Prognosis Positive After Timber Rattlers’ Coulter Is Hit By Pitch

by Kevin Kimmes

Coulter“Some guys have all the luck, some guys have all the pain…”

It’s almost as if Rod Stewart had a vision of Timber Rattlers’ catcher Clint Coulter when he sang those words. Coulter has definitely seen his share of luck (drafted by the Milwaukee Brewers in the 1st round of the 2012 draft) and pain (Clint leads the Midwest League in the dreaded hit-by-pitch category with 16). What happened on Sunday, however, was not your run of the mill plunking.

It hit him in the face.

It didn’t hit the helmet. It didn’t just buzz the tower. The ball hit him in the side of the face traveling around 90 miles per hour. Unfazed, Coulter headed to 1st base.

“He’s doing OK,” Rattlers’ manager Matt Erickson said in Monday’s post game press conference. “He passed all the concussion type initial tests yesterday in the ballgame, the reason he stayed in the game. We had instructions with him last night to communicate with us throughout the night to make sure there wasn’t any other side effects that came later, that was all positive.”

Sporting a shiner, Coulter was given the day off Monday allowing him to have 2 consecutive days to rest and recover (today is a travel day for the team). Regarding when he will return to the lineup, Erickson was optimistic.

“We’ll see where he’s at the first day in Lake County and if he’s ready to go, we’ll put him in the lineup, if he’s still a little sore or has some swelling then we’ll probably keep him out another day.”

 Kevin Kimmes is a regular contributor to creamcitycables.com and a former MLB Fan Cave Top 52 Finalist. You can follow him on Twitter at @kevinkimmes.

Matt Erickson Becomes The Winningest Skipper In Timber Rattlers’ History

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by Kevin Kimmes

Cream City Cables would like to send a heartfelt congratulations out to Wisconsin Timber Rattlers’ manager Matt Erickson on the occasion of his 216th win as their skipper. The previous franchise wins mark by a manager (215) was held by former Rattlers’ skipper Gary Thurman who coached the Rattlers from 2000-2002.

Regarding the win, Erickson had this to say in his post-game interview:

“We have a young team and we talk about body language and trying to move onto the next pitch when negative things happen and trying to stay upbeat. I had to lose a lot of games to win 216, so we got a good chuckle out of that. I feel fortunate, obviously, to be in the situation that I’m in. To get to do this in my home town and for the Brewers, a team I grew up watching and got to play for. It’s a neat experience, humbling.”

Kevin Kimmes is a regular contributor to creamcitycables.com and a former MLB Fan Cave Top 52 Finalist. You can follow him on Twitter at @kevinkimmes.

Straight Outta Compton: An Interview With Timber Rattlers’ Speedster Johnny Davis

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by Kevin Kimmes

If I told you there was a player on this year’s Timber Rattlers roster with only one year of baseball experience, could you pick him out? While you might think it would be easy to spot, inexperience showing at the plate or in the field, the reality couldn’t be further from the truth. Meet Johnny Davis.

The Compton, CA native, who’s walkup is the apropos “Straight Outta Compton” by rap legends N.W.A., is a speed demon on the base paths and a hitter’s nightmare in center field. Drawing comparisons to current Brewers’ center fielder Carlos Gomez or the fictional Willie Mays Hayes, Davis was the fastest player in the 2013 First-Year Player Draft according to Baseball America.

Cream City Cables: Prior to 2013 you had never played organized baseball. You played football, you ran track, so what made you decide that baseball was the path you wanted to take?

Johnny Davis: I always knew when I was a kid that I wanted to be a professional athlete and a scout saw me working out baseball with my little brother and told me I could get drafted. So, I thought, might as well do it, might as well get it done.

He told me he wanted to sign me right then and there but by me being in college he couldn’t, he had to wait until the draft. So I went to college, played baseball and got drafted.

CCC: Your speed in the outfield and on the base paths has drawn comparisons to players like Carlos Gomez and the fictional Willy Mays Hayes. As you continue to learn the game, what has been your biggest focus thus far?

JD: My biggest focus is trying to learn to get good jumps, trying not to get picked off by pitchers. Those things are tough, especially when they know I’m running. Sometimes a pitcher will pick at me more times than he’ll throw pitches, so it’s really tough getting a jump, it’s really tough stealing bases. It’s easy for someone who’s an average runner to steal bases, but someone who’s a plus runner it’s very hard to steal bases, very hard.

CCC: From a hitting perspective, early in the season you were trying to kill every ball you saw, but lately we’re seeing more slap hitting from you. What kind of adjustments have you had to make to bring your average up to .300?

JD: Just thinking about knowing my role and putting the ball in play. That’s what I need to do and that’s why I changed my approach and started putting the ball in play.

CCC: From a defensive perspective in the outfield we’ve watched you lay out for some balls that frankly looked like “Top 10 Plays”. What’s your mental approach to playing defense?

JD: Taking base hits from the opponent and helping my pitchers anyway I can. That’s my main focus when I’m on defense. I want the ball hit to be hit to me, I want it to be hit in the gap. I pride myself on my defense and I want to layout for balls and things like that.

CCC: Anything else we should know about Johnny Davis?

JD: Toughest competitor you’ll ever meet…EVER!

Kevin Kimmes is a regular contributor to creamcitycables.com and a former MLB Fan Cave Top 52 Finalist. You can follow him on Twitter at @kevinkimmes.

Thinking of better days (Yovani Gallardo edition)

By Nathan Petrashek (@npetrashek)

yoYovani Gallardo is slated to toe the rubber today in St. Louis.  Gallardo has been nothing short of dazzling so far in 2014 and currently sports a 1.42 ERA over 31.2 innings.  He’s getting a groundball rate of over 50% and has done a spectacular job of keeping the ball in the park.  But the Cardinals, as any Brewers fan knows, present a different kind of challenge.

It’s not worth it to rehash how historically awful Gallardo has pitched against the Cardinals.  Don’t look, it’ll just depress you.  Especially the 2011 NLCS start where he gave up four runs in the first inning.  The Cardinals have pretty much destroyed him.  Let’s just leave it at that.

But we’re not going to dwell on those many, many, many terrible games.  Nope, today we’re thinking only positive thoughts, which brings me to Yovani’s start on May 25, 2009.

At Miller Park, before a crowd of 43,000, Gallardo spun eight shutout innings.  It took 126 pitches, the most Gallado threw in any single game that year, as he walked four batters.  Still, he allowed just two hits and fanned six, amazing considering Gallardo benefited from just nine swinging strikes the entire game.  It’s easy to look at the lineup and note the absence of Matt Holliday and Ryan Ludwick, but Albert Pujols and Yadier Molina were in there, so it wasn’t exactly a AAA squad.

Despite Yo’s brilliant start, the Brewers couldn’t muster even a single run in regulation.  They finally broke it open in the 10th on an RBI single from, of all people, Bill Hall.

It’s Brewers vs. Cardinals in St. Louis tonight at 7:15.  If you’re a Brewers fan, here’s hoping that made you slightly more optimistic.

Matt Erickson Post-Game Interview 4/19/2014

by Kevin Kimmes

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Cream City Cables: So, after dropping a close one last night…

Matt Erickson: The last two nights…

CCC: …you guys come back and put together a pretty nice win today. What were the keys to the game to get that win for you?

ME: Before the game we talked as a group, the position players, about how we haven’t been very good with runners in scoring position. We’ve done a nice job in setting the table and getting some of our leadoff guys on and creating some havoc on the bases, but just chasing out of the zone and trying to do a bit too much with runners in scoring position. Today we got a couple big knocks, the biggest one coming to mind being (Jose) Pena’s 2 out, 2 RBI single.

That was nice to see, but more importantly than that I think up and down the line we had 17 two strike at bats today. We put the ball in play on 15 of them and only struck out 2 times. When you can do that with the type of speed we have throughout our lineup, we can put some pressure on them.

CCC: Speaking of speed, let’s talk a little bit about Johnny Davis. We’re seeing it both on offense and on defense right now. He’s laying out for stuff in center field and he’s stealing bags for you on the base paths.

ME: Yeah, it’s fun to see him grow up. As far as a baseball player, he’s obviously a special talent when it comes to movement. He can fly and he’s learning the game day by day. There’s so much for him to learn that he doesn’t know, and he’ll tell you that himself. What’s fun about him is his passion to learn and to play and compete and when you have a guy like that’s willing to do those things, he can get better in a hurry and he can make some plays. Like you said, he not only creates some scoring opportunities with his feet on offense, but he also takes away runs on defense.

CCC: Today, we watched him get into the pitcher’s head, kind of shifting back and forth on 2nd. It has got to be outstanding knowing that you have that extra weapon there messing up the pitcher a little bit.

ME: Yeah, and it’s not just him. (Francisco) Castillo can run a little bit, (Chris) McFarland at the top of the lineup, (Omar) Garcia can run a little bit and some of our bigger guys. You know (Clint) Coulter and (David) Denson are looking to take extra bases. So, when it comes to Johnny he’s just, well I haven’t seen anybody quite that fast in a T-Rat uniform and he’s getting some decent swings.

I like his approach at the plate, he’s understanding who he is, not taking really big swings anymore, and if he does, he’s making the adjustment quicker and today he had some nice swings. You know, he brings them in with his short game and then he slaps the ball around hitting a line drive to the hole to left field. If he can do that consistantly, he’s going to be tough to deal with.

CCC: Switching over to the pitching for today, Harvey Martin had two really nice innings to end out the game for you. He had 4 strike outs. You’ve got to be happy with what you saw out there today.

ME: Yeah, he’s going to get more stop gap opportunities. Alvin and I were talking about how we need to get him, he’s got a little experience in this league, and he’s one of the nicest kids you’ll ever meet, but he’s got a little attitude to him when he steps on the mound, and it’s fun, another competitor and you can’t teach that stuff. Some of those things are inside people and he wants to compete, he wants the ball every day and he seems to have the arm to do that.

When you are running tandems and you’ve got developmental stuff, that’s usually not the case, but he’s a guy we’re not afraid to give the ball to in that situation.

CCC: With the off day tomorrow, you guys move on to Burlington starting on Monday, any adjustments you will be looking to make to the lineups heading into that series?

ME: No, not really. I like the lineup we threw out there today, some speed at the top and some of our thumpers in middle and then we have a little speed at the bottom of the lineup. As far as the lineup is conserned, we’ll mix them all in, nobody’s going to rot away on the bench here, everybody’s going to get an opportunity and whoever is performing is going to get a bit more opportunity.

Kevin Kimmes is a regular contributor to creamcitycables.com and a former MLB Fan Cave Top 52 Finalist. You can follow him on Twitter at @kevinkimmes.

Tempering Expectations

Milwaukee’s Season Hinges on the Rotation

 By: Ryan Smith (@ryanhenrysmith2)

After a rough 2013 season for the Milwaukee Brewers – one that saw the suspension of Ryan Braun, the continued decline of Rickie Weeks, a regression in Yovani Gallardo’s performance, and a litany of injuries – it would have been understandable for Brewer Nation to approach the 2014 campaign with apprehension.

A 10-2 start has Brewer fans excited for 2014.

A 10-2 start has Brewer fans excited for 2014.

Then the first 12 games happened.

A 10-2 record, best in Major League Baseball.

A nine-game winning streak, including sweeps over the reigning World Series champion Red Sox and 2013 playoff participant Pittsburgh Pirates.

Cue the grand speculation.  There was some warranted attention being focused on Milwaukee, reminding fans that this team is not far removed from one that seriously contended for the National League pennant.  Sports writers from national sources and local publications were very quick to point out that this roster was not simply a flash in the pan, but instead was built for sustained success throughout the season.

Needless to say, expectations were running high.  The pitching staff – both starters and the bullpen – was lights out on the mound.  The lineup was providing timely hitting.  10-2.

And then the Cardinals came to town.

Not only did St. Louis stop the winning streak that had the entire state abuzz, they did so in a very Cardinals-y way, shutting out the Brewers at Miller Park, 4-0.  That was followed up with a 6-1 loss to the hated Cardinals.

All the “happy” feelings that went along with the nine-game winning streak had been wiped out in a 28-hour span at the hands of the team that seems to have Milwaukee’s number more than anyone else.

So where does that leave this Milwaukee squad?  Are they the team that started 10-2 with a pitching staff that could hang with anyone?  Or are they the team that gets crushed by St. Louis every time they play?

The fact of that matter is that they are probably somewhere in between.

Lohse's leadership has been as important as his consistency.

Lohse’s leadership has been as important as his consistency.

As of right now, the Brewers stand at 11-5, a win percentage of .688 through 16 games.  The early season success that the Brewers have experienced begins and ends with the pitching staff.  The starting rotation of Gallardo, Lohse, Garza, Estrada, and Peralta has an ERA of 2.55 with a 3.66 FIP.  Over 102.1 innings, they have recorded 85 strikeouts and only 29 walks.  The bullpen has been just as good, posting a 3.16 ERA with an impressive 3.28 FIP over 42.2 innings.

I’m not delusional; I don’t expect the pitching staff to keep this up over the course of the season.  In Thursday night’s 11-2 loss to the Pirates, we saw the first real implosion by the bullpen, taking over a tie ballgame and giving up nine runs over two innings.  The numbers that Brewers pitchers were putting up are simply not sustainable over a full season.

That does not mean that they can’t continue to be a point of strength for this team for the remainder of the year.  Yovani Gallardo has shown flashes of being a staff ace before, so while his 1.46 ERA and 2.89 FIP won’t be as impressive in July, he could still very well be leading the way for a dominant staff.  Kyle Lohse has continued to be one of the most reliable starters in  Brewer uniform for the second-straight year.  Perhaps more than anything else, Lohse’s leadership has been key in helping turn this staff around.  If Garza can stay healthy and Estrada maintains the progression that he’s made over the last few seasons, Milwaukee will have a pretty formidable one-through-four in the rotation.

Wily Peralta could be the key to a successful 2014 campaign.

Wily Peralta could be the key to a successful 2014 campaign.

That brings me to Wily Peralta.  I’ve been a fan of Peralta for quite some time; I always saw the potential that he brought to the mound.  He just had the pitching ability that the Milwaukee farm system seemed to lack ever since Gallardo was promoted.  His early returns have been mixed; he showed admirable durability in starting 32 games last year, but his 4.37 ERA and 4.30 FIP left something to be desired.

Through three starts this season, Peralta has shown improvement in some important areas.  He has lowered his BB/9 by over a full walk while posting similar K/9 numbers, and his ERA is a spectacular 1.96.  However, his 4.58 FIP and .222 BABIP seem to indicate that his success thus far is a product of a good amount of luck.

As the number five starter in the rotation, Peralta doesn’t need to have a sub-2.00 ERA; he doesn’t need to pitch like the staff ace.  Frankly, if Peralta can bring his FIP down closer to 4.00 and keep his ERA in the 3.75-range, Brewers fans should be thrilled.  If our number five is pitching like a three, we’re going to be trouble for the rest of the National League.

I could go on and break down the bullpen arms a little more, or I could discuss the possibility that Aramis Ramirez loves batting with runners in scoring position.  But, in all honesty, I think the hopes of a playoff run for the ‘14 Milwaukee Brewers begins and ends with the rotation.

If they can find a way to continue to produce quality starts even after the supposed lucky numbers stop going their way, the Brewers are going to force themselves into the playoff conversation, along with other National League contenders.

But, if Garza gets hurt, or Gallardo has his past issues creep up, or Peralta steps back to his ‘13 version, Milwaukee will be in trouble.  If the rotation struggles for prolonged periods of time, the bullpen will get taxed and start to break down.  If the pitching staff begins to implode, the curious struggles of the lineup will be magnified.

For the record, I think this Brewers team will challenge for a playoff spot.  I think they are capable of winning 88-90 games in 2014.

But any sustained success begins and ends with the rotation.  If that domino falls, Miller Park will be in for a long summer.

Khris Davis, man of (too) high expectations

By Nathan Petrashek

davisLet’s get this out of the way: Khris Davis had a crappy homestand.  I get that going 0-12 while only reaching base twice isn’t going to woo many fans.  It’s not like anyone else was knocking the cover off the ball during that homestand either, though.

Let’s not close out the book on Davis quite so fast.  While Davis is now only slashing .250/.278/.346 on the year, he was key during the Brewers’ nine-game win streak, batting .343/.343/.486 with 8 runs.

Davis hasn’t yet hit a home run.  I understand that’s mildly concerning since power seems to be his one plus tool, and Davis certainly showed it last year with 11 home runs over 153 plate attempts.  Extrapolating that out over a full season would have Davis hitting over 35 bombs, which I think we all know is pretty unreasonable.

Part of the problem is Davis’s aggressiveness; last year, he was one of the ten-worst left fielders in swinging strike percentage among those with at least 150 plate attempts.  He’s going to be a strikeout-prone batter.  It isn’t that he’s swinging at bad pitches, necessarily, but he’s seeing many more breaking balls so far, as pitchers have figured out that Davis feasts on fastballs.  Davis’s contact rates across the board this year are pretty abysmal; it’s clear there’s going to be a period of adjustment.

Even if that’s a slow process, the home runs will come. Davis has hit just eight fly balls this year, so its way too soon to start worrying about the power.  To some extent, I think the concerns about Davis stem in part from his performance in front of home fans, as he doesn’t have a hit at Miller Park but is slashing .406/.406/.563 on the road.

So no, I’m not worried about Khris Davis yet.  .250 is probably about right for his average, he’s never going to have a huge walk total, and the power will likely come, particularly in hitter-friendly Miller Park.

2014 Position Preview: Aramis Ramirez, Third Base

By Nathan Petrashek

Editor’s note: This is the sixth article in Cream City Cables’ 2014 position preview series. Other positions: catcher, shortstopcenter fieldleft field, and right field.

aramisWhen the Brewers first signed Aramis Ramirez, no one was really sure whether or how he would hold up through the duration of his three-year contract.  Things didn’t start too well; in 2012, Ramirez’s first year, he hit just .214/.264/.381 in April, leading many to comment on Ramirez being a notoriously”slow starter” and all that kind of nonsense.  We thoroughly debunked it in 2012 and so far in 2014 Ramirez hasn’t shown any sign of slowing down, hitting a torrid .478 in 21 plate attempts.

Red flags abound with Ramirez, though.  To say he’s not young is being charitable; he’ll turn 36 in June, well beyond most ballplayers’ primes.  His age is showing, too, as he missed a substantial portion of the 2013 season with knee issues: first, a sprained left knee, and later, tendinitis.  Even when Ramirez was active, he was clearly hobbled and had just a .773 OPS upon hitting the DL.  Ramirez returned in August, and his .301/.387/.528 triple slash in the final months (and without Ryan Braun in the lineup) probably erased whatever doubt the team had about their starting third baseman coming into 2014.

Ramirez looks to have rebounded nicely defensively from numerous horrid seasons with the Cubs, and has made a few outstanding plays at the hot corner already this season.  He’s not a rangy third baseman by any means, but still has a pretty good throwing arm and doesn’t commit many errors.

The Brewers aren’t paying Ramirez for his defense, though; they’re paying for his bat.  Ramirez has been remarkably consist throughout his career, hitting close to .300 with 25-30 home runs.  That power is clearly diminishing, but Ramirez still makes decent enough contact to hit for average.  Ramirez is aggressive at the plate though, which could result in higher strikeout totals, something he has has typically avoided.

As is true of most aging players, the big question will be Ramirez’s health.  Ron Roenicke has suggested he’ll give Ramirez regular rest, so don’t expect a repeat of the 630 plate attempts Ramirez made in 2012.

2013 Recap

351 PA, 43 R, 12 HR, 49 RBI, 0 SB, 10.3 BB%, 15.7 K%, .283/.370/.461, 132 wRC+

2014 Projections

Steamer: 533 PA, 62 R, 19 HR, 74 RBI, 2 SB, 7.4 BB%, 14.3 K%, .282/.343/.464, 125 wRC+

ZiPs: 469 PA, 56 R, 17 HR, 79 RBI, 2 SB, 7.0 BB%, 14.3 K%, .183/.343/.475, 128 wRC+

Contact Status

Will make $16M ($6M deferred) in the final year of his three-year deal with the Brewers; mutual option for 2015 with $4M buyout.

All stats courtesy of baseball-reference.com and fangraphs.