Results tagged ‘ Ken Macha ’

Intrasquad!

We just had our morning briefing with manager Ken Macha and some notes follow, but first, the lineups for today’s Intrasquad action:

BLUE TEAM
Trent Oeltjen  LF
Craig Counsell  SS
Jody Gerut  RF
Steffan Wilson  1B
Jim Edmonds  CF
George Kottaras  C
Mat Gamel  3B
Luis Cruz  SS
Adam Stern  DH
RHP Dave Bush
WHITE TEAM
Rickie Weeks  2B
Carlos Gomez  CF
Ryan Braun  LF
Prince Fielder  1B
Casey McGehee  3B
Corey Hart  RF
Gregg Zaun  C
Alcides Escobar  SS
Joe Inglett  DH
LHP Manny Parra
Do the lineups look a bit lopsided? The reason is that the Brewers’ marketing department needs some fresh action shots of the regulars in their home whites, so camp coordinator Brad Fischer played along. 
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Braun’s agent, Nez Balelo, reported this morning that all contingencies have been met and Ryan Braun’s Waterfront Grill is a go. The new upscale venture will replace Fratellos Waterfront Restaurant, and the aggressive schedule is to open with a private party on April 3 and then a public open soon thereafter. Whether that’s Opening Day on April 5 or a few days thereafter depends on how remodeling goes.
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Macha has dinner plans on Wednesday night with advance scout Chris Bosio, advance scouting and baseball research manager Karl Mueller and digital media coordinator Joe Crawford to discuss how the team’s enhanced advanced scouting program will work this season. Bosio, who was the pitching coach last season at Triple-A Nashville and then in Milwaukee, is taking on a new role this year as the Brewers attempt to enhance their video-based scouting system. 
“Chris has done it before with [former Mariners manager Lou] Pineilla, which is good,” Macha said. “Chris has been here, so he’s seen some stuff that I work from, which is another positive. Bob Johnson was our advance scout with the A’s, so I’ll let [Bosio] know what he gave us, what was pertinent to me and what wasn’t.”
The men will also map out a travel plan for Bosio. For example, the Brewers would like to see Rockies pitcher Jeff Francis, who missed last season with an injury. The Brewers play the Rockies in the season-opening series. They will also take a longer look at some division newcomers, like Brad Penny of the Cardinals. 
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Alcides Escobar will miss the Brewers’ Cactus League opener on Thursday against the Giants because he has what promises to be an unpleasant appointment at the dentist. He’ll need a few more such visits during the spring, Macha said. Ouch. But Macha said this fits the plan anyway, because the Brewers planned to break Escobar in slowly considering he played extensively the Venezuelan Winter League.
Braun is to get Thursday afternoon off as the Brewers travel to Scottsdale to face the Giants. 
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Biomechanics experiment begins

Brewers pitchers got their first taste of biomechanics at Maryvale Baseball Park today, where the team’s traveling lab was set up in the batting cages and a series of hurlers were strapped with sensors for a throwing session. The equipment took a series of precise measurements aimed to identify injury risks.

It’s one aspect of the program that new pitching coach Rick Peterson refers to as his life’s work, but the Brewers were already exploring the science before Peterson’s arrival under head team physician Dr. William Raasch. I will talk to some pitchers about the experience after today’s workout to see what they think. 
I wrote about Peterson last week before reporting to camp myself, and saw that some fans are wondering whether the Brewers hired a pitching coach or an injury prevention specialist. That’s an interesting question, so I posed it to manager Ken Macha, who worked with Peterson previously in Oakland, for his opinion. 
“The way to answer that is to tell them to check the guy’s record,” Macha said. “At one particular time, the Toronto Blue Jays had [Roy] Halladay, [Kelvim] Escobar and [Chris] Carpenter all in their snake [Minor League system]. A little later, we had [Tim] Hudson, [Mark] Mulder and [Barry] Zito. All three of those guys became extremely productive pitchers at an early age for the A’s. 
“Whereas, Carpenter didn’t become productive until he got [to St. Louis]. Escobar, so-so. And Halladay wound up getting sent back to A-ball to restructure himself. You look at that particular example, and that says a lot for [Peterson].”
Peterson’s passion, Macha said, is his best trait. 
“I think the best coaches are the guys who can break down the basic movements into such small parts,” Macha said. “Whether it’s teaching a ground ball or the hitting stroke or whatever, you simplify it for these players so they’re looking to improve their small parts.”
Here’s how Friday’s schedule was to work:The pitchers warmed up in the bullpen, then went into the lab to throw at full-effort for their motion analysis. Then they headed out to the field to face live hitters on loan from Minor League camp. The big league hitters will get a few more days of batting practice before stepping into the box for real. 
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Schafer on injury: 'It's terrible timing'

On Friday morning, Brewers outfield prospect Logan Schafer strolled into the Major League clubhouse at Maryvale Baseball Park for the first time this year and saw his name above a fully-stocked locker. It just about broke his heart. 
He was supposed to be beginning the first big league Spring Training camp of his budding career, but instead Schafer was there to see one of the team’s doctors. He strained his left groin at the tail-end of a workout in Minor League camp on Thursday afternoon and won’t be able to participate in Major League camp. 
The 23-year-old was not expected to compete for a big league job. His invitation was a reward for winning the organization’s Minor League player of the year honor in 2009. Still, it stung. 
“It’s terrible timing, you know?” Schafer said. “I’m disappointed, but it’s just a minor bump. It shouldn’t be a big deal other than I’m over here [at the Minor League complex] instead of over there, and we’re all trying to get over there.”
Brewers manager Ken Macha was particularly impressed with Schafer as a Minor League loaner last spring, so much that Schafer was invited (along with infielder Adam Heether) to accompany the team to Los Angeles for exhibition games and then to San Francisco for a workout ahead of Opening Day. Macha said he plans to invite Schafer to sit on the bench during Brewers home games this spring to he can soak up a bit of the Major League experience.
“You guys all know how I feel about him,” Macha told reporters. “Last year, he was impressive.”
Schafer hadn’t heard about the invitation yet. 
“I would love that,” he said. 
Schafer spent most of last year at Class A Brevard County, winning the Florida State League batting title with a .313 average. He also ranked second in the league with 76 runs scored and third with 31 doubles. 
He had been working out at Maryvale Baseball Park since Jan. 16 as part of the team’s winter conditioning program. While other big league campers filtered in to work out and take batting practice this week, Schafer and fellow outfield prospect Lorenzo Cain were asked to remain in Minor League camp until Friday for a more structured program. 
Those players were taking part in a simulated game on Thursday and Schafer singled. He broke for second when the next batter hit a ball down the line and felt his groin pull right away. Schafer suffered the same injury last season and missed about a week. 
This time, the estimate is that he’ll be out 2-3 weeks. Since his stint in big league camp probably would have been over by then anyway, the Brewers removed him from the camp roster. 
“It’s all about the season, really, but it would have been nice to have them take another look at me,” Schafer said. “With a little hard work, I’ll be able to get over there.”
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Emptying Thursday's notebook

Some random thoughts from Thursday morning:

First baseman Prince Fielder and infielder Luis Cruz reported to camp, leaving only shortstop Alcides Escobar yet to arrive. Escobar’s flight from Venezuela was canceled on Wednesday, so he’s expect to arrive at Maryvale Baseball Park on Friday, assistant GM Gord Ash said. 
When he does arrive, manager Ken Macha intends to work him slowly into the rotation. Escobar played winter ball in Venezuela and saw much more playing time than the Brewers might have liked, hitting .393 in 45 games and 173 at-bats. 
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Rehabbing reliever David Riske was scheduled to throw off a bullpen mound on Thursday, and Macha believed it was Riske’s first such workout since he reported to camp. Riske underwent Tommy John elbow surgery last June and remains a long shot to be ready for Opening Day. He threw some bullpen sessions at home in Las Vegas before reporting for Spring Training.
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Something would have to go terribly wrong for the Brewers to need a backup first baseman this season, but Macha said that the job could go to outfielder Jim Edmonds, assuming Edmonds makes the roster. Edmonds, one of baseball’s best center fielders in the past two decades, has appeared at first in 51 Major League games over eight different seasons. 
“Willie [Randolph, Milwaukee's infield coach] had him over there the other day and he was picking it pretty good,” Macha said. 
Fielder was the only player in the Majors who appeared in all of his team’s games last season. He started all 162 games and played all but four innings. Casey McGehee backed him up. 
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Macha told reporters that he’s working to improve his personal relationships with players this spring. He’s always had an open door policy, but realizes that sometimes it’s best to invite a player to walk through that door. 
“Am I going to change? Well, we’re working on it,” Macha said. 
One player took advantage of the open door on Thursday. After checking out his locker in the clubhouse, Fielder went straight for the manager’s office. 
“He had a big smile on his face,” Macha said. “He’s ready.”
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Capuano, Loe, Narveson raising eyebrows

Chris Capuano was pleased with his throwing session on Tuesday, his first action in big league camp since he suffered an elbow injury nearly two years ago. His manager was pleased, too. 
“One of the impressive things is that he threw change-ups, and his arm action on the change-up was very good,” Ken Macha said Wednesday morning. “I kind of liked what I saw there.”
Macha said he’s also been impressed by big right-hander Kameron Loe. Pitching coach Rick Peterson told Macha he liked what he’s seen from lefty Chris Narveson. 
“Last year we were kind of looking for people to fill the spots,” Macha said. “We’ve got tremendous competition for the spots this year. We’ve got a tremendous amount of depth in this camp.”
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Rehabbing right-hander Mark DiFelice stopped by the field Wednesday morning as the big league campers stretched. He’s sidelined following shoulder surgery and said he is probably a month away from beginning a throwing program. 
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Catcher Gregg Zaun returned to action on Wednesday after sitting out Tuesday with a stomach ailment. 
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Macha might hit pitcher eighth

macha.jpg

We’re planning to roll out story tomorrow morning about Ken Macha readying for his second season at the helm of the Brewers, in which he admits that he may have gotten off on the wrong foot with some of his hitters last spring. While that story is in the works, I thought I would pass along a couple of tidbits this afternoon. 
If he put together a lineup today, Macha said it would look like this: 
1. Rickie Weeks, 2B 
2. Casey McGehee, 3B
3. Ryan Braun, LF 
4. Prince Fielder, 1B 
5. Corey Hart, RF 
6. Gregg Zaun, C 
7. Carlos Gomez, CF 
8. Pitcher 
9. Alcides Escobar, SS  
That’s all subject to change over the next six weeks, of course, especially the idea of batting the pitcher in the eight-hole. The Brewers have tried that alignment a number of times over the past two seasons with varying results, and Macha remains intrigued by either Gomez or Escobar in the nine-spot. The idea is to get another man on base in front of the Brewers’ fabulous three-four hitters. 
“We’ll have to see,” Macha said. “I tried Escobar there last year, and the key is you’ve got to get on base. If you get somebody who gets on at a .360 [on-base percentage] rate, then it has some advantages. It may be something to look at a bit further.”  
As for the starting rotation, Macha said that all six primary competitors for the rotation – Dave Bush, Doug Davis, Yovani Gallardo, Manny Parra, Jeff Suppan and Randy Wolf — would be on an even playing field. Barring injury, though, it seems extremely likely that Gallardo, Wolf and Davis will lead the group into the season.  
Macha wasn’t ready to officially name Gallardo his Opening Day starter, but it comes as no surprise that he’s the leading competitor.  
“It would be nice to put it out there for him this year,” Macha said.  
Macha also ticked off some of his priorities for camp. Look for those in my story tomorrow. 
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Blogging from "On Deck"

Thousands of Brewers fans lined up early this morning at Milwaukee’s downtown Midwest Airlines Center for “Brewers On Deck,” a day-long fanfest that features autographs, photo sessions, memorabilia booths and a big corner stage for question and answer sessions and other events. 

Here are the updates as they appeared throughout the day:
5:31 p.m. CT — Attendance figures are in, and 10,638 fans attended Brewers On Deck on Sunday. That’s 227 more than attended last year, when the team was coming off a playoff appearance. 
5:05 p.m. CT – Ryan Braun is rooting for Prince Fielder to sign a longterm extension with the Brewers. Braun, after all, is under contract through 2015 and has the luxury of hitting in front of Fielder in the lineup. But Braun is not holding his breath.
“He’s going to do whatever is in his best interests, whatever is best for his family,” Braun said. “He’s earned the opportunity to go out there and see what free agency is like, see who’s interested and how much they are willing to pay.
“Obviously, I want him here. But it’s a business and I just want what’s best for him. I think everybody recognizes the circumstances and the situation that he’s in and that the team is in. To me, it’s going to come down to what’s best for his family. He’s close enough to free agency that it doesn’t make a lot of sense for him to sign a deal at this point. You have to be [realistic].”
3:36 p.m. CT – On Monday, David Riske will be just eight months removed from Tommy John surgery, a procedure that can require 12 months of rehabilitation. Still, the reliever is hoping to be active for the Brewers on Opening Day. 
“I’d say it’s a long shot, but it’s a possibility,” Riske said. “It just all depends on how fast it responds, and then when I can face hitters and how fast it responds after that.”
Riske has been rehabbing at home in Las Vegas and began throwing off a mound two weeks ago. That’s a significant milestone.
The Brewers would love to get some production from Riske this season because so far his three-year contract has not paid off. Riske says his troubles began during his first Spring Training with the Brewers in 2007, when then-pitching coach Mike Maddux tried to introduce a curveball to his repertoire. 
“I wish I would have never, ever tried to learn those breaking balls because that’s really what triggered it,” Riske said. “What do you do? You want to do what they want, and it gradually got worse and worse. … My whole career, I threw 95 percent fastballs, and I’ve had a pretty good career up until last year. I wish I would have just said no.”
Riske said he objected, but tried to pitch through the pain. He posted a 5.31 ERA in 45 appearances in 2008 and was shut down after Sept. 7. 
Riske is due $4.5 million in 2010 and his contract calls for a $4.75 million option for 2011 or a $250,000 buyout. 
He expects to be limited at the start of Spring Training and will follow a program prescribed by Brewers’ doctors. Pitchers and catchers will participate in their first formal workout on Feb. 22. 
“I miss competition,” Riske said. “I’ve been competing with my boys at home, and that’s just not the same. I want that back. I just want to go pitch without hurting.”

2:25 p.m. CT – Jeff Cirillo is staying busy these days. He’s an active investor in the Walla Walla Sweets, a newly-formed baseball team in the West Coast League, a summer wood bat league for collegiate prospects. Cirillo produced his cell phone and showed off the club’s logo, a proud father showing a photo of his kids. The club is named for one of Walla Walla, Wash.’s chief exports, the sweet onion.
Cirillo is involved in everything from player procurement to business operations. He’s also a Major League scout for the D-backs and said he’ll also be involved in some on-field instruction this year. 
1:27 p.m. CT — Prince Fielder Fielder moved into a new house this winter in Windermere, Fla., the upscale hamlet near Orlando made infamous in recent months because it’s also the home of Tiger Woods. With all of the commotion, Fielder has mostly stayed in, playing with young sons Jaden and Haven and staying in shape. Fielder’s new home is outfitted with a pool, a gym — “A little miniature-Ballys,” he said — and an indoor batting cage. He’s working to maintain his playing weight from last season, “or maybe to get a little better.” 
“I have to work out or I’d be huge,” Fielder said. “That’s not an option for me. … I don’t want to turn into an obese person, because I can.” 
He likes the Brewers’ offseason moves to far, and Sunday’s “On Deck” event gave Fielder a chance to catch up with newcomers like Randy Wolf, LaTroy Hawkins and Gregg Zaun. His contract could be a major issue swirling around the Brewers as they gather at Maryvale Baseball Park for Spring Training, but Fielder is much more interested to focus on baseball. 
“I’m just looking forward to having a better year as far as the team,” he said. “Whatever happens after that is cool. As long as we improve, I’m happy.”
12:56 p.m. CT – Fielder isn’t sweating his contract situation, unlike so many of the Brewers fans who asked for his autograph at the Brewers’ annual fan fest on Sunday. 
Fielder is two seasons shy of free agency, and the Brewers are already engaging agent Scott Boras in some casual conversations about a long-term extension. Trouble is, there is little or no precedent for a Boras client of Fielder’s star caliber accepting such a deal over the riches available on the open market, and many Milwaukee fans are already counting down the days to Fielder’s inevitable departure.
Not so fast, he said. 
“In the end, it’s my decision,” Fielder said. “But as my agent, he’s going to make sure that I have the most information possible about what’s going to benefit me and my family. That’s what it’s about first. My family has to be happy, and then I go from there.
“There’s no urgency right now as far as that.”
Asked whether he was worried about the fact that fellow star first basemen Albert Pujols, Ryan Howard and Adrian Gonzalez are all lined up to reach free agency at the same time as Fielder, he responded with a smile, “I’m younger than all of them, and I’m pretty good.”
Fielder said he won’t set a deadline for talks, though he said he “could tell [Boras], ‘Beat it,’” at some point if he doesn’t want to talk business any more. If the negotiations don’t progress, Fielder would earn his $10.5 million in 2010 and be eligible for salary arbitration one more time this winter. If he has a season like the one he enjoyed in 2009, when Fielder belted 46 homers and tied for the Major League lead with 141 RBIs, it could be a record-breaking case. 
The Brewers took a chance on Fielder in 2002, when they made him the seventh overall pick in the First-Year Player Draft and were skewered by some Draft analysts who were already expressing concern about Fielder’s weight. Instead, Fielder charged through Milwaukee’s Minor League system and took over first base at Miller Park for good in 2006. He set a franchise record 50 home runs in 2007, teamed with left fielder Ryan Braun to lead the Brewers
to their first postseason appearance in a generation in 2008, then set club marks for RBIs and walks in 2009.
That history matters, according to Fielder. 
“I came up here and I love it here,” he said. “My thing is I want to stay here as long as possible. For now, I’m here for two more years anyway. All that other stuff, hopefully, will work out.”
Even though it’s a major long shot, Brewers fans sure hope so. 
11:56 a.m. CT – Brewers bench coach Willie Randolph will begin the season on the disabled list.
Randolph underwent surgery to repair a torn flexor tendon in his elbow and attended “Brewers On Deck” with his right arm in a brace. Randolph said the injury was the result of wear and tear from throwing so much batting practice in 2009 — coaches throw hundreds of pitches every day — and decided recently that he had to have the problem fixed. 
Ben Sheets, of course, underwent flexor tendon surgery a year ago and missed the entire 2009 season. Randolph expects to be back earlier; he said he hopes to be back on the mound in May. 
11:30 a.m. CT -- Manager Ken Macha and pitching coach Rick Peterson were first up on the main stage and answered questions from reporters and from fans. Most of the discussion, perhaps since Peterson was present and perhaps because it was such a disaster last season, was the pitching. 
“It will all come down to the pitching,” Macha predicted. 
Before he met them in person on Sunday, Peterson had already reached out to many of the team’s pitchers via telephone. Those conversations were mostly about building relationships, Peterson said, though he’s also spent time breaking down video and data and jotting down ideas about improvements.
Those nuts and bolts discussions will begin in Arizona, Peterson said. 
“I want them to understand first that I’m an asset for them,” Peterson said. “Right now I’m doing my homework.”
So far, he likes what he sees. 
“I think this could be a really special year,” Peterson said. “You think about winning 80 games last year and having the worst starting pitching in baseball. If we can make some incremental differences … I think that we can go into Spring Training with the hope of playing in October.”
Other highlights from the session:
- Macha again endorsed Rickie Weeks for the top spot in the lineup. “If I was to write a lineup today, he would be the leadoff hitter,” Macha said. 
- Peterson said the team is in “wait and see right” mode with left-hander Mark Mulder. The sides have discussed a Minor League contract, and Peterson indicated that the ball was in Mulder’s court at this point. 

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Macha says he'll let 'em run

After a season spent extolling the virtues of staying put, Brewers manager Ken Macha said he’ll embrace the running game in 2010. 

The philosophical shift is driven by personnel changes this winter, particularly a Nov. 6 trade that sent shortstop J.J. Hardy to the Twins for speedy center fielder Carlos Gomez, freeing shortstop for top prospect Alcides Escobar and closing the door on a pursuit of outgoing free agent Mike Cameron

Hardy had a down year in 2009 but he still averaged 20 homers over the past three seasons, and Cameron has topped 20 homers eight times in his career including both of his two years in Milwaukee. Gomez, meanwhile, stole 33 bases as the Twins’ regular starter in 2008, and Escobar swiped 42 bases in 109 games last season at Triple-A Nashville. 

The Brewers also expect speedy second baseman Rickie Weeks to return after a 2009 season lost to wrist surgery, and right fielder Corey Hart (assuming the trade rumors don’t turn into an actual trade) should “have his legs under him” after missing time last year following an appendectomy. There’s also left fielder Ryan Braun, who stole 20 bases in 2009 despite hitting in front of slugger Prince Fielder

“We’ve got some guys that can run this year, so it’s going to be a little different,” Macha said on Tuesday at the Winter Meetings. “The games may be a little more exciting with the guys who do get on base. … We’ve got five guys in the lineup who are definite stolen base threats.” 

Macha conceded that he’s concerned about losing Cameron’s and Hardy’s power, but Weeks’ return should help in that area and the Brewers also picked up veteran catcher Gregg Zaun, who’s no Johnny Bench but should provide more homers than outgoing free agent Jason Kendall

In 2009, Macha’s first season at the helm, the Brewers swiped only 68 bases, third-fewest in the Majors ahead of the Braves (58) and Cubs (56). Macha said he discussed the topic with general manager Doug Melvin near the end of the regular season, when Macha was offered assurances that he would be back for the second year of his contract. 

Macha pushed back against the notion that he favored a station-to-station approach.

 “I think you’re branding me as, ‘This is your type of baseball,’ but, no,” Macha said. “I try to do what’s best for the players that we have there. I think you look at the club we have [for 2010] and there’s going to be a little more activity on the bases this year.”

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Brewers consider Halama for Minor League deal

halama.jpgThe Brewers told John Halama’s agent that they will have a scout in the stands for the former big league left-hander’s start in the Dominican Republic on Friday night, and Halama hopes to strike a Minor League deal with Milwaukee by early next week. <p/>

The Brewers are seeking starting pitching depth this winter and Halama, 37, wants to reunite with pitching coach Rick Peterson and manager Ken Macha. The trio was together in Oakland in 2003, Macha’s first year as A’s manager and Peterson’s final year as that team’s pitching coach.

Halama would also be rejoining Brewers advance scout Chris Bosio, who was a special assignment coach for Seattle during part of Halama’s four-year run with the Mariners.

“He really wants to pitch for the Brewers,” agent Joe Rosario said. “He would love to reunite with both Macha and Peterson.”

Brewers Latin American scouting coordinator Fernando Arango is to attend Halama’s start for Aguilas against Licey on Friday night. It’s a rematch of Nov. 15, when Halama pitched seven innings and allowed two Licey runs on six hits with five strikeouts and no walks.

In his first six winter league starts, he was 3-2 with a 1.66 ERA and 21 strikeouts versus two walks. Both of Halama’s losses came in 1-0 games.

Halama pitched for seven Major League teams in parts of nine seasons from 1998-2006. He’s 56-48 with a 4.65 ERA in the Majors, but his career was derailed after a stint with the Orioles in 2006, in part by a contentious divorce.

He began the 2009 season with the Southern Maryland Blue Crabs of the independent Atlantic League and was 8-1 with a 1.96 ERA in 69 innings, drawing the interest of the Braves. At Triple-A Gwinnett, Halama was 4-7 with a 4.48 ERA in 13 starts and three relief appearances, but much of the damage was done in a pair of relief outings July 7 and 12, when Halama relieved rehabbing Braves JoJo Reyes.

As a starter, Halama had a 3.69 ERA last season at Triple-A. He turns 38 on Feb. 22.

“He spent the last two years pitching his butt off to get to where he is now,” Rosario said. “He’s big league-ready. He just wants an invite to [Spring Training] camp to show that he belongs and he feels like Milwaukee is the way to go.”

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Tidbits: Hoffman, Suppan, Sheets, Hardy

The discussion about whether the Brewers would trade Ryan Braun or Prince Fielder was the most interesting part of general manager Doug Melvin’s year-end wrap-up with the media, but here’s a taste of the other topics discussed:

- The Brewers officially announced their new deal with closer Trevor Hoffman, who re-signed for one year plus a mutual option for 2011. The contract guarantees $8 million and could pay as much as $16.5 million over two years. 

 “By signing Trevor Hoffman, that was a big splash for us,” Melvin said. “If our pitching is going to improve, we have to keep the success we had at the back end of our bullpen. And also, to attract free agent starting pitchers, one of the first questions they always want to know is, ‘Who is the closer?’” 

- Melvin hinted that the focus on pitching could make it difficult for the team to re-sign its key free agents, including center fielder Mike Cameron and catcher Jason Kendall. Rickie Weeks is the second baseman, Melvin reiterated, making it likely that free agent Felipe Lopez will also be let go.

Assistant GM Gord Ash conceded that it’s difficult for teams to win with unproven players up the middle but insisted it can be done. He mentioned Lorenzo Cain and Logan Schafer as the team’s top center field prospects and said Jonathan Lucroy was the team’s top catching prospect. Interestingly, Angel Salome’s name was not brought up.

- Jeff Suppan, the Brewers’ 2009 Opening Day starter, is not guaranteed a spot in the 2010 starting rotation despite his $12.5 million salary. It will be the final season of his four-year contract, and he projects as the team’s highest-paid player for the second straight year. 

“I think Jeff is a professional and he knows that he will come into camp and [compete],” Melvin said. “You have to give him some credit for the fact he’s been given the ball a lot of years. He’s very seldom injured. … I don’t think there will be very many guarantees about who will be in the rotation. We probably have to make it more competitive to get better.” 

- Free agent righty Ben Sheets, who missed all of 2009 following elbow surgery, is still on the Brewers’ radar.

“Ben is somebody who would have to be on anybody’s list when it comes to improving your pitching staff,” Ash said. “We’re not up to date with his physical condition right now since he’s no longer in our care, so that would have to be Step 1. But from our point of view, we enjoyed Ben as part of the Brewers and there’s been, ‘once in a while’ conversations with his agent to remind him that we still have that ongoing interest. It hasn’t been followed-up yet.”

- Melvin already interviewed one potential pitching coach on Monday and was to travel with Ash on Thursday to interview another candidate. He wouldn’t say whether he had already spoken with former A’s and Mets pitching coach Rick Peterson, an early favorite for the position because of his past working relationships with Brewers manager Ken Macha and bench coach Willie Randolph

“We don’t want to advertise who we’re looking at,” Melvin said. “The cat’s out of the bag on one guy. I interviewed him on Monday and another team interviewed him the next day.” 

- Ash shed more light on the options that faced third baseman Casey McGehee, who underwent successful surgery on Tuesday. McGehee has a lesion in his knee, Ash said, that causes fragments of bone to break away. He could have had a more intensive procedure to inject healthy cells into the knee to promote re-growth but it was a riskier procedure that could have sidelined McGehee weeks or even months into the 2010 season. 

“He elected, after consulting with a couple of surgeons, to have kind of the intermediary procedure done, and that was to take out all of the fragments and hope that area of his knee remains intact,” Ash said. “We don’t have 100 percent guarantee on that. What we do know about Casey is that he’s an excellent worker and he’s motivated.” 

- Melvin did little to dispute the notion that shortstop J.J. Hardy will be traded this winter to make room for Alcides Escobar. Hardy’s value is down both because of his poor 2009 season (he batted .229 and was optioned to the Minors in August) and because the rest of the league knows that the Brewers are ready to install Escobar. 

“It might be down a little bit,” Melvin said of Hardy’s value. “But there are still clubs that have interest in him. Shortstop is a big hole to fill.”

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