If you’d have told Ron Roenicke, whose squad was reeling with injuries at the end of spring training, that the Brewers would be playing .500 ball on the verge of getting Zack Greinke and Corey Hart back, I’m sure he’d have said, “I’ll take it.”
Hart and Greinke, two key cogs in the Brewers’ postseason aspirations, are slated to return at the end of April. Hart began his rehab assignment Tuesday at AAA Nashville, going 0-2 with a strikeout. The Brewers expect that he will need about 20 at-bats before he is ready to come off the DL. Greinke has also been moved to Nashville after facing one over the minimum in three innings of scoreless ball at Class A Brevard County.
The Brewers have plenty of other injured players, though. Sergio Mitre still has not pitched after being hit by a line drive on April 18, though he should be back soon. Nyjer Morgan was placed on the DL today after a thigh bruise he sustained in an unnecessary collision with Pittsburgh catcher Ryan Doumit failed to heal; Brandon Boggs has been recalled from AAA to take his place. Manny Parra (back) is improving and is expected back in late April, as is offseason acquisition Takashi Saito (hamstring).
The pitching injuries have left the Brewers a bit short, but, by and large, the replacements have performed spectacularly. Marco Estrada is 1-0 in two starts with a 3.46 ERA. And aside from one mistake pitch to Shane Victorino that cost the Brewers a win against Philly, Brandon Kintzler has performed admirably (1-1, 3.86 era, 6:1 k:bb).
The Brewers (9-9) are currently third in the Central behind St. Louis (10-9) and Cincinnati (10-9).
The Crew starts a three-game home series tonight against the Astros (7-12) featuring ace Yovani Gallardo (1-1, 4.62 era, 13:9 k:bb) versus righty Nelson Figueroa (0-2, 7.31 era). Gallardo has struggled mightily in his past two starts, but looks to get back on track tonight against a weak offensive lineup. Gallardo has never lost to the Astros in Milwaukee, so lets hope the trend continues.
The Brewers just could not get out of their own way on Friday night in Washington, and what would have been their fifth straight win became an extra-innings loss.
Yuniesky Betancourt, who has generally not been the disaster at short that many anticipated, today lived up to his reputation. He had ample time to throw out Jason Werth on a grounder in the tenth, but managed to pull Prince Fielder off the bag at first. Werth took second on the costly error, where he was promptly forgotten by Zach Braddock and easily stole third. Despite converting Ryan Braun to a fifth infielder, the Brewers were unable to stop Werth from scoring on an Adam LaRoche grounder to end the game.
Chris Narveson followed two exceptional starts with a stinker. After putting the Nationals down 1-2-3 in the first, Narveson got into trouble early in the second, walking LaRoche and then allowing consecutive singles to Wilson Ramos and Michael Morse to load the bases. Two consecutive walks and a sacrifice fly later, the Nationals were up, 3-0. Narveson allowed two more hits to LaRoche and Ramos in the third, but worked out of it and did not allow another baserunner until Morse hit a ground-rule double in the 6th.
Narveson’s final line:
hit a two run blast in the fifth to bring the Brewers within one run, and doubled in the bottom of the ninth with two outs. Carlos Gomez
tied the game at three with a single to center, but was gunned down at second by former Cardinal Rick Ankiel to end the inning.
Despite the loss, there were positives. Sergio Mitre pitched 2.1 innings of scoreless ball and has not allowed a run in four appearances this year. Jonathan Lucroy, who singled in the seventh, ended the eighth inning with an absolute strike to Betancourt to catch Ramos stealing second. Casey McGehee also flashed his defensive skills, charging a slow roller and throwing out Ramos at first in the sixth.
But ultimately, a few good plays were not enough to overcome all the walks and Betancourt’s costly tenth-inning error. The Brewers drop game one to the Nationals, 4-3. They now stand at 7-6, one game behind the Cincinnati Reds for first place in the Central.
Washington is supposed to have bad weather tomorrow; we’ll see if game two happens. If not, it will be the second canceled game in as many series; the Brewers will make up their series opener with the Pirates as part of a doubleheader on August 22.
Morgantown has come to Miller Park. The speedy outfielder, picked up in a trade with the Washington Nationals, is expected to spell Carlos Gomez in center, but has potential to receive the bulk of the playing time. I haven’t had much of an opportunity to look into the Brewers’ newest acquisition, but my initial impression of the trade is a favorable one. In Cutter Dykstra (what a great name), the Brewers traded a guy who was not likely to make the big league roster in the near future, if ever. In return, they received much-needed outfield depth. Let’s look at Morgan’s offense, speed, and defense.
- Offense: Morgan broke into the big leagues on September 1, 2007, with a hit against his new team. In four seasons of major league play, his slash line of .283/.344/.360 shows Morgan is a contact hitter with virtually no power (a career-high 3 HRs in 2009). His 2010 strikeout and walk rates (17% and 7%, respectively) were nothing exceptional, but were also down from about 16% and 7.5% in 2009. If Morgan performs at historic levels, he looks to be about league-average offensively. However, that would represent a big upgrade over Carlos Gomez’s below-average plate production. If Gomez cannot continue his hot spring and falls back to old habits, he will almost certainly cede playing time to Morgan.
- Speed: One of Morgan’s greatest weapons is his speed. He nabbed 42 bags in 2009, and 34 last season. But his speed is also one of his greatest downfalls; Morgan was caught stealing a league-leading 17 times in both 2009 and 2010, leading Fangraphs to describe his approach as “reckless.” I don’t envy Ed Sedar’s job with Morgan this year.
- Defense: Morgan’s defensive metrics are rock-solid. He has done very well defensively in both left and center, but most do not believe his defensive skills overcome his offensive deficiencies. For the Brewers, defense is less essential, as starting CF Gomez is more than capable of running down balls. Both Gomez and Morgan appear to have strong arms, with Morgan probably being slightly better in that respect.
The bottom line: In Morgan, the Brewers have protected themselves against injury (or ineffectiveness) to Carlos Gomez. Morgan could ultimately challenge Gomez for playing time if Gomez’s hitting skills sag, and that might be a welcome thing. The Brewers have lacked a solid number two hitter, and a cursory review shows Morgan could fit the bill. They could pretty seamlessly insert Morgan into the lineup without giving up much in terms of defense.
Of course, the Morgan-Dykstra swap goes hand-in-hand with the Brewers’ decision to trade outfielder Chris Dickerson to the Yankees for spot-starter/long-reliever Sergio Mitre. While Dickerson was widely expected to make the club, injuries to starters Zack Greinke and Shaun Marcum forced the Brewers to find a serviceable arm out of the pen. Although neither Dickerson nor Mitre will dazzle, the Brewers took a position at which they had a surplus (outfield) and turned it into something they were short of (long relievers capable of starting in a pinch). If the Dickerson/Mitre trade indeed helped pave the way for the Morgan trade, it must be viewed as all the more positive.