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News » Milwaukee Brewers Inside Pitch 2009-03-29

Milwaukee Brewers Inside Pitch 2009-03-29

Milwaukee Brewers Inside Pitch 2009-03-29
With all eight everyday players returning from a year ago, the focus for the Brewers during spring training was aligning their rotation, piecing together a bullpen and settling a few bench spots.

Mission accomplished on some fronts, not so much on others.

With Braden Looper recovering from an oblique strain suffered early in camp, the rotation appears lined up in this order: Jeff Suppan, Yovani Gallardo, Manny Parra, Looper and Dave Bush.

The bullpen, however, was still "cloudy," as manager Ken Macha put it, with camp days winding to a close. The confusion started with the health status of closer Trevor Hoffman, sidelined due to an oblique strain and apparently headed for the disabled list.

Big Seth McClung, who provided coverage for Looper until he recovered, also could prove to be Plan B for the closing role until Hoffman recovers. Carlos Villanueva is another option.

But with David Riske looking very shaky while coming back from elbow surgery and other relief candidates a bit too erratic, the bullpen had the makings of a definite weakness at the start of the season. And, with 2008 co-aces CC Sabathia and Ben Sheets lost via free agency, the relief corps could prove more important than ever.

How the pitching shapes up should determine everything for the Brewers, because scoring runs should not be a problem. Milwaukee possesses a power-packed lineup anchored by sluggers Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder.

Trying to win slugfests night after night can be tiring, however. If the pitching staff doesn't do its part, the first playoff berth in 26 years last season could prove to be a one-time breakthrough.

Gallardo and Parra have very high ceilings but are still young, inexperienced pitchers. Putting too much pressure on them to carry the staff could backfire.

THE BREWERS WILL CONTEND IF ...: RHP Trevor Hoffman proves he has gas left in his tank as a closer and the rest of the bullpen chips in to give him save opportunities. RHP Braden Looper does more than just fill innings as the newcomer to the rotation. LF Ryan Braun gets past the intercostal tightness that plagued him during spring training, a recurrence of the problem that rendered him ineffective toward the end of last season. If the Brewers are in a contending position at midseason, they'll be tempted to try a repeat of the CC Sabathia trade of 2008.

PRIMED FOR A BIG SEASON: 2B Rickie Weeks appeared to be making steady progress on defense under the tutelage of infield coach Willie Randolph and offensively under the guidance of new hitting coach Dale Sveum. Weeks has been a lightning rod since arriving in the majors in 2005 because of his erratic play in the field and underachieving tendencies as a leadoff hitter. This could be a make-or-break season for his career.

ON THE DECLINE: RHP Jeff Suppan went 5-0 with a 3.00 ERA last August, then collapsed in September, going 0-3 with a 8.44 ERA. He then was shelled in Game 4 of the NL Division Series against Philadelphia, leading to the Brewers' elimination. Halfway through a four-year, $42 million contract -- the largest for a pitcher in club history 00 Suppan has gone 22-22 with a 4.76 ERA in his first two seasons in Milwaukee.

Author:Fox Sports
Author's Website:
Added: March 29, 2009

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