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Homegrown Olympians throw out first pitches

September 22, 2010 Comments off

MILWAUKEE — It was a big night Wednesday for Wisconsin athletes at Miller Park, capped by veteran infielder Craig Counsell’s three-run homer in the second inning. Before Counsell’s heroics, though, a pair of homegrown Olympians shared the spotlight.

Tossing ceremonial first pitches before the Brewers hosted the Reds were goalie Jessie Vetter and forward Jinelle Zaugg-Siergiej of the United States’ silver-medal winning women’s hockey team.

Since their final game against Canada in February, Vetter and Zaugg-Siergiej have been keeping busy with a number of guest appearances, including one at a Milwaukee Admirals game. So how did throwing a pitch in front of 27,004 fans at Miller Park rank?

“It’s pretty special because Jessie and I are both from Wisconsin,” Zaugg-Siergiej said. “Being able to throw an opening pitch and doing it in your home state, especially now that I’m living in Milwaukee, it means a lot, it’s a lot of fun.

“It’s a great feeling to represent something bigger than yourself and bigger even than Milwaukee with Team USA and the Olympics.”

Vetter and Zaugg-Siergiej are from Cottage Grove and Eagle River respectively. The two were teammates on the Wisconsin Badgers’ national championship team in 2006.

Between celebrating their silver medal victory with the rest of the country through various appearances and coaching and playing hockey, the two have remained busy in the offseason.

In fact, Zaugg-Siergiej recently got a new job, which resulted in her moving to the Milwaukee area.

“I actually just accepted a coaching position out at Arrowhead for their girls team,” Zaugg-Siergiej said. “I’m also coaching a U14 winter club youth team. Between those two I’m still playing myself, so I still travel and play and train all that kind of stuff.

“In the summers I also run a camp, so the entire summer was incredibly busy.”

While it was not the most well-attended game of the season for the Brewers, Miller Park still exceeded the 16,805 in attendance for the gold medal game in Vancouver on Feb. 25.

Vetter and Zaugg-Siergiej each stepped up in front of that crowd and delivered strong pitches to catcher Jonathan Lucroy behind the plate.

“I got a little nervous, but it was fun,” said Zaugg-Siergiej, who added that Vetter’s pitch was the more impressive of the two. “I’m just glad I made it on target all the way to home plate. She did play baseball growing up and I’ve never played baseball before.

“Hers was pretty hard. I’m going to give her that one.”

Wolf flies under the radar in lopsided victory

September 22, 2010 Comments off

MILWAUKEE — On any other night, Randy Wolf’s performance would have been the story of the game. But with the way the Brewers hitters were swinging the bats in a 13-1 victory over the Reds, a quality start and a 2-for-4 performance at the plate got lost in the shuffle.

Making Wolf’s outing even more impressive was the way he responded after his club put up eight runs in the second and five more in the next three innings. Often with such long innings offensively, a team’s pitcher tends to struggle going back out on the mound.

Wolf just got better as the game went along.

“There were some long breaks, but the main thing is, when it’s that kind of score, you’ve got to go out there and feel like it’s 0-0,” Wolf said. “If you go out there and you see it’s 8-1, 13-1 … all of a sudden it’s four runs, five runs and they’re creeping their way back.

“As a pitcher, you’ve got to keep your focus and pitch the right way. You really don’t want to totally change your aggressiveness or change your whole philosophy just because of the score.”

Not only did Wolf pitch well as his team sent 34 hitters to the plate in the second through fifth innings, he did so after fighting through a rough first inning.

Wolf opened the game giving up three singles and a walk in the top of the first. Fortunately, the veteran lefty managed to hold the National League Central-leading Reds to just one run in the inning.

“Wolfy, another good outing for him,” said Brewers manager Ken Macha. “He got help with some defense in the first inning, a tremendous play by [Ryan] Braun getting the ball off the wall to get their leadoff hitter.”

With a fortunate out on his side, Wolf got the next batter to hit a grounder back to the mound. But with just one out to go in the inning, he walked Jay Bruce and surrendered back-to-back singles before striking out Yonder Alonso to end the inning.

That strikeout was the first of four in a row for Wolf and the beginning of a stretch of 11 consecutive batters retired. Wolf did not allow another hit until a leadoff double in the sixth off the bat of Paul Janish, who replaced Orlando Cabrera at shortstop.

“I didn’t really have the command I wanted early on,” Wolf said. “Luckily, as the game went on, I felt better and better and felt more comfortable out there and I was able to mix my pitches and work my fastball in and out.”

Tossing six strong innings while allowing just one run on four hits with seven strikeouts against two walks, Wolf posted his fourth straight quality start in September. This month, Wolf is 3-1 with a 1.21 ERA, allowing just four runs on 18 hits in 29 2/3 innings pitched.

Since his infamous 12-run outing in Pittsburgh, Wolf has gone 6-2 with a 2.57 ERA in his last 11 starts, giving up 21 earned runs over 73 2/3 innings pitched. In his 31 other starts not including that July 21 loss, Wolf is 13-10 with a 3.81 ERA.

“Randy was great again,” shortstop Craig Counsell said. “He’s been on quite a roll, and he’s put together a good season — a really good season.”

Brewers beat 9/22

September 22, 2010 Comments off

McClendon causes stir with quick pitch

MILWAUKEE — As manager Ken Macha sees it, what Brewers reliever Mike McClendon does with two strikes absolutely is not an illegal quick pitch. The four Reds batters McClendon struck out on Tuesday night would likely disagree.

After he struck out third baseman Scott Rolen to end the seventh, home-plate umpire Dan Bellino told Macha he thought it was a quick pitch, though he didn’t make the call.

“He said the hitter wasn’t looking,” Macha said. “Go back and look at the tape, the hitter was looking. But sometimes what happens is the umpire gets caught off guard.”

In the eighth, McClendon continued to work with a shorter, quicker delivery after two strikes, and he struck out the side doing so.

The last of McClendon’s four strikeout victims was catcher Ramon Hernandez, who was noticeably upset afterward, pleading his case with Bellino.

“I don’t think in McClendon’s situation that it should even be in the conversation,” Macha said. “He takes a step back, he does his drop step, and then after he gets to his balance point, either he’s slow or he goes fast. There should not even be a question for that.”

McClendon’s manner of pitching in such situations is acceptable, so long as no runners are on base. With the bases empty, the requirement of coming set before pitching is not in play.

As far as Macha is concerned, pitching quickly is no different than switching up between a fastball and an offspeed pitch. It’s all designed to do the same thing to the hitter.

“The idea of pitching is to disrupt the hitter’s timing,” Macha said. “You do that by throwing changeups and fastballs and all that stuff. This is just a little variation of it, and I see absolutely nothing wrong with it.”

Another National League Central pitcher, Cardinals starter Jake Westbrook, pitches with a similar style to McClendon’s. When facing him, Brewers hitters made a concerted effort to call timeout to prevent any potential quick pitch.

So who’s at fault in the quick pitch issue?

“Is it on the hitter? He’s in the box,” Macha said. “If he knows the pitcher is going to do that, it’s up to him to call time.”

Cruz not seeing much playing time

MILWAUKEE — Since being recalled from Triple-A Nashville on Sept. 7, shortstop Luis Cruz has pinch-hit twice for the Brewers, once in Houston and again in San Francisco.

Cruz has yet to start a game for the Brewers, and though he started nearly 40 games in two years with the Pirates, his manager did not wish to start him against contenders like the Giants and Reds.

After playing in 129 games for the Sounds this year, sitting and watching from the bench is a new role for Cruz.

“I’m just working hard to see whenever they find a chance for me and let me play, that’s the only thing I can do,” Cruz said. “You want to play and help the team win, but the manager is the manager. He’s the one that sets the lineup, and he’s got to pick the guys that he thinks are going to help win games.”

With their official elimination from the playoff race on Sunday, though, the Brewers aren’t going anywhere, regardless of how many games they win. Add in the fact that they need to go 12-0 the rest of the way to finish at .500, and the need for winning games would not seem too high.

Learning what they can about September callups like Cruz, however, would seem like a priority. According to Macha, that’s likely to come in the next two series against the Marlins and Mets, both of whom are also on the outside looking in at the contenders.

“I had thrown a crazy idea out there this morning, I don’t know if I’ve got the nerve to do that,” Macha said without giving any additional details. “It’s a little further out of the box than playing Luis Cruz.”

Joining Cruz in watching from the dugout has been Mat Gamel, who also started one game at third base with Prince Fielder out of the lineup.

Any out-of-the-ordinary lineup against the Marlins would likely include Gamel as well, though what defensive position he would play is uncertain. Before Wednesday’s game, Macha had good things to say about Gamel’s outfield abilities.

“He was running them down in the outfield,” Macha said. “He was outstanding in right field. Watching him run balls down today, he was pretty good.”

Breaking ball key to Braddock’s future

September 21, 2010 Comments off

MILWAUKEE — Watching from the home bullpen this week, Brewers lefty Zach Braddock could learn a lot from Reds phenom Aroldis Chapman.

Both pitchers possess left-handed power arms, albeit on different levels. Both pitchers also operate with a slider as their No. 2 pitch. The difference — besides an extra 10 mph in fastball velocity — is the effectiveness of those sliders.

While Chapman’s is nearly unhittable, Braddock’s remains a work in progress.

“He is going to be as good in the big leagues as his breaking ball becomes,” said Brewers manager Ken Macha. “You just can’t come here and just throw one fastball after another, and being 93 [mph], it’ll get knocked around a bit.”

In six appearances this month, Braddock has posted a 7.71 ERA, giving up two runs on two walks and three hits in 2 1/3 innings. Opponents are batting .333 with a .795 OPS off Braddock in September.

For the first time this season, Braddock failed to record an out in each of his last two outings, surrendering a hit to the only batter he faced in each appearance. Aside from a 9.00 mark in three late May outings, Braddock’s 7.71 ERA this month is easily his worst in any month of the season.

Even worse has been Braddock’s performance against lefties, which could likely be attributed to a lack of effectiveness with his breaking ball.

After holding left-handed hitters to a .091 batting average in July and hitless in August, they are batting .400 off Braddock this month.

With those recent struggles in mind, Macha opted not to pitch the lefty Monday night against left-handed-hitting slugger Joey Votto with one on and one out in the eighth. Macha pointed to the last two games in San Francisco to back up his thought process.

“[Kameron] Loe came in and went right through their guys, [Aubrey] Huff being one of them,” Macha said. “The next day, I brought in Braddock against Huff and he hit a line drive. So, I figured Loe could go two innings.”

When asked if Braddock’s performance could be attributed to fatigue at the end of a long season, Macha pointed to the need for a better slider as a counter argument.

Braddock agreed with his manager’s assessment, though he believed his fastball was equally important to his success.

“When I have the ability to change speeds and move in and out, I can be more deceptive. I’m a better pitcher,” Braddock said. “I think strike one and fastball command is of a lot of importance, too. But with the slider comes the added ability to put in the hitters’ minds that there’s something else.”

Capuano’s solid start undone by late homers

September 21, 2010 Comments off

MILWAUKEE — With every start, Chris Capuano continues to make progress in his return from a second Tommy John surgery. On Monday, the 100-pitch mark was his latest milestone.

Capuano delivered an impressive performance for his third straight quality start, but back-to-back Reds home runs in the eighth made the difference as the Brewers lost their second straight game, 5-2.

Tossing six innings, Capuano gave up two runs on four hits and three walks with seven strikeouts. Reaching the century mark for the first time this season, Capuano’s pitch count of 105 was his highest since throwing 113 pitches on Aug. 19, 2007.

“This was a huge step for him,” said Brewers manager Ken Macha. “Not only getting past 100 pitches, but the game pretty much on the line [in the sixth inning]. First and second with one out, he winds up getting two big outs there.”

Since his rough return to the rotation on Aug. 28 against the Pirates, Capuano has excelled, posting a 1-2 record with a 2.58 ERA in four September starts. Over that stretch, Capuano has allowed just seven earned runs on 17 hits in 24 1/3 innings of work.

In each of his five late-season starts, Capuano has progressed with his pitch count, going from 75 pitches to 80, 83, 90 and 105 on Monday. His best outing came Sept. 8 against the Cardinals when he tossed seven innings while giving up one run on four hits.

While he wasn’t quite as sharp against the Reds, he said he felt even better.

“Physically, this was the best I’ve felt,” Capuano said. “I really felt good out there physically, and got the pitch count up there close to 100. It felt good.”

But did Capuano feel the effects of tossing 100 pitches for the first time in three years?

“No, I feel good,” Capuano answered. “Like I said, I think this is the best I’ve felt so far.”

Unfortunately for Capuano and the Brewers, they were unable to keep the Reds from reducing their magic number even further. After their win Monday, coupled with a Cardinals loss, the number was down to six.

After leaving with the game tied at 2, Capuano handed the ball off to reliever Kameron Loe, who delivered a scoreless 1 1/3 innings before letting things get away from him. With one out in the eighth, Loe (3-5) surrendered a single and back-to-back home runs as the Reds took a 5-2 lead.

Following an Orlando Cabrera single, Joey Votto belted a 2-2 fastball into the second deck in left-center field, putting the Reds on top, 4-2. Afterward, Macha was asked if he considered anyone other than Loe against Votto.

“You’ve got a way to go yet in the game,” Macha said. “[Zach] Braddock really hasn’t been on his game, and [Manny] Parra needed a day off, he had 20-some pitches.”

With no left-handers available and apparently not wanting to use closer John Axford, Macha stuck with Loe, who he viewed as his best option at the time.

Votto had struggled through his first three at-bats, going 0-for-3 against Capuano while being called out on strikes twice. His night went from bad to great with one swing of the bat in the eighth.

“The more times you face him, the better chance he has,” said Reds manager Dusty Baker. “I always say you hate to see a good hitter cold. Sooner or later the law of averages is on his side and he’s going to get somebody. That was as long of a home run to the opposite field I’ve seen.”

Added Votto: “I try not to take previous at-bats into following at-bats. I didn’t have a very good game going into that point. That’s why we play all nine innings.”

Even after the two-run homer, Loe stayed in, and Scott Rolen drove his very next pitch over the fence in right. It was the Reds’ 11th set of back-to-back home runs this season.

Loe made himself unavailable for comment after the Brewers’ 5-2 loss.

With the loss, the Brewers dropped to 36-39 at Miller Park this season. As only six home games remain on the schedule, they’ll need to win four of six to finish at .500 on the year and five of six to secure a winning home record in 2010.

Milwaukee finished 40-41 at home last year after posting four consecutive winning home records. Lately, the bright spot has been the Brewers’ ability to compete with some of the league’s best — or hottest — teams in the Reds, Phillies, Cardinals, Giants and Astros.

Offensively, Ryan Braun and Rickie Weeks provided the only bright spots for the Brewers. Weeks went 2-for-3 with a double and two runs scored, while Braun drove in a pair of runs and doubled. Braun’s two RBIs moved him one behind third baseman Casey McGehee, who leads the Brewers with 94 runs batted in.

As it has been most of the season, the problem for the offense was delivering hits with runners in scoring position. The most obvious example came in the second inning, when Carlos Gomez led off with an infield single and reached third on a throwing error with none out. With three straight strikeouts, the Brewers left Gomez stranded at third.

“Gomez is on third, nobody out, we didn’t put the ball in play,” Macha said. “Little things like that hurt you when you’ve got tight games.”

Brewers beat, 9/20

September 21, 2010 Comments off

Macha against continued use of maple bats

MILWAUKEE — As a player, Brewers manager Ken Macha used ash bats. While he sees the competitive benefits of maple bats, he does not see that as reason enough to overlook their dangerous nature.

“Get rid of the maple bats. Absolutely, 100 percent,” Macha said. “What’s going to really happen is one’s going to go in the stands. … There’s people in the stands, they’re not paying attention to anything. They’re talking to the guy three seats down, not even going to move to get out of the way.”

Macha was asked about the maple bats in light of a chest injury suffered Sunday by Cubs rookie Tyler Colvin, who was struck by a portion of Wellington Castillo’s shattered bat. Colvin was in stable condition shortly after the game, but is expected to miss the rest of the 2010 season.

While he believes maple bats should be eliminated from use, that doesn’t mean Macha is unaware of the reason behind the players’ preference.

“That wood is absolutely harder,” Macha said of the maple bats. “You’d hit with these ash bats and if you hit the ball on a seam, you could see a dent with the seam on the bat. But with the maple, it’s so hard guys will use the thing and you will see no dents in the bat at all.

“When you’ve got two objects striking into each other, the amount of energy that goes in the opposite direction after they hit is not being absorbed by the compression of that bat, so the ball’s going further. I understand that point.”

But the potential for the type of injury suffered by Colvin, Macha said, is reason enough to eliminate the bats, regardless of the difference in performance between the hard maple wood and softer ash.

Rogers unavailable ahead of first start Friday

MILWAUKEE — Though they would have liked to get him another relief appearance, Brewers pitching prospect Mark Rogers’ next appearance will be his Friday start.

Rogers threw a side session in the bullpen Sunday, and is scheduled for another Tuesday in preparation for his first career start. As a result, he’s unavailable out of the bullpen this week.

“I was kind of hoping to get him in one more game,” manager Ken Macha said. “But [pitching coach] Rick [Peterson] said that he felt that [Rogers] could benefit more from doing two sides days than getting an inning in.”

Rogers is scheduled to start Friday in the Brewers’ second of four games against the Marlins. If everything goes according to plan with that start, Rogers could start a second time on the road against the Mets or Reds.

Gomez earns another start in center field

MILWAUKEE — With the impact he had on the Brewers’ recent road trip, Carlos Gomez earned yet another start in center field on Monday against the Reds.

Gomez got the day off Sunday in San Francisco in favor of rookie Lorenzo Cain, who had been the Brewers’ starting center fielder for much of August and early September. On Monday, though, manager Ken Macha went back to Gomez for his sixth start in seven games.

“I didn’t want to forget about Cain, but Gomez has been impacting the games,” Macha said. “So I just put Cain in there yesterday and get Gomez back in there today. … He basically won the game in Houston the last day and then had a tremendous impact on one of the games in San Francisco that we won.

“So he’s earned the playing time.”

Gomez batted .400 on the road trip, collecting eight hits in 20 at-bats along with four stolen bases and a pair of RBIs. With Cain struggling, Macha gave Gomez as many starts in those six games as he had in the club’s previous 40 contests.

As for his other right-handed center fielder, Macha opted not to give any evaluation of Cain.

“You can take either sample size on both sides of the line of demarcation and try to determine what is going to be relevant on down the line,” Macha said. “So let’s hold off on drawing a conclusion.

“I’m not going to make the statement that the league has figured him out.”

Special teams struggle, shine against ASU

September 19, 2010 Comments off

MADISON – Every play matters.

Wisconsin head coach Bret Bielema has worked to instill that mentality in his players, and on Saturday, those players provided him with two perfect examples in big moments.

While the Badgers special teams units struggled in coverage for the most part against Arizona State, two big plays on special teams made all the difference as UW came out on top, 20-19, over Arizona State.

“It’s the difference between good and bad today,” Bielema said. “Every season I reflect back on, there’s a handful of plays that determine a game, that determine a season.”

Following a touchdown that put Wisconsin up 13-10, Sun Devils returner Kyle Middlebrooks took a Philip Welch kickoff from the 4-yard line and raced for the end zone. With no one in front of him, Middlebrooks looked as though he would score to put ASU back on top heading into the locker room.

Enter Shelton Johnson.

After Dezmen Southward slowed Middlebrooks down, Johnson caught him from behind and made the tackle at the 1-yard line, saving a touchdown as the clock ran out on the first half.

“Honestly, I was just running hoping that I could get him,” Johnson said.

The play was remarkably similar to one late in the first quarter, when cornerback Omar Bolden took a Welch kickoff back 97 yards for the touchdown, putting Arizona State up 7-3.

So what was Johnson thinking when it looked to be happening again?

“No, don’t let this happen again,” Johnson said. “That would’ve been the second of the game, and it would have been really deflating going into halftime.”

Johnson’s tackle kept the Badgers up three points at the half, but more importantly, it meant John Clay’s third quarter touchdown put them up 20-13, rather than tying the game at 20 apiece. That proved crucial late in the fourth quarter, when the Sun Devils found the end zone for their only offensive touchdown of the game.

With 4:09 remaining, running back Cameron Marshall ran it in from two yards out, which appeared to tie the game for the second time. Instead, the extra point proved to be the deciding factor in game.

Looking to preserve their lead, the Badgers called for a block scheme they had not used yet this season. It worked out, as senior safety Jay Valai got around the left end and made the most of his 5-foot-9 frame, knocking the kick offline on an all-out dive.

“The PAT block is normally unheard of in college football,” said ASU head coach Dennis Erickson. “In all my career, I’ve never seen something like that. The bottom line is they got someone through.”

It’s hard to argue against the two plays made by Johnson and Valai as being among the biggest of the day for the Badgers.

The two players involved did disagree, however, on who made the more important play.

“Probably Jay’s,” Johnson answered when asked which play was bigger. “If he didn’t make that play, we’re probably still playing right now. I definitely think Jay blocking that kick was a huge, huge impact on this game.”

Valai, on the other hand, preferred his teammate’s touchdown-saving tackle to close out the Badgers’ less-than-stellar first half.

“Shelton’s just being nice — that’s a touchdown,” Valai said. “That’s not one point, Shelton stopped six, seven points right there. Shelton Johnson made a great play, that’s the biggest play of the game.”

The key to both plays, though, was effort.

Once Middlebrooks got into the open field, Johnson and Southward easily could have packed it in and headed to the locker room. In the fourth quarter, Valai could have accepted the Sun Devils were going to tie the game and 20 points apiece and put the burden on the offense to come away with the victory.

Instead, both put together the kind of effort expected out of them by the Wisconsin coaching staff, and in the end, it paid huge dividends.

“Football is a game that is comprised of four quarters, 15 minutes each, 60 minutes of playing time,” Bielema said. “But really it’s 60 minutes of reaction, who reacts better to what happens.”