Sans Sabathia, Sheets, Brewers' Outlook Dim

On Baseball

April 26, 2009|By Phil Rogers | Phil Rogers,Tribune Newspapers

All-but-certain future Hall of Famer Trevor Hoffman should make his Milwaukee Brewers debut in the next few days.

His recovery from a strained muscle in his right side is good news for the Brewers. But outside of the continuing promise of Yovani Gallardo and sporadic sneak attacks from Dave Bush, just about everything else involving pitching is bad news.

The year after ending a postseason drought that dated to Ronald Reagan's first term, reality bites for the Brew Crew. Owner Mark Attanasio and Major League Baseball's revised distribution of revenue allowed general manager Doug Melvin to add major parts over the previous three seasons, but the bill for that aggressiveness is coming due.

Attanasio and Melvin tried to get an additional season of competitiveness out of a team that has averaged 87 wins the past two years. But without CC Sabathia and Ben Sheets, the starting pitching is the worst in the National League Central.

The rotation that entered the weekend with a 5.01 ERA is largely responsible for a 6-9 start - one that strongly suggests that new manager Ken Macha won't be able to keep up with the Chicago Cubs and St. Louis Cardinals, and maybe not even the Pittsburgh Pirates and Cincinnati Reds. Milwaukee starters are averaging barely 5 1/3 innings, putting a heavy load on a bullpen that is seemingly always under construction.

The Brewers' staff had walked 70 entering the weekend, most in the NL.

"It's frustrating," said Ryan Braun, Milwaukee's left fielder. "If you don't make them swing the bat, you don't keep your defense in the game. You don't give yourself a chance to get anybody out. It's not just the walks. We're falling behind every hitter."

Melvin invested a combined $76 million to sign Jeff Suppan, David Riske, Eric Gagne, Braden Looper and Hoffman. Two of those deals were designed to bring lasting benefits, and, like the Gagne signing (necessitated by losing a bidding war with Cincinnati for Francisco Cordero), they have been nightmares.

Suppan, signed to a four-year, $42 million deal after going 44-26 with a 3.94 ERA the previous three seasons in St. Louis, is 23-24 with a 4.91 ERA in his 68 starts for Milwaukee. Riske, who got a three-year, $13 million deal after a strong season with the Kansas City Royals, had a 5.31 ERA in 45 games last season and landed on the disabled list with a career-threatening elbow injury after his first outing this season.

Melvin dealt 13 minor leaguers in his recent trades for pitching. Outfielder Nelson Cruz, sent to the Texas Rangers in the six-player Cordero deal, has hit 50 homers in 148 games the past two seasons, including 13 in the big leagues. Outfielder Matt LaPorta, the headliner of the Sabathia trade, is hitting .362 with power in Triple-A. He will be in Cleveland soon.

No-fly zone

The Boston Red Sox have recovered nicely from their 2-6 start but still aren't quite themselves. That's because entering Saturday, David Ortiz was not among the 221 big leaguers who had hit a home run.

"The hitting-my-first-homer thing, I don't want to let it get in my head because it just makes it worse, you know?" Ortiz said.

This is Ortiz's longest drought to start a season since signing with Boston. But he didn't homer until the 15th game in 2003 and still finished with 31.

Empty seats

Despite the opening of New York's two new parks and the renovation of Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City, Major League Baseball is experiencing a slide in attendance. This past week there were crowds of fewer than 15,000 at Camden Yards and in Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Toronto and Washington, but MLB officials say they're not alarmed.

"Overall we're down less than 5 percent," commissioner Bud Selig said. "It's just too early to draw any conclusions."

More chads to dimple

This year's All-Star ballot contains a new twist. Fans will be able to vote for three of 10 players listed from each league as potential entrants in the Home Run Derby.

The fan vote on sluggers isn't binding. It's a suggestion, not a mandate, and appears designed to pressure reluctant participants into stepping up to the plate in the popular event.


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