Early Season Heroes

By Nathan Petrashek

It’s pretty incredible that two players who don’t see regular playing time are tied for the team lead in average, and yet that’s just where George Kottaras and Carlos Gomez find themselves with just one game to go in April.  Both have made game-changing contributions to the team in the early season that need to be recognized, and have made the case that they deserve more playing time.

Kottaras has plenty of late-inning heroics already.  On April 11, he delivered the team’s only runs on a two-run shot off Ryan Dempster in the seventh inning to deliver what remains Yovani Gallardo’s only win of the season.  Then on the 17th against the Dodgers, Kottaras plated the go-ahead run on a two-run double at the bottom of the ninth.  In 22 ABs, Kottaras is raking .318/.500/.773, with all but one at bat coming against righties.  It has been refreshing to see Kottaras used more in late-inning, high-leverage situations, but to really maximize his skills, the whole notion of using him as Randy Wolf’s personal catcher should be scrapped.  Kottaras, hitting just .182 for his career against lefties, should always cede the start to Jonathan Lucroy in that situation, freeing him up for additional starts against righties and pinch hit appearances.

Gomez has shown flashes early this season of developing into the player we have hoped he’d become for the last two years.  With appearances in 18 games, Gomez is slashing .318/.333/.545.  Gomez has walked just once, and his OBP leaves something to be desired but is nonetheless a dramatic improvement over last year’s .276.  Most people are familiar with Gomez’s speed, and he hasn’t disappointed this year, swiping five bags.  What has been really surprising, though, is Gomez’s plate discipline.  After ending about 28% of his at-bats last year via the K, Gomez has struck out just three times so far in 2012, about 7% of his at-bats.  In general, he’s swinging at more pitches in the zone and fewer outside, and has been able to make contact at rates well above his career averages.  Only time will tell if the 26-year-old Gomez is one of those rare late bloomers, but he certainly looks like he’s finally put it all together in the early going.  And with CF platoon mate Nyjer Morgan batting just .176 a month in, Gomez’s production is certainly welcome.

6 Questions With Max Walla

by Kevin Kimmes

On Friday night, Max Walla hit his first homerun as a Timber Rattler. While this accomplishment in and of itself is commendable, it becomes something even bigger when you consider where the feat was accomplished. Miller Park.

(Note: This is the second time that Max has accomplished this feat as he hit one out during the Rising Stars Game at Miller Park last year).

I had a chance to talk to Max the following day about the homer, how he prepped for the game, as well as what inspires him to be the best that he can be.

CCC: On Friday Night you collected your first homer as a Wisconsin Timber Rattler. Can you tell me what was going through your head as the ball was leaving the park?

MW: Well, obviously I put a good swing on it, I hit it a little high, and just was hoping it had the distance to get out. You know, it’s surreal circling the bases of a major league ballpark and hearing the canons go off, that’s pretty cool.

CCC: Obviously playing at Miller Park required a different level of preparation. What adjustments did yo make in BP to account for this?

MW: It doesn’t really require any different sort of preparation. It’s the same game, maybe just on a little bigger stage. You just try to focus on the basics. In BP you want to see if you can get a few more out of the park than normal, but you just have fun with it. You don’t get to take BP there too often.

CCC: As one of the youngest players on the team, what advice have you received from the other players and coaches so far?

MW: Well, just to slow the game down and keep doing what you’re doing. You’ve got to remember what makes you valuable to the organization as a ball player, so obviously you’ve got to know your role and try to improve the things that you don’t do as well to make yourself a more complete player.

CCC: Being from New Mexico, how are you adjusting to the weather here in Wisconsin?

MW: Well, you know Albuquerque gets pretty cold in the wintertime, so I mean, it’s not too much of an adjustment. Yeah it’s a little bit windy, but like I said, I’ve played in stuff like this before. Obviously, this isn’t ideal conditions, but really when are they? So really, it’s not too bad and hopefully it warms up really soon.

CCC: Any pregame rituals?

MW: Yeah, you know, I do like to read the Bible a little bit and pray. I am a Christian so I mainly try to focus on playing for Christ, not for myself or anybody else. That’s something that God has given me so I hope to glorify him while I play to the best of my abilities.

CCC: Final question, who is the player that you learned the most from watching their game?

MW: I think in recent years, it would be Jordan Pacheco. He’s been up and down with the Rockies this year. I had a chance to work out with him this off season. He’s been in the big leagues and I’ve learned a lot from him regarding on-field routines, off-field routines, as well as good ways to go about your business. I’ve learned a lot from him, and am very thankful for him.

We at Cream City Cables would like to thank Max for taking time to talk with us, and wish him the best of luck as he continues to climb the ladder within the Brewers organization.

Walla, Walla, Walkoff: Rattlers Win First Game of Homestand

by Kevin Kimmes

Wednesday, the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers returned home to Time Warner Cable Field at Fox Cities Stadium after having completed a six game road trip during which they went 3-3, sweeping the West Michigan Whitecaps before being swept by the South Bend Silver Hawks. Looking to return to their winnings ways, and finding themselves just one game back of the Quad Cities River Bandits for first place, the Rattlers wasted no time getting the offense rolling against their opponent, the Dayton Dragons.

In the bottom of the 1st, right fielder Max Walla singled with one out to give the Rattlers their first base-runner of the night. Walla would score from second on a throwing error to first by Dragon’s starting pitcher Stalin Gerson, giving the Rattlers an early 1-0 advantage.

Walla would double in the bottom of the 3rd and come home on a double from Rattlers’ designated hitter Jason Rogers. Rogers would then score on a bullet to deep left from third baseman Brandon Macias. Macias’ hit would escape the park, traveling under the outfield fence, and after review by the umpiring crew, was ruled a ground rule double. The score after 3 stood at 3-0 Rattlers.

The Dragons showed signs of life in the top of the 4th as second baseman Ryan Wright and first baseman Sean Buckley both walked to lead off the inning.  A two run scoring double from right fielder Steve Selsky would put the Dragons on the board, bringing the score to 3-2 after 3 1/2 innings played.

Dragons’ third baseman, Brandon Dailey, would start off the top of the 4th with a single, eventually tying the game at 3-3 when he scored on a sacrifice fly to center field from Wright. Despite this two inning offensive flourish, the Dragon’s fire had run out.

Taking the tie into the bottom of the 9th inning, Rattlers number 9 hitter, first baseman Greg Hopkins, connected on a 1-1 pitch crushing it over the left field wall and earning the Rattlers their 3rd walk off win of the season.

The Rattlers will play game 2 of this three game series tonight at Time Warner Cable Field. Matt Miller (0-3, 6.75) will take the mound for the Rattlers, while  Justice French (3-1, 2.91) will start for the Dragons. Game time is set for 6:35 pm.

Additional Notes:

- Game 3 of this series will be played Friday night at Miller Park with a 7:05 pm start. All tickets for this game are just $10.00.

- The Dayton Dragons are managed by former Montreal Expo Delino DeShields

Game at a Glance:

Player of the Game: Max Walla – 2/3 (single and a double) – 1 BB – 2 runs scored (1 earned, 1 unearned)

WP: Seth Harvey (2-0, 0.96)
LP: Jimmy Moran (1-2, 4.26)

Time: 2:51
Attendance: 1,076

Perception Becomes Reality

By Nathan Petrashek

Back when Brewer Nation posted its Brewers by the (Jersey) Numbers on Aramis Ramirez, I raised a small issue about the post.  The problem related to the perception that Ramirez is a “notoriously slow starter.”  While this may have been true early in his career, I pointed out that, aside from his disastrous 2010 season, Ramirez had not had a slow month of April since 2006. The Nation responded that Ramirez himself had addressed the topic, which is fair.  Ramirez believed the cold Chicago air negatively affected his early performance, and said he was looking forward to playing at Miller Park.  While that didn’t quite seem like a realistic explanation for the peaks and valleys in Ramirez’s early season performance, the fact that Ramirez perceived himself as a slow starter-whatever the cause-was significant.

The reality early on in 2012 hasn’t been pretty.  Ramirez is slashing just .158/.222/.263 in the first 16 games.  It’s far too early to talk about replacing him in the lineup, but privately the Brewers brass have to be hoping they didn’t make a mistake signing Ramirez to a 3-year, $36M deal this offseason.  For a player signed to protect Braun in the lineup and replace some of Fielder’s production, the results in the early going have been woefully inadequate.

So far, Ramirez’s slump hasn’t done a ton of harm in the team context, though. As Ryan Topp points out today at Disciples of Uecker, the Brewers are actually averaging more runs scored per game than most other National League teams.  In general, Ramirez’s bad start has been covered by some excellent production further down in the order from players like Alex Gonzalez, Mat Gamel, and Jonathan Lucroy.

Ramirez is clearly frustrated though.  He wanted to come in and impress his new team, and you can tell that he is quickly losing his patience.  He can take comfort, though, in the fact that he has not fundamentally altered his approach. Ramirez’s swing and contact rates rates are generally not too far off from his career norms, though he appears to be swinging at slightly fewer strikes (and making slightly less contact when he does swing).  His batted ball percentages look solid too, although his HR/FB currently sits at a paltry 4.8 percent.  We can expect that to regress closer to his career rate of 13.2 percent as the season goes forward, though.

The primary culprit for Ramirez’s slump looks to be luck, not his attitude.  Early on, Ramirez is sporting a .182 BABIP, well below his career average of .288.  That’s far worse even than his 2010 average of .245, when Ramirez posted nearly the worst slash line of his career.  In short, if Ramirez hasn’t altered anything – and the statistics suggest he has become only a hair more conservative, if anything – we can expect a greater percentage of balls to fall for hits, and some will even leave the park.  With Ramirez playing the same brand of baseball, it would be prudent to let him work it out in the four-spot for the time being.

Ramirez in March/April (games in parenthesis)  

2000-.167/.219/.250 (18)

2001-.256/.310/.526 (21)

2002-.348/.407/.500 (14)

2003-.247/.321/.371 (26)

2004-.308/.333/.626 (22)

2005-.241/.344/.458 (22)

2006-.197/.321/.394 (21)

2007-.309/.367/.556 (20)

2008-.287/.411/.554 (27)

2009-.358/.393/.585 (13)

2010-.152/.216/.283 (23)

2011-.295/.358/.400 (25)

2012-.158/.222/.263 (15)

More Lessons From The Ballpark

by Kevin Kimmes

Yesterday morning I decided to make the 2 hour drive from Green Bay to take in the final game of the Brewers series with the Colorado Rockies. While the game was a disappointment on the field thanks to a “stellar” outing by K-Rod and an inability by the offense to create runs despite having men on base, the bigger disappointment was in the things I saw in and around the park. So, since there appears to be a large contingent of so-called “fans” out there who are utterly clueless, let’s cover a little more ballpark etiquette.

1) If you are parked closely to the car next to you, use some common sense and be careful when opening your doors.

To the mullet sporting asshat and his worthless friends who parked next to me, thanks for dinging my car door with your truck. I personally take great satisfaction in coming out and finding Doritos and vomit all around my vehicle which I had paid $10 to park. You people are the reason that I, and everyone else keeps coming back to the ballpark, so bravo and keep up the great work.

P.S. the above is what we “educated folk” refer to as “sarcasm”.

2) If you don’t want the promotional giveaway, then don’t take it.

Smashing your bobblehead against the concourse wall doesn’t show the team how angry you are with their performance on the field, it just shows everyone else that you are a clueless dick who should probably have stayed home and saved their family the embarrassment of knowing that they were out in public unsupervised again. No one is forcing you to take the promo item, so if you don’t want it either don’t take it, or give it to a kid who would be more than happy to have it.

3) Falling into the person next to you because you have dozed off for the 5th time this inning is not acceptable under any circumstances.

Let me qualify this. I’m not talking about the 9th inning, hell, I’m not talking about extra innings…I’m talking about the top of the 1st inning. If keeping your eyes open has become too taxing, then go home. Those of us who came to watch the game and not by bothered by your sudden bought of narcolepsy will not miss you.

4) There is nothing wrong with playing catch with your kid outside the ballpark. However what are you teaching him when you are throwing the ball over the cars that are trying to leave the park?

Common sense: so rare, it’s a super power. ‘Nuff said.

Lessons From the Ballpark

By Nathan Petrashek

I had the good fortune to attend last night’s improbable 5-4 win over the Dodgers, and walked away less than enthused with my fellow Milwaukeeans (Milwaukee-uns?).  Here’s a few bits of advice for anyone attending the remainder of the Dodgers series.

  1. Matt Kemp does not suck.  He is also not overrated.  To avoid embarrassing yourself, avoid hurling either of these phrases at him while within his earshot.  You’re just fueling his fire.
  2. Ryan Braun is not a “herpes-infested f***” who has done nothing for the team.  Again, you’re embarrassing yourself, and the team you claim to support.  He won the Rookie of the Year in 2007, and he’s the reigning MVP who last year led the NL with a .996 OPS.  This year, he’s sporting an .886 OPS.
  3. You’re right, Aramis Ramirez is off to a slow start.  That does not mean Mat Gamel, who is justifying my faith in him with a .282/.333/.436 slash line, should bat fourth.  It’s week three.
  4. It’s week three.
  5. It’s week three.  Stop overreacting.
  6. Don’t leave early.  Especially don’t leave early in a one-run game.
  7. Only people truly in the middle of a row have the option to exit out either side.  If you’re closer to one side, do not inconvenience the majority of your row by exiting on the other side.  Your helmet of cheese fries is far more likely to survive the trip back to your seat using this approach.
  8. When there are, say, two on with no outs, and you’re down a run at the bottom of the ninth, it is perfectly okay to stand up and cheer.  We’re watching baseball, not the Milwaukee Symphony.

I’ll be back in the Keg tonight, and I have my fan police badge all ready to go.  Violations will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law (which is to say, gentle mocking and scornful looks).

Splitsville: Rattlers and Bees Split First Double Header of the Year

by Kevin Kimmes

“It’s a great day for a ball game; let’s play two!” – Ernie Banks

Tonight, the Timber Rattlers did exactly that as they faced off in the season’s first double-header against the Burlington Bees (Low A Oakland Athletics). The change of schedule was brought about by inclement weather on Monday which caused the scheduled series opener to be cancelled and rescheduled as one of two 7 inning games to be played on Tuesday night.

Game 1 saw the Timber Rattlers send Matt Miller (0-3, 6.75) to the mound to face off against the Bee’s Drew Granier (2-0, 1.69) in what would be a decidedly lopsided battle. Granier would pitch all seven innings of game 1 holding the Rattlers to a single run scored in the bottom of the 5th inning when 1st baseman Greg Hopkins scored on a  sacrifice fly from 2nd baseman Carlos George.

However, the damage had already been done as the Bees had stung the Rattlers for 3 runs in the top of the 5th. They would put up two more insurance runs in the top of the 7th for a final score of 5-1.

Game 2 saw the Timber Rattlers send Drew Gagnon (1-0, 1.26) to the mound to face off against the Bee’s Jonathon Joseph (0-1, 5.93). The Rattlers, backed by a solid outing by Gagnon, would put up the only runs of the game in the bottom of the 4th inning when both designated hitter Brandon Macias and second baseman Carlos George would score to give the team a 2-0 lead.

Gagnon would pick up the win pitching 5.1 scoreless innings and striking out 6 batters in the process. Finding himself in trouble with one out in the 6th inning and the bases loaded, Gagnon would be replaced by Seth Harvey who would come on in relief and pick up his second save of the young season. Harvey would retire all five batters he faced in order, striking out four and improving his ERA to 1.50.

The split brings the Timber Rattlers record to 6-6 on the season tied with Beloit, Burlington, Cedar Rapids, and Peoria. The team will play the final game of this home stand Wednesday evening at 6:35pm before heading out on the road for 6 games starting Thursday.

One other note from tonight’s contest: Jason Rogers saw his streak of consecutive games reaching base end at 11 when he failed to get on base in the second game of tonight’s double-header. Rogers, however, continues to lead the team in Batting Average (.317), RBI (8), OBP (.417), and Slugging (.537). Additionally, he is tied with Chadwin Stang for the most homeruns on the team with 2 a piece.

Game(s) at a Glance:

Game 1:

Player(s) of the Game: Nick Rickels and Royce Consigli – Each with 2 runs scored for Burlington

WP: Drew Granier ( 2-0)
LP: Matt Miller (0-3)

Time: 1:52

Game 2:

Player of the Game: Seth Harvey

WP: Drew Gagnon (1-0)
LP: Jonathan Joseph (0-1)
Save: Seth Harvey (2)

Time: 2:07
Attendance: 482

Cheifs Extinguish Rattlers Fire: Series Sweep Broken Up In Final Game

Despite early showers and a questionable forecast, 2,450 fans turned out for the fourth and final game between The Wisconsin Timber Rattlers (5-5) and the Peoria Chiefs (4-6) on Sunday. The game marked the midpoint for the Rattlers current homestand, as they will play 3 games against the Burlington Bees early this week before hitting the road Thursday for six games.

The Chiefs wasted no time getting to Rattlers starter Andy Moye as second baseman Zeke DeVoss smashed the first pitch of the game for a triple. DeVoss would score on an RBI grounder from center fielder Pin-Chieh Chen, which gave the Cheifs an early 1-0 advantage.

The Rattlers would answer with a run of their own in the bottom of the 1st thanks to a single from 3rd baseman Brandon Macias. Macias would eventually reach home on a RBI grounder from designated hitter Jason Rogers bringing the score to 1-1.

The Rattlers would tack on a run each in the 4th and 5th innings to pad their lead at 3-1. Despite the low score, the Rattlers appeared to be in the drivers seat thanks to the pitching staff.

Moye, who was stung early in the first, rebounded to have a solid 3 innings of work striking out four and only giving up two hits and two walks. He was relieved in the 4th by Jacob Barnes who put up 4 scoreless innings, followed by Seth Lintz who put together a scoreless 8th on four batters faced.

When Timber Rattlers reliever Tommy Toledo took to the mound, it seemed a foregone conclusion that a win was at hand. However, the inning would prove to be the Rattlers undoing as Toledo would face 8 batters before recording the 3rd out and both shortstop Marco Hernandez and left fielder Oliver Zapata would score tying the score at 3-3.

The Rattlers would respond with a flurry of offense in the bottom of the 9th as Rogers, along with shortstop Yadiel Rivera and left fielder John Dishon, would each single. Unfortunately, that was as far as the offense would go as catcher Tyler Roberts would record the inglorious “Golden Sombrero”, striking out in all four of his at bats, to end the 9th inning and move the game to extra innings.

In the top of the 11th, Zapata blasted a booming 408 foot homer off Tyler Cravy giving the Chiefs a 4-3 advantage. A Chen single would eventually score giving Peoria the 5-3 advantage and the win.

The Rattlers will play the first of 3 games against the Burlington Bees today at Time Warner Cable Field at Fox Cities Stadium. The Rattlers are scheduled to start Matt Miller (0-2, 6.30) while Burlington will send out Drew Granier (0-0, 3.00). Game time is set for 6:35pm.

Game at a Glance:

Player of the Game: Oliver Zapata – 2/4 – 2 Runs – 1 HR – 1 RBI – 1 BB

WP: Yao-Lin Wang (1-0, 0.00)
LP: Tyler Cravy (0-1, 9.00)
BS: Tommy Toledo (1, 6.35)

Time: 3:41
Attn: 2,450

Bringing It All Back Home – Rattlers Win Game 1 Of 7 Game Homestand

by Kevin Kimmes

On a day that saw the Brewers get shut out by the Chicago Cubs 8-0, the Timber Rattlers found themselves in the position to seek a little redemption for their parent club as they took on Cubs affiliate, the Peoria Chiefs, in the first game of a 4 game series. Under clear skies and with a game-time temp of 57 degrees, the 740 fans in attendance at Time Warner Cable Field at Fox Cities Stadium were in for a great night of April baseball.

The Rattlers struck first in the bottom of the 1st inning when Jason Rogers (playing in left field) connected on a pitch from Chiefs’ starter PJ Francescon (0-1, 3.48) and took it 377 ft for his second homerun of the week. The blast gave the Timber Rattlers an early 1-0 lead.

Rattlers’ starter Drew Gagnon (0-0, 2.00) would keep the lead alive into the 5th, striking out 6 in 4.2 innings of work, when with two outs in the 5th, Cheifs third baseman, Brad Zapenas, singled, stole his way to second, and eventually scored on left fielder Pin-Chieh Chen’s single to tie the game a 1-1. Gagnon would finish the game with a total of 7 Ks in 5 innings of work.

Not content to be tied for long, the Timber Rattlers opened up the bottom of the 6th inning with a solo homer from Chadwin Stang (also his second of the week) which put the team back out front 2-1. But the Rattlers weren’t done yet. Designated hitter Brandon Macias would follow the Stang homer with a single, advancing to 2nd on a wild pitch, and eventually scoring on a single from first baseman Parker Berberet to bring the score to 3-1.

The Chiefs tried to close the gap in the 8th inning when Zapenas drew a walk off of Rattlers reliever Tommy Toledo (1-0, 3.86), advanced to second on a wild pitch, and eventually scored on a single from catcher Rafael Lopez. The single would mark the end of Toledo’s night as the Rattlers would call on Seth Harvey (0.00) to pick up the save.

The Timber Rattlers would make Harvey’s job easier thanks to Stang drawing a walk to start off the bottom of the 8th. Stang would advance to 2nd on a Macias sacrifice bunt, and eventually score as a wild pitch would move him to third followed by a throwing error from the catcher, Lopez, which would plate him for the second time of the night and bring the score to 4-2.

Now, with a two run advantage, Harvey would work through the top of the 9th only giving up a single to Reggie Golden who collapsed in a heap as he touched 1st base. Zeke DeVoss would be brought in to pinch run, but would never be given an opportunity to advance.

The win brings the Rattlers record to 3-4, tied with Peoria, Kane County, and Beloit.

The Rattlers are back in action at Time Warner Cable Field tonight for game two of this four game series. Start time is 6:35 pm. The Timber Rattlers are scheduled to send Mark Williams (0-1, 4.50) to the mound while the Chiefs will counter with  Jose Rosario (0-0, 1.93).

Game at a glance:

Player of the game: Chadwin Stang: 1/1 – 2 runs – 1 hit (HR) – 1 RBI – 1 BB – .304

WP: Tommy Toledo (1-0)
LP: PJ Francescon (0-1)
Save: Seth Harvey (1)

Time: 2:34
Attendance: 740

Getting to Know Timber Rattlers First Baseman Jason Rogers

by Kevin Kimmes

Last Friday night, Jason Rogers became the first Timber Rattler of the year to hit a homer at Time Warner Cable Field. With two outs in the bottom of the 1st inning, Rogers connected on a shot which easily cleared the left field wall and gave the team their first lead of the young season.

On Saturday morning, I had the privilege to talk to Jason not only about the previous nights performance, but also what he looks to accomplish in this, his second season, with the Timber Rattlers.

Who is Jason Rogers?

Jason Rogers attended Columbus State University where he was named a 2010 First Team All-American by the Rawlings/American Baseball Coaches Association (ABCA). To add to his accolades, he tied both the Columbus State and Peach Belt Conference marks for home runs in a single season by hitting 26 in 2010. Later that year, he was drafted by the Milwaukee Brewers in the 32nd round of the First-Year Players Draft.

How does it feel to be the first player to hit a homer in 2012?

It feels good, but more than anything, I’d really like for us to get our first win of the season.

What aspect of your game are you looking to improve in 2012?

I want to become a better base runner. I also want to work on improving my defensive play.

Do you have any pregame rituals?

(laughing) No. I do have a medicine ball routine that I do, and I like to hit off of the pitching machine, but that’s about it.

I heard you did some work in the community when you were with the squad last year. Can you tell me a little about that?

Yeah. Me and a couple other players went to Kindercare and read books to the kids. It was really cool to see how excited the kids were over us being there.

Final question: What will it take to get you to the next level?

I think, working on my consistency. For now though, I’m just taking it one day at a time.

Later that afternoon, the Timber Rattlers picked up their first win of the season when Rogers was driven home on a walk off single from Parker Berberet in the bottom of the 9th inning. Additionally, through the first 6 games of the season, Rogers is leading the team in batting average (.381), Homeruns (1 tied with 2 other players), RBI (4), OBP (.480), and ranks second in slugging (.571).

Want to know more about Jason? Follow him on Twitter at jasonrogers2003.