ESPN Wisconsin Blogs - Drew Olson
Brewers right-hander Tyler Thornburg's chances of making the rotation plunged when Matt Garza signed with MIlwaukee.
By DREW OLSON
Mesa, Ariz. — After giving up a single, two long flyball outs and a two-run homer in his first inning against the Chicago Cubs, Brewers right-hander Tyler Thornburg made a slight adjustment to his pitching delivery.
The result of his tinkering was both instantaneous and encouraging.
“Sometimes it takes one pitch, one inning – something – and it just all of a sudden clicks and you remember what you did when you were being successful,” Thornburg said after working the first four innings of an eventual 10-8 loss before a crowd of 14,770 at sun-dappled Cubs Park.
“That’s exactly what happened in between the first and second (innings). Something clicked. Obviously the results are the main thing in baseball, but just the way I feel throwing, I made an adjustment and obviously the results after that are a heck of a lot different.”
After allowing the two-run homer to Justin Ruggiano, the third long fly of the inning, Thornburg corrected a flaw — which he did not reveal — while working to Ryan Sweeney, who grounded out.
“I came in (after the inning) and just kind of was doing a couple dry runs in the dugout and just… a light went on and I realized what I was doing different from now and last year, basically, and I made the adjustment.”
Thornburg and pitching coach Rick Kranitz had been trying to find that light switch since camp opened.
“We knew exactly pretty much what I was doing,” he said. “Sometimes the adjustments that certain people need to make aren't exactly the same. You have to take a lot upon yourself to remember how a pitch felt when it was good. A huge part in this game is being able to make the adjustment yourself, especially between pitches not just between innings.”
Thornburg said the excitement generated by his discovery was tinged with a touch of frustration.
“It's more of a feeling of 'I wish I would have figured that out sooner' but at the same time, I'm glad it's now and glad I made the adjustment. I'm obviously excited for the next time out.”
It’s normal for a young player like Thornburg, 25, to experience emotional peaks and valleys during spring training. The valley he visited in late January, however, was unusual.
After posting a 3-1 record and 2.03 ERA in 18 games (7 starts) in two stints with Milwaukee last season, Thornburg heard his name in trade rumors during the Winter Meetings. The Brewers didn’t want to part with a talented young and economical arm, so they penciled him in as the No. 5 starter in the rotation.
The eraser came Jan. 26, when the Brewers signed free agent right-hander Matt Garza to a four-year, $52 million deal.
“It certainly made it tougher for him to be one of those five guys (in the rotation),” manager Ron Roenicke said. “We're still stretching him out. He's got at least mapped out a couple more starts (in camp). Then we need to see where we're at. He's nice to have stretched out because he certainly is a guy that proved last year that he deserves that opportunity. And, even though we're excited to get Garza, for him, it's a lot more difficult.”
General manager Doug Melvin and Kranitz talked to Thornburg in Milwaukee.
“(Melvin) was obviously telling me ‘We really like what you did last year. We still want you competing as a starter,” Thornburg said. “Past that, I pretty much try to flush everything out about whether I'm going to be in the bullpen or whether I'm going to be a starter and work on things like today, make the adjustments on certain things I need to make the adjustments on and get my arm ready for whatever it may be and then worry about that when it comes to the season.”
Few teams make it through the season with just five starters, so Thornburg’s chances of starting at Miller Park seem strong.
“He's got a lot of ‘plus’ pitches,” Roenicke said. “His changeup is plus. His curveball is plus. His fastball is plus. He’s throwing the ball well.”
By DREW OLSON
PHOENIX -- At least twice a week, Brewers manager Ron Roenicke talks about how tough it is to play outfield in the Cactus League. The sun, the backdrops and the long winter can conspire to make even excellent fielders -- like Gold Glove Award winner Carlos Gomez -- look bad.
Plays like the one depicted above are rare. Plays like this one, however, will be more common when the regular season starts:
Brewers manager Ron Roenicke tries to honor the spirit of the spring training rule about having "regular" players in the lineup.
By DREW OLSON
PHOENIX — Last week, officials from the Miami Marlins complained when the Boston Red Sox fielded what was, in essence, a Class AAA lineup during a Grapefruit League game for which the Marlins had sold "super premium" tickets.
Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington apologized for the act, which violated the exhibition rule that teams play a minimum of four "regular" players -- meaning starters, part-time starters or those in competition for starting roles -- for regular sping training games and three for split-squad doubleheaders.
Boston owner John Henry later issued a tweet saying that the Florida "should apologize for their regular season lineup."
Lineups are always a thorny issue in spring training games. Brewers manager Ron Roenicke took note last week when Colorado fielded a questionable lineup for a game at Maryvale Baseball Park.
"I was ware of it," he said. "I don't know what goes on with their team. I don't know who's hurt, who needs a day off. Sometimes, to follow what we're supposed to do is really difficult. Split-squad (games are) hard. The thing that we have going for us, as far as having guys -- it's supposed to be a starter or somebody who has a chance to start. We've got (second basemen) Rickie (Weeks) and Scooter (Gennett) . We've got three guys at first base. We have more guys, probably, when we have a split-squad, that I can (play).
"In the past, it's difficult sometimes. When you have a couple injuries and you want to give a guy a day off, it's hard to get them out there. I try to do it. I try to flow by what they tell me I'm supposed to do. But, there are times when you're not able to do it."
Saturday afternoon, former Brewers manager Ned Yost featured ex-Brewers Nori Aoki, Lorenzo Cain and Alcides Escobar in his starting lineup -- possibly with an eye on preparation but also on revenge. Roenicke was asked if he ever felt the need to "load up" a lineup on a certain day, be it a televised game (good for ticket sales back home) or when owners/investors are on hand.
"Not really," he said. "I think there's times, maybe, when you like to have your main lineup out there.. for different reasons. Maybe there are some games you feel like that you'd like to put out a better team. Not that the other guys aren't good, but you'd like to put out more of your starters."
Brewers third baseman Aramis Ramirez collected two hits, three RBI and a walk during his return to action Saturday.
By DREW OLSON
PHOENIX —Brewers third baseman Aramis Ramirez waited two weeks for his Cactus League at-bat.
Waiting for a second pitch would have been asking too much.
Ramirez, who missed Milwaukee’s first 10 exhibition games while recovering from off-season surgery to remove a polyp from his colon, came to the plate with the bases loaded in the bottom of the first inning and belted the first pitch he saw from Kansas City lefty John Lamb for a three-run double to left.
The Brewers went on to win the game, 7-6, at Maryvale Baseball Park.
“I wanted to get that first hit out of the way right away,” Ramirez said. “I was hoping for a strike and he did throw me a strike. I put a pretty good swing on it.”
Ramirez walked in the second inning and singled to center in the fourth, leaving for pinch-runner Jeff Bianchi. He finished 2 for 2 with a walk and had an uneventful day at third base.
“I was hoping to get some ground balls to see how I'm moving out there, but we've got plenty of time (in camp),” Ramirez said. “I should get some ground balls before we leave.”
Ramirez expects to rest Sunday, as the Brewers play a split-squad doubleheader with games against the Cubs and Indians, and should return on Monday.
“I feel pretty good,” he said. “It’s been a while since the last time I played a baseball game. It was a little weird in the beginning, but now I've gotten the first one out of the way.”
During his morning meeting with reporters, Brewers manager Ron Roenicke was asked about Ryan Braun’s hot start this spring (6 for 9 with two homers) coming off a PED suspension. Roenicke’s comment about Braun could apply to Ramirez as well.
"There are some athletes that you put them on the 15-day DL and they're lost for half a month,” Roenicke said. “And there's other guys you do it and the first day back they get three hits. It's hard to explain. I know it's a better athlete that comes back quicker, but I don't know what the difference is between the timing of it — to be able to always have the timing there.”
Marco Estrada, who allowed seven hits and three earned runs in his second spring start, wasn’t surprised by Ramirez’s debut.
“The guy is incredible,” Estrada said. “I never liked pitching against him. I’m glad he’s on our team.”
Royals rightfielder Nori Aoki visited Maryvale Baseball Park on Saturday to face his former teammates.
By DREW OLSON
PHOENIX — Three years ago, Kansas City shortstop Alcides Escobar and centerfielder Lorenzo Cain would have been the center of attention.
On Saturday, the pair — key players in the trade that brought Zach Greinke to Milwaukee in the winter of 2010 — were a mere footnote in Nori Aoki’s homecoming game.
Aoki, the Brewers’ right fielder and leadoff man the past two seasons, visited Maryvale Baseball Park for the first time as a visiting player Saturday, going 1 for 3 with two RBI and a run scored as his new team, the Royals, dropped a 7-6 decision to his former club.
Aoki, dealt to Kansas City for left-handed pitcher Will Smith, received a warm reception from Brewers players and employees and fans, many of whom received surplus Aoki bobbleheads on their way into the park.
"It brought back good memories," Aoki said through translator Kosuke Inaji, who was in Milwaukee with Takashi Saito in 2011 and stuck around for two years with Aoki.
"It was nice seeing some familiar faces."
With Aoki, 32, eligible for free agency after the season and Khris Davis emerging as a power prospect in left field, the Brewers decided to send the popular Japanese player to Kansas City for Smith. Though he likes the idea of a power pitcher who is under club control for five years, Brewers manager Ron Roenicke admitted that Aoki’s departure left a void in the lineup and in the clubhouse.
"Any time you have a player as a coach or manager, whatever, I'm sure front office, too, that does the things that you think players should do…it's hard when you think about losing those guys. “(Aoki) had a great personality. He fit in really well with the guys. We had fun with him. But, he worked as hard as you could work. You can't put more effort into the job than he did. I know my wife also liked his wife and the rest of the wives really liked Sachi, so there were just lots of reasons why you feel good about guys like that.”
Roenicke has used Jean Segura and Rickie Weeks in the leadoff spot this season.
”We'll be more creative," said Roenicke. "We're hoping in the long run that offensively we're getting a different thing offensively. We hope we get somebody who drives in a lot of runs and has some power that are added to our lineup.
"There's different elements of what you think you need in not just that year but down the road."
Aoki — always quick with a smile during his time with the Brewers — broke into a laugh before his first at-bat Saturday. Brewers senior director of media relations Mike Vassallo served up “ChaChaLaLa” — the theme song of WWE wrestler Fandango — played over the public address system. Aoki used the song as his “walk-up” music for a time at Miller Park.
Stepping into the shadows.... almost
By DREW OLSON
PHOENIX -- Another attempt at iPhone 5s greatness. Today's photo captures Brewers catcher Robinzon Diaz stepping in for the final at-bat of the Brewers' 7-6 victory over Kansas City.