Spring Draining

The magic that is spring training has been held up a bit due to the playing of the World Baseball Classic, an event which brings mayhem to the major league training sites every four years. During this time it is called Spring Draining.

The other day in Maryvale, the Arizona Diamondbacks took on the Milwaukee Brewers. While the crowd was in a good mood before the game started, the murmur of ‘who’s that’ was fully in the air. For the Milwaukee nine, the only familiar starter from last year in the lineup was Carlos ‘Go Go’ Gomez in center field. The rest of the team was unrecognizable from last season. For the D’Backs, there was very little familiarity with last season’s team.

In both cases, it was not because there was a roster turnover but it was the return of the WBC. Most of the starters for both teams were now playing for one national team or another. For the Brewers, 8 players were with various national teams. John Axford, Jim Henderson and Taylor Green were playing with the Canadian team. Ryan Braun and Jonathon Lucroy were playing for USA. Yovani Gallardo was the leading pitcher and Marco Estrada played for Mexico, while Martin Maldonado was with the Puerto Rican national team.

Add to this unusual circumstance that Aramis Ramirez was out with an injury and Jean Segura along with Ricky Weeks were nowhere to be found, the infield was filled with complete strangers, one had no name on his back. He was merely number 94.

In the outfield, ‘Go Go’ was paired with some that were unfamiliar. Norichika Aoki was missing with a rare day off.

So, for the price of admission you saw the lineup filled with players like Josh Prince (always good to have a Prince back in the Brew Crew’s line up), Caleb Grindl and Khristopher Davis. In the infield there was Scooter Gennett and #94 along with Alex Gonzalez at first and back with the Brewers after a year away. Behind the plate was Blake Lalli. That’s right. Blake Lalli.

Oh well. Everyone needs a Lalli in the spring.

After the 19th of March, after the last ball has been thrown in San Francisco in the WBC final, order will be restored. Spring will once again be sprung. And the normality of the game will be restored. The rhythm of the season will come back again. Braun will be in left. Lucroy will be behind the plate. Axford and Henderson will be in the bullpen. And the days of Lalli will become a faint memory. You can see the smiles from here.

Play Ball!

April. A Season Of Adjustment.

Ron Roenicke, Manager of the Milwaukee Brewers, like members of his team, is going through the ‘season of adjustment’ as April is known in my world of baseball. Historically, April is just weird. It is a time when people do the darndest things.

For example, on Wednesday, Shaun Marcum, the starting pitcher for the BrewCrew lasted only five innings. That means an overused bullpen had to be called in an attempt to rescue a win. So far the bullpen for Milwaukee has looked a lot like it did a year ago in April. This year the Brewers have K-Rod before the All-Star break, but even he has looked shaky early this season. Last April, Axford had a tough beginning and then went perfect for the rest of the season. Although that streak continues for him, he has not looked as sharp as in the past. Needless to say, chances of succeeding when the two main bullpen aces have been used a lot lately: Slim.

Marcum left because he was throwing the ball all over the park, four walks, a wild pitch and nearly 100 pitches while getting only 15 batters out. Now he gets to sit down for five days before his next start. Record so far: 1 win. All of the starting pitchers have had less than stellar outings so far. Don’t you love April?

The leader, Roenicke, didn’t have a lot of sleep between Tuesday night’s game and Wednesday’s 1PM start. That must explain why he brought in Izturis to pinch hit for Ishikawa after Travis hit a home run earlier in the game. (That makes two dingers in two straight games.) Sure, the odds say that if you have a left-handed pitcher on the mound, you bring in a right-handed batter. So what if it was a left-handed pitcher on the mound. Ishikawa had just hit a home run off of a left hander a few innings earlier. And, before anyone says anything about Roenicke’s penchant for making sure all of his players get to play, this isn’t the Little Leagues where parents get upset because their kid sits on the bench all of the time but gets to bat because it is the rule of keeping everyone happy.

This is the major leagues. You don’t have to keep Cesar Izturis happy. It’s up to him to stay happy. Plus, he shouldn’t have even made the team this season. Taylor Green (.313), Erick Almonte (.324) and Edwin Masonet (.296) waste away in the minors while Izturis  (.200) gets the big payday toward the end of his career. If you saw these fellows play in Spring Training this year, you would know one of these players, Green, Almonte or Masonet got robbed by being sent down and Izturis got a free pass and a major league check.

While it is wonderful that Roenicke tries to keep everyone happy, is it really necessary when a player can’t succeed? One of the keys to a great manager is to put players into a position where they can succeed. Veteran or not, the Brewers were losing against a team they had beaten eleven straight times and they were playing at home. Ishikawa already had, in replacing Gamel, hit two home runs in two consecutive games. He was getting hot. And again, he hit the last home run off of a left-handed pitcher. He can’t fail in that situation because he has already proven he can hit in that situation. But bringing in Izturis as a pinch hitter off of the bench in place of Ishikawa?

In a game that is played on the field by the players, one thing that is sure to get a manager into trouble is when he tries to draw an inside straight with an aging ballplayer who can’t do it any more.

The Brewers are 8-9 in their first 17 games. They are 2-7 during day games. The are 1 game over .500 at home. Those are Cub statistics, not Brewer stats.

You win at home and split on the road. While technically they won on this 9 game home stand (5 wins and 4 losses), that will not win a pennant.

But it’s only April. Roenicke and the pitchers get the proverbial April pass for being occasionally insane. There are only five more games in the month of forgiveness or as we call it the ‘season of adjustment’.

Five more games, Mr. Roenicke. Then the foam comes off of the glass. The brats will get cold because there is no more kraut. Secret stadium sauce will run dry. And there will be no more fun in Pigsville. None. Nada. Sure you can blame the truck driver for delivering flat beer. You can blame the vendor for not remembering to bring in fresh kraut and sauce. But you can’t console the folks in the taverns of Cream City once May 1 comes around.