Gorzelanny nearing game action

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

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

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

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

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


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Wooten up, Herrera down for Brewers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Was Roenicke willing to share publicly what he thinks?

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

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

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

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

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

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


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Brewers considering adding a reliever

Brewers manager Ron Roenicke had little time Wednesday to savor the fact his club had baseball’s best record by a full three games. There were injury reports to gather on his banged-up position players, and pitch charts to pore over for a hard-worked bullpen.

The good news was that shortstop Jean Segura is expected back in the lineup Thursday in Cincinnati, according to Roenicke, after missing four starts with a facial laceration, and that third baseman Aramis Ramirez should be back, according to Ramirez, after missing two starts with a bruised left elbow.

Left Right fielder Ryan Braun remained day-to-day with a right rib-cage strain, and the same status applied to a slew of Brewers relievers, who have pitched remarkably well and alarmingly often during the Brewers hot start.

Four extra-inning games in the span of 10 days didn’t help. Neither does the fact the Brewers are still being cautious with 22-year-old Rule 5 Draft pick Wei-Chung Wang, who pitched only three times in the team’s first 27 games.

“We need to worry about it,” Roenicke said. “[Brewers special assistant Craig] Counsell, when he gets in here a little bit, we need to talk about some things. We can’t keep saying we’re OK if the starter goes deep. You’re still having to cover some of the innings.”

Kyle Lohse on Tuesday delivered the Brewers’ Major League-leading 22nd quality start, but the relievers are nonetheless piling up innings. Only 20 big league relievers had been used at least 14 times through Tuesday, and the Brewers have three of them. Closer Francisco Rodriguez entered the day tied for the Major League lead with 16 appearances (all of them scoreless) and was deemed unavailable on Wednesday. Left-hander Will Smith finally allowed a run Tuesday in his 15th appearance. Tyler Thornburg went two innings Tuesday for his 13th consecutive scoreless appearance, and has pitched 14 times.

“We’ll try to figure out what we can do to ease this,” Roenicke said. “We hate to go shorter on the bench, because we’re so short already, but it would be nice to have another arm in here.”

A potential move would be dependent on the health of Braun, Ramirez and Segura. The Brewers have so far avoided assigning Braun to the disabled list, and Roenicke did not indicate Wednesday whether that was still a possibility. Utility man Elian Herrera has options, but his versatility is very valuable to the Brewers in their current state. Second baseman Rickie Weeks has contributed little, but is due more than $9 million for the remainder of this season.

Among the relievers available at Triple-A Nashville are Rob Wooten, who is on the 40-man roster and has already appeared for the Brewers this season. Another right-hander, Donovan Hand, is pitching well but is not on the 40-man roster. If the Brewers want length, they couldd call-up top prospect Jimmy Nelson.

Whether or not the Brewers adjust the roster before Thursday’s game in Cincinnati, they could have a move to make Saturday when outfielder Logan Schafer’s DL stint expires. Schafer had been on rehab assignment at Class A Brevard County, and was advanced to Nashville on Wednesday.


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MRI alters Braun’s diagnosis

Ryan Braun emerged from an MRI scan on Sunday with a slightly different diagnosis for his right rib-cage injury. Instead of strained intercostals, Braun actually has a strained oblique.

“The main thing is we know exactly what it is now,” Braun said, “and that means we know exactly how to treat it.”

Is one diagnosis better than the other?

“I don’t know if it makes a difference,” said Brewers manager Ron Roenicke, who gets daily status updates from members of the team’s medical staff. “Intercostals could take maybe a little longer to heal up than obliques. We don’t see too many intercostals anyore. Now we see more obliques for some reason. Intercostals — I did mine way back when — you start talking about things between the ribs, and it’s a little harder to get the blood flow there. That’s why they take longer to heal.”

Braun has been getting twice daily treatments, and walked around the clubhouse Monday wearing an “H-Wave” instrument, which electrically stimulates muscles to increase blood flow.

Roenicke mentioned a 3-5 day timetable for Braun on Sunday, but reiterated on Monday that it is notoriously difficult to predict recovery from rib-cage injuries. The Brewers were also without shortstop Jean Segura on Monday as he continued recovering from being struck in the face by Braun’s bat on Saturday night.

“I’m totally guessing when I say those numbers, too,” Roenicke said. “I ask the trainers what they think, but when you talk about the oblique muscle with Braun, it’s really hard to guess how long that takes. Siggy’s injury is a little bit different. When that swelling goes down, and he looked better today, if he looks better again tomorrow, hopefully he can take some BP [on Tuesday], and if he does, maybe he can see some action on Wednesday. Or maybe we have to go to Thursday.”

What about Braun? Is there any chance he plays against the Cardinals?

“He was a lot better today,” Roenicke said. “I didn’t think he’d be able to, but sometimes, these things, you come in and they’re a lot better. So if he’s a lot better again tomorrow, it probably means he can start taking BP, and then we’ll see where we are.”


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Brewers very shorthanded today

Ron Roenicke had his fingers crossed before managing the most shorthanded game of his career on Sunday, when right fielder Ryan Braun and shortstop Jean Segura were sidelined by injuries and backup catcher Martin Maldonado served the final game of his suspension.

A team doctor spent Sunday morning examining Braun, who exited Saturday win over the Cubs with a right rib-cage strain, and Segura, who was struck in the face by Braun’s bat earlier in the game as Braun got loose on the top step of the dugout, but Roenicke said there were no immediate plans to place either player on the disabled list.

Segura had stitches Saturday night and should be active in a few days. Braun’s absence is much more open-ended.

“I’ve dealt with it before, and it’s uncomfortable,” said Braun, who has been dealing with a strained intercostal muscle for several days. “Sleeping’s not very good. I’ll get treatment twice today and probably get treatment twice every day, and see what happens. Hope it gets better.”

Asked whether he worried he might end up on the DL, Braun said, “You know I don’t speculate on that. It’s day to day. I remain optimistic. I’ll get my treatment.”

Segura was not available to reporters during the open clubhouse session but had a nasty cut under his right eye. Braun has long warmed up by swinging his bat on the top dugout step when he is “in the hole,” especially of late because he has stopped taking pre-game swings in the batting cage to protect his troublesome right thumb. Teammates and coaches are aware of the practice and usually stay away.

Braun still felt terrible about the accident on Sunday morning.

“Whenever you hurt one of your friends, no matter how it happened, it’s always kind of disturbing,” he said.

Roenicke, meanwhile, was tasked with managing a game with only two position players available on the bench: Mark Reynolds, who could play anywhere but catcher, and Rickie Weeks, who is considered by the club a second baseman, period. Pitchers Yovani Gallardo and Kyle Lohse were at the ready Sunday just in case, Gallardo probably to pinch-hit and Lohse to play a corner outfield spot in an emergency.

As of Sunday morning, Brewers officials had not discussed with Roenicke a DL move for either Braun or Segura.

“We don’t expect them to be real long, but you never know,” Roenicke said.


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TJ surgeries relatively rare for Crew

While we await official word on right-hander Johnny Hellweg, who is seeking a second opinion on what the Brewers have diagnosed as a torn ulnar collateral ligament in his elbow, here’s some interesting data provided by the ballclub:

Over the last 3 years, the Brewers have experienced six Tommy John surgeries (all Minor Leaguers). For reference purposes, the most for any other organization in that span is 27, and the fewest is four. The Brewers have the third-lowest number at six. The median is 15.5 and the average is 13.3.

Five clubs, including the Brewers, have not had any Tommy John surgeries for Major Leaguers. Nine other teams have had at least four Major Leaguers undergo the surgery.


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So long, long relief: Thornburg thriving late

(Rob Tringali/Getty Images)

(Rob Tringali/Getty Images)

Brewers right-hander Tyler Thornburg still wants to be a starting pitcher in the Major Leagues, but for now, he sure looks good as a reliever.

Pegged as the Brewers’ long man on Opening Day, the 25-year-old has evolved quickly into a bona fide set-up man. In Wednesday’s win over the Padres, Thornburg made his 11th consecutive scoreless appearance since allowing a run in his season debut, and will enter a series against the Cubs on Friday with 12 strikeouts in 12 1/3 innings, a 0.73 ERA and a .143 opponents’ average.

During one stretch, Thornburg retired 21 consecutive batters over seven outings, the Brewers’ longest such streak since Derrick Turnbow set down 22 in a row during his run as a dominating closer in 2005. Thornburg’s streak was finally snapped when the reigning National League MVP, Andrew McCutchen, smacked a double last week in Pittsburgh.

“Who knows?” Brewers manager Ron Roenicke said. “This guy could end up being a closer. I don’t know.”

Roenicke isn’t playing hard to get: He really does not know what the future holds for Thornburg. Neither does general manager Doug Melvin, who, like Roenicke, is keeping an open mind about Thornburg’s ultimate role, saying the Brewers will make their call based on organizational need. Ditto, they say, for left-hander Will Smith, who is off to a similarly sensational start in relief.

Thornburg is honest about his personal preference.

“I mean, I honestly feel like throwing 200 innings a year to help your team win baseball games is going to do a little bit more than throwing 80,” Thornburg said. “Yeah, ultimately, I’d like to be a starter, just because I could help the team win more with that many innings. But again, the late innings decide a ton of ballgames.”

So far this year, Thornburg’s velocity is up (93.9 mph average fastball, according to data from FanGraphs.com), his curveball is still sharp and his change-up is being featured more often.

He’s staying open-minded about his future.

“Any time you’re doing something well, you can see yourself doing something like that,” he said. “But I don’t think it’s anything like, ‘I’m good at this, I want to be a reliever.’ Heck, what was my ERA as a starter last year? It’s one of those things that the toughest thing is bouncing around and not getting used to one thing. I feel like as long as I can get used to one thing — if I can get used to being a reliever, I can do a really, really good job.”

For more on Thornburg’s thriving in relief, check Brewers.com later today for the full story. For now, what do you think?


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Hellweg has torn elbow ligament

Right-hander Johnny Hellweg, the Brewers’ No. 7 prospect according to MLB.com, was diagnosed today with a torn ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow, an injury that often requires so-called Tommy John surgery and a 12-18 month rehabilitation.

The diagnosis followed an examination in Milwaukee with the Brewers’ head physician, Dr. William Raasch. Assistant general manager Gord Ash declined to say whether the ligament was fully torn or partially torn, pending Hellweg’s appointment next week with Dr. James Andrews. The club would know more then about a prognosis, Ash said.

Hellweg last pitched Sunday in Omaha, allowing two earned runs on four hits in 3 2/3 innings, with one strikeout and five walks. He felt a pop in his elbow and threw nine more pitches before leaving the game.

“There were no warning signs of any kind,” Ash said.

Hellweg joins a growing list of professional pitchers dealing with a potentially serious elbow injury this season, including the Rays’ Matt Moore and the Yankees’ Ivan Nova most recently. Brandon Beachy, Patrick Corbin, Kris Medlen and Jarrod Parker have undergone Tommy John surgery in recent weeks. 

“I don’t know if I’d call it an epidemic, but it’s certainly been an injury of note this season,” Ash said. “We had two [Tommy John surgeries in the Minor League system] last year. We’re probably on the lower number of clubs in this over the last four or five years.”

The 25-year-old Hellweg came to the Brewers from the Angels along with shortstop Jean Segura and right-hander Ariel Pena in a July 2012 trade for Zack Greinke. He was the Pacific Coast League pitcher of the year in 2013, going 12-5 with a 3.15 ERA, but struggled in a Major League call-up. He began 2014 back at Triple-A Nashville and was 1-2 with a 4.95 ERA in four starts.


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Gomez: ‘It’s 2014. It’s a game. Just enjoy it’

“I’ve got nothing to say because that’s in the past,” Brewers center fielder Carlos Gomez told reporters Monday afternoon, referring to his role in Sunday’s throwdown with the Pirates at PNC Park. “We’ve got a game today, and it is important.”

Then he talked anyway, for about five minutes. Gomezsoftened on his stance that he would appeal any suspension. Now he wants to hear Joe Torre’s ruling first.

“To be honest, I don’t know anything,” Gomez said. “I’ve just been watching TV, and the only thing I hear is my dad and my mother talking to me. They don’t want to see something like that. I said, ‘I don’t mean to do that, but things happen in the game. We know it’s not good for baseball, but when you have 50 men outside, something can happen. It’s not like we wanted things to happen like that. It’s what it is, and we have to move. That’s in the past.”

He referenced the fact he was suspended after a similar showdown with the Braves last year, when Gomez took a long look at a home run off Paul Maholm an then shouted at Maholm on the way to first base. Gomez believes Maholm intentionally hit him with a pitch on purpose in June. After the ensuing altercation, Gomez accepted a one-game suspension and apologized.

Not this time.

“Last year was a different case,” Gomez said. “Last year, I know I didn’t start running. That’s why I apologized last year, because I disrespected the Braves. I’m not that guy. It was the heat of the moment, and I don’t try to disrespect nobody. Before everything happened [on Sunday], I’m not planning this, like, ‘OK, I’m going to hit the ball, I’m going to do this.’ It just happened like that.

“I’m not looking at anything. Ninety-nine percent of my home runs, by doubles, I don’t know where the ball lands. Ask my teammates. I ask every day, ‘Where did the ball land?’ They say, ‘Is this a joke?’ I say, ‘No, I don’t look where the ball goes.’ I don’t look at the pitchers. That’s just the way I throw the bat when I hit the ball. And I run the bases hard, like anybody, with my head down. That’s it. People say the worst stuff about things I’ve been doing for a long time. It’s not like disrespect. It’s not like I show people up. I don’t get sensitive when they strike me out. I don’t say, ‘Hey, why you throw me 98?’ ‘Why you throw me a slider in the dirt? Why you throw me a fastball in the neck?’ This is baseball.

“It’s 2014. It’s a game. Just enjoy it. Whoever does the best job in the field is the one who’s going to win games. That’s the only reason we’re here, to win games. It’s not to go fight, it’s not for complicated stuff. It’s to compete. That’s what I like to do, compete.”

Ron Roenicke talked to Gomez today.

The message, Gomez said, was “It’s OK. We know what happened. You don’t have to apologize because you didn’t start nothing.”


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Report says no fines, suspensions today

Joel Sherman of MLB Network and the  New York Post is reporting via Twitter that the Fieldin Culbreth-led umpiring crew overseeing Sunday’s fracas between the Brewers and Pirates at PNC Park is traveling today and will not file its detailed reports on the incident to the Commissioner’s Office until late in the day. Because Major League baseball’s Executive Vice President of Baseball Operations Joe Torre will need time to review those materials, he is not expected to levy fines or suspensions until Tuesday.

That means the Brewers will be all hands on deck Monday night for their series opener against San Diego at Miller Park.

They probably would have been near full-strength anyway, because Brewers center fielder Carlos Gomez made clear Sunday night that he would appeal a suspension this time, unlike last September when he accepted a one-game ban after a showdown with the Atlanta Braves. This time, Gomez said he believes he did nothing wrong when he took some time getting out of the batter’s box on what proved a third-inning triple off Pirates starter Gerrit Cole.

You have probably already seen what happened next. Cole had sharp words for Gomez, who responded, drawing first Pirates players and then Brewers players out of their respective dugouts and bullpens. Punches were thrown, including Brewers catcher Martin Maldonado’s right hook to Pirates reserve Travis Snider, and Gomez, Snider and Brewers bench coach Jerry Narron were ejected.

“I’m not apologizing for nothing I did,” Gomez said after the Brewers’ 14-inning, 3-2 victory. “This is my job, I’ve been doing it for eight years like that. They know I play like that. It’s not to disrespect nobody.”

Countered Cole: “I grabbed the ball from [third baseman Josh] Harrison and I said, ‘If you’re going to hit a home run, you can watch it. If you’re going to hit a fly ball to center field, don’t watch it.’ I didn’t curse at him, I didn’t try to provoke a fight. I was frustrated, and I let my emotions get the better of me and I ended up getting one of my teammates hurt, so I’m not too thrilled about it.”

Snider had a cut on his face after the game but did not speak to reporters Sunday.

Maldonado posted on Twitter about the incident.

“To All Baseball Fans,” he wrote. “My sincere apologies for today’s incident. I hope you all understand that I have to back up my team.”

Brewers manager Ron Roenicke said he believes multiple players from each team will be suspended and fined. Players have the right to appeal, and continue to play until their case is heard. When a suspension is made final for on-field incidents like this one, players’ teams play short while they are banned.

In the case of Maldonado, that could be a bit tricky for the Brewers, who, like most teams, carry only two catchers. One of their emergency catchers is outfielder Logan Schafer, but he was placed on the disabled list, retroactive to Friday, with a right hamstring strain. So utility men Jeff Bianchi or Elian Herrera might be the next line of defense.

Herrera is the only true backup outfielder on the roster, and would presumably play during a suspension for Gomez.


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