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Happy 4th, Go Brewers (and Marcum), and Other Odds and Ends

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Happy 4th of July, everyone!

Today’s the day to remember the beginning of the United States of America — when we declared independence from Great Britain.  (We actually declared independence on July 2, but the predecessor to the United States Congress didn’t ratify the document until July 4, which is why we celebrate on today’s date.)  It’s also a great day to watch baseball, eat hot dogs and apple pie, and for families to appreciate being with each other (or at least put aside their differences for the day).  And, finally, it’s become another day (like Memorial Day and Veterans Day) to remember our military men and women, especially those serving overseas in war zones, partly because we have three wars going at the same time, but mostly because our military remains an important part of why we remain an independent nation to this day.

Before I go on, I’d like to mention one military man overseas — my cousin, Wayne.   I know he’s seen a number of Independence Days away from the United States, but I can’t believe it ever gets that easy for him — he’s away from his family, most of his friends, and all that is familiar, which would be hard enough even without the three wars going on right now — and I want to remind him that I really do appreciate his service to our country.

Anyway, today is a day for baseball, as I said before, so it’s time to celebrate my favorite players.  Corey Hart hit his 9th home run of the year against Arizona (game is still in progress as I type this; the Brewers lead, 6-4, in the 6th) to make it 2-1 in the bottom of the fourth, then Shaun Marcum — the pitcher — hit a grand slam home run to make it 6-1.  (The Diamondbacks got a run back in the top of the 5th and two runs in the 6th.)  This is the first grand slam of the year for the Brewers — with all their vaunted hitters, including the three 2011 All-Star starters Ryan Braun, Prince Fielder, and Rickie Weeks, and of course the aforementioned Hart, you’d think the Brewers would’ve had multiple grand slam HRs by now.  Not that the first one of the year would be hit by the rather light-hitting pitcher Marcum (who started today batting only .103).

Next, Casey McGehee looks like he’s finally getting on track, and that’s good.  He has two hits today, but so far for the year he’s hitting in the .220s with only 4 HR and 33 RBI despite playing in the vast majority of the Brewers games in the #5 spot.  McGehee has good power to all fields when he’s right, but most of this year he’s been mired in a slump and his defense has also suffered (when one thing goes bad, it tends to make everything go bad; this is an axiom that doesn’t just apply to baseball).  Here’s hoping that his two hits in two ABs (so far) will spur him to better things in the second half.

Next, I wanted to point out how former Brewer Vinny Rottino’s doing in AAA ball for the New Orleans Zephyrs.  Rottino has continued to hit well, though he’s no longer on a tear; he’s batting .307 with 4 HRs and 31 RBI, and his OBP remains a robust .378.  Rottino isn’t really a power guy; instead, he’s a contact hitter, an intelligent runner, and an above-average defender at any outfield position, first base or third base.  Rottino’s now thirty-one years old, yet is in excellent shape and could easily play several more years — perhaps as many as ten — and I really wish someone would give him a chance as a utility player and pinch hitter in the majors.

Next, there’s Chris Capuano, a former Brewers pitcher who now pitches for the New York Mets.  Capuano recently beat the Brewers in Milwaukee and was given a huge round of applause when announced in the starting line-up for the Mets — a sign of respect that isn’t often seen for an opposing player, but Brewers’ fans do not forget “their own.”  For the year, “Cappy” is 7-7 with a 4.27 ERA and has struck out 77 while walking only 24; I wish him nothing but success in the second half.

Finally, there’s former Brewer shortstop J.J. Hardy, who now plays for the Baltimore Orioles.  Hardy’s defense has remained outstanding while his hitting stroke has finally returned after a succession of wrist injuries marred his last two seasons — for the year to date, Hardy is hitting .295 with 11 HR, 30 RBI and 31 runs scored in 54 games played.  That last stat (runs scored) is a bit surprising as Hardy is not exactly what you’d call “fleet afoot” due to a horrific collision sustained in 2006 while trying to score a run — Hardy decided to slide late, and this may have exacerbated that season-ending injury.

At any rate, I enjoy watching my Milwaukee Brewers, past and present, and I hope they all succeed, wherever they are now and wherever they’ll be in the future.  They make the 4th of July — and every day — more interesting, as especially with this year’s team I never have any idea of how they’re going to do.

I hope you all enjoy your 4th of July experience — whatever it may be, from fireworks to Summerfest to just “hanging out” — and do it safely so you’ll be around for July 5th, 6th, and beyond.

Baseball (Mostly Brewers) Updates: Marcum, Greinke, Hart — and a bit about Vinny Rottino

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The Milwaukee Brewers look to be much better this year with the addition of pitchers Shaun Marcum (acquired in a trade from the Toronto Blue Jays in the offseason) and Zack Greinke (acquired in a trade from the Kansas City Royals in the offseason), but up until tonight we Brewers’ fans had little idea of how well either would pitch as Marcum hasn’t been fully right (he had an arm strain/shoulder injury in spring training if I recollect correctly) and Greinke remains on the disabled list (DL).

But tonight, Marcum pitched extremely well, throwing seven shutout innings in an impressive 6-0 Brewers win over the Pittsburgh Pirates in Pittsburgh.  Marcum mixed his pitches well and effectively, baffling the Pirates’ hitters while efficiently moving through the Pirates’ lineup — only one hitter reached third base, while Marcum gave up only one walk and four hits with four strikeouts recorded.  (In the eighth inning, left-hander Zach Braddock came in and struggled a bit, which was why he was lifted in favor of right-hander Kameron Loe after Braddock only managed one out while allowing two walks with a wild pitch.  Loe got the final two outs without undue drama, then left-handed side-armer Mitch Stetter came in and pitched a one-two-three ninth.)

If Marcum continues to pitch like this, Brewers’ fans will warm up to him in a hurry.

At any rate, the news on RF Corey Hart is positive; he took batting practice without pain and is expected to go on a rehabilitation assignment soon to one of the minor league teams in order to prove his injury is sufficiently healed for him to return as the everyday RF.  Hart is now hoping for a return to the line-up by April 22, which is when the Brewers’ next home-stand begins.  This is wonderful news, especially because Hart had a breakout year last year (Hart was my pick as Most Valuable Player for the Brewers in 2010).   Getting Hart back will be a tremendous help.  

As for Zack Greinke, he threw 25 pitches in a simulated game and felt no pain, which means his broken rib has probably healed enough that he, too, will be out on a minor-league rehab assignment soon.   The hope now for Greinke is that by the end of April, he’ll be ready to pitch for the Brewers.

Please see this update from the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel for further details:

And finally, my favorite minor-league utility player, Vinny Rottino, currently remains in the Florida Marlins minor league system and has started the season with the New Orleans Zephyrs, the Marlins’ Class AAA affiliate (that is, their highest-level minor league team).  So far the 31-year-old Rottino is batting only .065 with one hit in 12 at-bats, but has a .353 on base percentage due to taking several walks.  (Stats taken from Rottino’s games through April 11, 2011.)

Here’s a link from the Racine Journal-Times, where the headline reads, “Pirates give Jaramillo a Chance; Taschner, Rottino still have Hope”:

Here’s a relevant quote from the article, including a response from IF-OF-C Vinny Rottino himself:

Since signing with the Milwaukee Brewers as an undrafted free agent Feb. 3 2003, Rottino’s modus operandi has been to play every game with abandon and wait for his chance. His mindset remains the same eight years later.

And after hitting .307 with eight homers, 69 RBIs and 22 stolen bases for the Suns last year, Rottino believes he has positioned himself to make it back to the major leagues.

“I’ve been given an opportunity to play baseball for a living and I know I keep saying that,” said Rottino, a 1998 St. Catherine’s graduate. “I really feel that after the year I had last year, I have a legitimate chance to get back to the big leagues.

“This is an organization where, if you perform well in the minor leagues and they think you can help the major league team win, they’re bringing you up. That’s a lot different situation from a lot of other organizations.”

Note that Rottino has played in the minor leagues for both the Brewers and the Dodgers prior to being signed by the Marlins in 2010.  And while I greatly appreciate Peter Jackel’s column (I’d wondered what was going on with Rottino and said so in a blog post from a few weeks ago), Jackel failed to note that Rottino won an award last season from the Southern League (AA) — he won an award for “best utility player/performance.”   That, along with his excellent batting average, on-base percentage and the most stolen bases he’d ever had as a minor-leaguer, must be why Rottino is so hopeful of getting a chance with the Marlins this season.

If you are as interested in following Vinny Rottino’s career as I am, please follow this link to Rottino’s minor-league page (where you can find out where he’s playing, how he’s doing and what positions he’s playing, too, for that matter):

I really like Rottino; his attitude is refreshing, and the fact that he’s still in there fighting at the (for baseball) advanced age of 31 is encouraging for anyone who refuses to stop believing in himself (or herself).  Vinny Rottino is another example of persistence in the face of long odds, and I hope he breaks out of his early-season slump soon as when he’s right, he’s a good hitter, an excellent fielder (especially in the infield and outfield) and a fast and smart runner.  I, too, believe that Rottino has what it takes to be a successful major league player as a utility man/defensive replacement/pinch hitter/whatever — and I hope he gets his chance this year.

Written by Barb Caffrey

April 13, 2011 at 9:23 pm

Brewers get Greinke, Betancourt . . . .

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And finally, folks, for my third post of the night, I’d be remiss if I didn’t talk about the Milwaukee Brewers recent trade for RHP Zack Greinke.

Yesterday afternoon, the Brewers traded SS Alcides Escobar, CF Lorenzo Cain, and two minor league RHP, Jake Odorizzi and Jeremy Jeffress, to the Kansas City Royals for Greinke and SS Yuniesky Betancourt.  Greinke is a former American League Cy Young winner (he won in ’09 with a 16-8 record), and is considered one of the best pitchers in the major leagues despite having an off-year in 2010 with a 10-14 record and a 4.19 ERA.

I’m pleased the Brewers went out and got Greinke, because this is the second pitcher the Brewers have acquired in the off season (the Brewers got Shaun Marcum from the Blue Jays a few weeks ago, trading minor league 2B Brett Lawrie for him straight up).   He’s an excellent pitcher and should really help the Brewers’ rotation — and as all know, the Brewers’ main problem the last few years has been pitching.  Especially starting pitching.  (When the Brewers lost C.C. Sabathia and Ben Sheets to free agency, they took a major step down despite all their good hitters — Corey Hart, Casey McGehee, and of course Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder.  Hitters can’t do much when the starters keep giving up around 5 ERs a game.)

But I’m not happy the Brewers parted with Lorenzo Cain; Cain had shown some power and a great deal of speed to go along with his excellent defensive skills in centerfield in his brief stint in the majors last year, hitting .308 with a robust OBP of .348 — pretty good for his first 147 at-bats.

The others — eh.  I liked what I saw of Jeffress, and I’m sure he’ll have a good career if he can stay away from the illegal substances (he’s been busted twice under MLB’s anti-drug policy for marijuana use), but to get Greinke I have no problem with him leaving.  Ditto for Jake Odorizzi, who seemed like a good prospect thus far — possibly the Brewers best pitcher in the minors (certainly the most-hyped), though he was still in A ball this past year.

To be perfectly honest, though, I was glad to see Alcides Escobar go; I felt his defensive play was at best overhyped (Escobar makes great plays, then muffs easy ones), especially compared to the SS who came before him, JJ Hardy (who is an outstanding defensive shortstop, possibly the best in the major leagues, and certainly in the top five when healthy), and his offense was, well, anemic at .235 with a .288 OBP and 10 stolen bases.

When I went to Brewers games last year, everyone I spoke with used the same words to describe Escobar:  “Overhyped.”  “Flash in the pan.”  “Melvin’s an idiot — can we please have JJ Hardy back?”  And I agreed — Escobar was described as “the real deal,” or “everything, and the bag of chips besides” — and he just wasn’t.  (Perhaps no one could live up to that billing.)

Betancourt would appear to be a step up offensively, as he batted .259 with 16 HRs (to Escobar’s 4) and 78 RBIs (to Escobar’s 41), though he also has a very low OBP at .288.  As for his defense, I’d describe it as adequate — he’s another guy who won’t make anyone forget JJ Hardy anytime soon — though as he’s not been labeled a “can’t-miss” prospect, maybe he’ll be less encumbered by expectations than was Escobar.

At any rate, this is a trade that looks very good on paper and I hope it works out well for the Brewers.  I know that as a fan, I’m for it.