he was a bench player.”

Tulowitzki has already selected Marlins slugger Giancarlo Stanton for the July 14 Gillette Home Run Derby at Target Field in Minneapolis. That leaves two three openings for the NL “team,” one of which appears earmarked for Tulowitzki’s teammate and former Minnesota Twin Justin Morneau, but Morneau must first make the NL All-Star team.

So must Gomez, but he was in good position in the most recent round of balloting results. Gomez ranked second among NL outfielders, with the top three vote-getters earning a start. The All-Star teams will be unveiled after 6 p.m. CT on Sunday.

“He would be entertaining,” Braun said. “If he could control his emotions, I think he would do really well. Basically, every single day in batting practice is home run derby for him, and in the game, it’s the same thing. Every single pitch, every situation, he tries to hit a home run, and it works well for him. He’s probably one of those guys who really doesn’t have to change much of anything, which I think is advantageous in a competition like that. He would definitely be entertaining.”

Braun and Brewers manager Ron Roenicke all argued that the concern about a player altering his approach for a Derby and suffering the consequences in the second half do not apply to Gomez, who takes upward of 200 swings before every game.

“Like today already,” he said Friday afternoon, “we had early hitting, and I had 70 or 80 swings, plus 40 in the cage. I already have 120 swings. I don’t swing easy. Why would I swing easy? If I’m in the game, I don’t swing easy.”

Said Roenicke, who endorsed Gomez’s interest in the event: “I don’t think anything’s going to ruin that swing.”

Gomez and Morneau were among the NL players tied for 15th in the league with 13 home runs entering Friday’s games. Stanton led the league with 21 homers and Tulowitzki was second with 19. The Cubs’ Anthony Rizzo (17 homers), the Reds’ Todd Frazier (17) and the D-backs’ Paul Goldschmidt (15) were among the other likely All-Stars among the league leaders.

“It’s hard for [Tulowitzki],” Braun said, “because there’s a lot of guys who want to do it, a lot of guys who are campaigning to do it.”

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Brewers being super cautious with Gomez

Carlos Gomez wanted to play, but the Brewers’ powers that be ordered him to rest one more day.

The speedy Gomez, bothered lately by tightness in his left hamstring, sat out a second straight start Tuesday when the Brewers played the D-backs at Chase Field, but said unequivocally that he would return to the lineup on Wednesday night.

Manager Ron Roenicke agreed, saying he sidelined Gomez for a second day out of an abundance of caution.

“Yeah, he could have played today,” Roenicke said. “The conversation with Carlos was more, ‘If you get on base, are you going to steal second? And if you’re playing center field and there’s a ball in the gap, are you going to go full-go to get it?’ And if those things are there and he’s not comfortable 100 percent, I feel better trying to at least get him closer to that point. Even though we love him in the batter’s box, he depends a lot on his legs. And to not be able to go 100 percent bothers me.”

“There’s no rush,” Gomez said. “He wants me to be 100 percent. I understand. I wanted to play today, and yesterday I could play, too, but he decided to give me the day off.

“It’s not like a tear or I pulled something. It’s not that. It’s general. I’ve had an injured hamstring before, and it’s not even close. When you pull a hamstring — you saw Rickie [Weeks] last year — you go down.”

Gomez tried to change Roenicke’s mind, attempting to talk — and run — his way into the lineup.

Today, “I came in early and I told Ronnie, ‘I want to play,’” Gomez said. “They said, ‘Let’s go see you running.’ I was running, giving everything. After that, I felt a little bit fatigued, a little tight, but it’s not like pain. They said, ‘We’re going to give you another day because I prefer you to take two days off [instead of] playing not 100 percent and taking a week or week and a half with no stolen bases, only running under control. Take two days, then come tomorrow and give everything you have.’”

He said he would start Wednesday against Arizona left-hander Wade Miley.

“For sure, no matter what [Roenicke] says,” Gomez said with a laugh.

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Roenicke expresses support for Estrada

Young Caitlin Swieca will have much more in today’s game story, but Brewers manager Ron Roenicke just expressed some support for struggling starter Marco Estrada in his postgame meeting with reporters. Estrada allowed three more home runs today in a blowout loss to the Reds, and leads the Majors with 23 homers allowed this season. That’s on pace to shatter Braden Looper’s Brewers record of 39, set in 2009, and to top Bert Blyleven’s Major League record of 50 home runs allowed in a season.

Put on the spot after the game, Roenicke avoided making any grand pronouncements about Estrada’s future in Milwaukee’s starting rotation.

“We’ll stay with it and talk about it and see if we can get him straightened out. Right now, I haven’t had that discussion with Doug [Melvin, Milwaukee's GM],” Roenicke said.

With Jimmy Nelson available at Triple-A Nashville, what are the negatives of making a move?

“Next start’s in Colorado,’ Roenicke said.

He did not avoid the bigger issue, that Estrada is not pitching well at the moment. To Roenicke, a pair of factors are behind that.

“It’s location,” Roenicke said. “He got a couple offspeed pitches up in the zone. It’s confidence. When you’re confident, the ball gets to spots better, it’s not more life on it. I still thought he was confident coming into the game, but after that first inning [when the Reds homered twice and took a 3-0 lead], it’s tough. …

“It’s command, which is confidence, usually. I think everything else is fine. He is [attacking the zone] at times, he’s just leaving some pitches up. When he’s good, his breaking ball is down. He got hurt with a curveball up to [Billy] Hamilton. He got hurt with a change-up up to [Brandon] Phillips. When he’s good, those two pitches are down.”

Roenicke downplayed the idea that Estrada could be tipping pitches. He was asked about the tricky balance of weighing recent results versus track record, and again appeared to position himself in Estrada’s corner.

“Some guys, you do stick with because of the history,” Roenicke said. “Marco certainly probably falls into that. He’s done a nice job for us. He’s going through a spell that we have to get through, and hopefully he comes out of it and gets back to that really good pitcher. He’s good when he’s on. You guys have seen him on, I’ve seen him on. He can go through good lineups when he’s on, and we have to figure out how to get him back to that.”

Estrada’s own comments will be available in the game story at Brewers.com.

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Thornburg to DL, Fiers coming up

A day after absorbing most of the blows in the Pirates’ eight-run sixth inning, Brewers reliever Tyler Thornburg hit the 15-day disabled list Saturday with a sore right elbow. Thornburg said initial tests did not raise significant red flags about his ulnar collateral ligament, but he was scheduled to travel to Milwaukee on Sunday for an examination with head team physician William Raasch.

The Brewers promoted right-hander Mike Fiers from Triple-A Nashville to take Thornburg’s spot in the bullpen.

“Obviously, there’s so many different things in there that it could be,” Thornburg said. “We’re waiting to get it checked out to see if we can be a little more specific and go from there. We’ll narrow it down.”

Elbow injuries have plagued pitchers throughout baseball this season, the most serious of which, involving the UCL, require reconstructive “Tommy John” surgery and a yearlong rehabilitation. Thornburg said he suffered a partially torn UCL during his freshman year in high school, but rehabbed without surgery and has not experienced a notable elbow injury of any kind since then.

He hopes things stay that way.

“It’s been going on a good bit,” Thornburg said of the soreness. “It’s just one of those things that was more annoying. Then it started to get a little bit worse and I let them know about it a couple of weeks ago. We’ve been trying to work on some stuff and it started to get a little bit better. Then it got into a situation where I don’t know whether it was fatigued or what, but I couldn’t really grip the ball well. Obviously, things have gotten progressively worse as far as my control.

“The bullpen needed it, so I was trying to fight through it, but as soon as I’m not helping the team and doing more damage than good, it’s one of those things where [he had to shut it down]. I thought it was inevitable. I’m hoping to take 15 days and be 100 percent back to where I was.”

Before this season, Thornburg had never pitched regularly as a reliever.

“I wasn’t used to bouncing back, but I feel like I take care of myself pretty well,” he said. “Sometimes you can do everything possible, and things will happen. That’s the nature of the game. No matter how good you take care of yourself and what you do, it’s unnatural throwing.”

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Thornburg suffers undisclosed injury

A day after absorbing most of the blows in the Pirates’ eight-run sixth inning, Brewers reliever Tyler Thornburg was unavailable Saturday because of an undisclosed injury that may prompt a roster move.

Neither manager Ron Roenicke nor assistant GM Gord Ash would say what part of Thornburg was injured, but Roenicke suggested it was not related to a shoulder that has occasionally given Thornburg some trouble.

“He’s got some other things going on so he will not pitch today,” Roenicke said. “Some physical things. We’ll find out a little bit more.”

Roenicke expected the Brewers to need a pitcher from Triple-A Nashville, where there are plenty of options but no automatic ones because none of the relievers who are pitching best — Donovan Hand, Dustin Molleken and Jeremy Jeffress — are on the 40-man roster. Left-hander Tom Gorzelanny had a promising rehab outing on Friday night, but is not yet ready to return to the big leagues.

“We don’t have those pieces in the bullpen where it’s an automatic [call-up],” Roenicke said. “Not like our starters. Our starters, we can grab [Jimmy] Nelson, we can grab Fiers. The bullpen pieces aren’t like that. [Michael] Blazek isn’t throwing like we hoped he would. [Alfredo] Figaro’s still on the DL; coming off of it pretty soon. But the guys that we have there on the roster are not in a position where we just kind of pop somebody up.”

Whatever the precise nature of Thornburg’s issue, Roenicke said he had been dealing with it for some time, perhaps helping to explain why the right-hander has not been as sharp of late.

After making the team as a long man, Thornburg pitched his way into a high-leverage set-up role and posted a 0.61 ERA in April, holding opponents to a .122 batting average in 14 games and producing a stretch of 13 consecutive scoreless appearances from April 5-29, retiring 21 consecutive batters in one stretch. In 11 appearances in May, Thornburg had a 6.00 ERA and a .319 average against.

He worked two scoreless innings against the Twins on Tuesday before enduring a nightmare outing at PNC Park on Friday night. Thornburg inherited two baserunners and a 6-3 deficit from Brewers starter Kyle Lohse and saw the Pirates extend their lead to 13-3. Thornburg was charged with five runs, all earned, on three hits and four walks, including a pair of bases-loaded walks.

“He was out there panicking,” said catcher Jonathan Lucroy, who visited the mound with third baseman Aramis Ramirez late in the inning.

He may also have been hurting.

A couple of other notes from today’s pregame:

– Gorzelanny’s Friday night rehab start for Triple-A Nashville went well — very well.

“His first encouraging outing,” Roenicke said. “Stuff was there and he felt good. Afterward he felt good. He pitches again Monday, I think it is, and we’re getting to the point where we need to make some decisions. But this has been the first good one he’s had.”

Gorzelanny allowed only one hit and no runs while throwing 34 pitches over 2 1/3 innings, with no walks and one strikeout. Jimmy Nelson, the previously-scheduled starter, pitched the game’s final six innings to finish a 1-0 Sounds victory.

He is scheduled for at least one more outing on Monday, 20 pitches in relief, and could subsequently pitch one more game Thursday before his 30-day rehab assignment expires. If Gorzelanny is ready, the Brewers will reinstate him to a bullpen that already features three left-handers (Will Smith, Zach Duke and Wei0Chung Wang). If Gorzelanny is not ready, he would return to the Brewers but stay on their disabled list.

Would it work to have a bullpen with four lefties?

“I don’t think it does in the long run unless your lefties are really dominating right-handers also,” Roenicke said “Smith has been able to do that. Duke has done it but we would like Duke more in situations with left-handers.”

– Wang underwent x-rays late Friday after he was struck on the right knee by a comebacker.

“He’s OK,” Roenicke said. “Sore, but OK.”

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Brewers nearing decision on Gorzelanny

Brewers left-hander Tom Gorzelanny faced what assistant GM Gord Ash called a “pivotal” outing in his Minor League rehabilitation assignment on Friday, when he started for Triple-A Nashville ahead of top prospect Jimmy Nelson, who was scheduled to follow Gorzelanny’s 35 pitches.

Gorzelanny is still trying to get back from a December shoulder surgery and the Brewers wanted to see him in an extended, controlled outing. Hence, it made sense to have him go first and Nelson second.

“Because Tom is going to go more pitches than he has before, as you said, stretch out, we didn’t want to get into a situation where you didn’t really know how much game you needed left to accommodate his 35 pitches,” Ash said. “If you took Nelson out in the sixth to give [Gorzelanny] three innings for his 35, you don’t know. It’s just easier to do it this way to accommodate both of them and what they need to do.”

How has Gorzelanny been throwing the ball?

“I would respond to that by saying he’s still there,” Ash said.

Gorzelanny’s 30-day rehab assignment expires Thursday. His ERA in eight Minor League appearances so far looks good — 1.54 — but Ash said Gorzelanny’s varying velocities have been worrisome. He has reached 90 mph, “but it’s been inconsistent.”

“Tonight will be pivotal,” Ash said. “Depending on what he does and shows tonight, we’ll have to make some decisions.”

What are the options?

“Well, he’s continued to still report some stiffness, and if he continues to report that, the ability not to get loose, then we’ll have to bring him back from the rehab and just leave him on the DL for a while,” Ash said. “The goal, obviously, is to get him [back on the active roster]. With his experience, we could use him. But if he’s not physically right, we’re going to have to look at the alternatives, which is to recall him from rehab and keep him on the DL. Tonight will answer that.”

If a doctor certifies that Gorzelanny’s shoulder remains unhealthy or has been re-injured, he can be sent on another rehab assignment when he gets healthy.

“You get to start the clock over again, essentially,” Ash said.

 Other topics that came up in a dugout discussion with the Brewers’ assistant GM: 

– With Day 1 of the First-Year Player Draft in the books, free agent Kendrys Morales is now truly free to sign with any team, without costing that club a Draft pick. The Brewers have been linked to Morales, and Ash was asked to characterize the club’s interest.

“There’s certainly been discussions, but I wouldn’t say there’s been any resolution to those discussions,” Ash said. “It’s just part of exploring options and players that can help us.”

Three factors work against a union between Morales and the Brewers:

1. Position. Because they are in the National League, he could not serve as designated hitter on a regular basis, as he has done since suffering a terrible left ankle injury celebrating a winning grand slam in 2010.  Some scouts question his mobility and durability at first base because of lingering effects from that injury. In other words, would taking a hit defensively be worth the boost from Morales’ bat?

2. Cost. There’s been some chatter that Morales may seek a multi-year contract.

3. Chemistry. The Brewers have been in first base all season, and incumbent first basemen Mark Reynolds and Lyle Overbay are two of the most popular veterans on the team. Chuckle at this if you want, but it’s at least a small part of the debate.

– Another reliever, Jim Henderson, is beginning to ramp back up after a setback on his rehab assignment two weeks ago.

“He did some plyo work yesterday and reported feeling much better on the first day this time than on the first day last time,” Ash said. “So we’ll look at that as progress.”

– Speaking of progress, Jeremy Jeffress is pitching well at Triple-A Nashville. The Brewers re-signed the former first round Draft pick to a Minor League deal in April, and you can read the backstory here.

He has a 1.71 ERA in 14 games for Nashville.

“He had one bad outing where he got wild, but all the rest of them have been very good,” Ash said. “He’s been in control. He’s been used in good situations. I think he’s in a good place mentally. So yeah, he’s done well.”

Is he working his way into discussions about a call-up, should the Brewers find themselves in need of relief help?

“I can tell you with certainty that almost every player on the Triple-A club gets talked about one way or another,” Ash said. “When we brought up [utility man Irving] Falu last time, we talked about a whole bunch of guys. If and when we need to make a pitching move, they all get talked about. We have regular sessions, we do once a month conference calls with all of our Minor League clubs and regular conference calls with all of our rovers, so there’s a lot of input on what they’re doing and how they’re performing. In fact, I talked several times with [Sounds manager] Rick Sweet today.

“They’ve all got great physical [tools]. [Dustin] Molleken does, [Arcenio] Leon does, Jeffress does, [Michael] Blazek does. They’ve all got great physical tools. What’s keeping them from being in the big leagues is consistency. They still struggle with that.”

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