MILWAUKEE -- The Brewers released Randy Wolf on Wednesday, his 36th birthday, leaving the left-hander to rely on his sense of humor for some perspective.
"To me, my birthday's just been another day, other than [the year] I turned 21," Wolf said. "I didn't feel very good the next day. I think that time was more of a physical punishment. This one's more of an emotional punishment."
He laughed. Then his smile faded.
"It's pretty bad," Wolf said. "But, you know, the way I look at it is that Day 1 of age 36 starts off on a bad note. It can only go up from here."
The 14-year veteran was 3-10 with a 5.69 ERA in 24 starts this season, the final year of a three-year, $29.75 million contract he signed with Milwaukee at the 2009 Winter Meetings. Wolf never found the form he showed in 2011, when he was 13-10 with a 3.69 ERA in 33 regular-season starts and threw a gem against the Cardinals in the National League Championship Series.
This week, the Brewers decided it was time for a break. Shaun Marcum is returning from the disabled list, and the team intends to use September as a training ground for some younger starting pitchers. Wolf, whose contract included a $10 million club option for 2013, was not part of the plan.
So general manager Doug Melvin, unable to find a trade partner for Wolf, approached the pitcher and agent Arn Tellem on Tuesday with some options. The sides agreed that a clean break was the best of them.
"Sometimes you just have to be free for a club to have interest," Melvin said. "Derek Lowe got released by Cleveland and got picked up by the Yankees. Scott Podsednik got let go by the Diamondbacks, he got picked up by the Red Sox. Sometimes when they're out there, and they're free and available, teams maybe take a different outlook as opposed to trying to work out a trade or try to figure out their roster or whatever. So now Randy will have an opportunity. I'd be surprised if someone didn't give him a chance."
The move cost the Brewers more than $3.5 million -- including the more than $2 million due Wolf for the rest of this season, plus a $1.5 million buyout of his '13 option.
The Brewers intended to recall shortstop Jeff Bianchi from Triple-A Nashville to take Wolf's spot on the active roster, restoring the standard 12-pitcher, 13-position player alignment. But that move was reversed because Bianchi had not served the requisite 10 days in the Minors since a brief promotion to Milwaukee last week, while pitcher Mark Rogers was on the paternity list.
Manager Ron Roenicke said Bianchi would not be eligible until Saturday. Whether the Brewers play Friday's series opener in Pittsburgh a man short or make an alternative move was still being discussed, he said.
"Obviously things were brutal this year," Wolf said. "It's been really tough because I have felt good, and I haven't looked up and seen a decline [in velocity]. If I were throwing 84-85 mph and all of a sudden felt like I had no clue out there, I'd have a good idea of what was going on. But it's something that I just need to get better somehow, figure it out. Obviously, I'm leaving too many balls over the middle of the plate. If I do a better job of not doing that, I think I'll be OK.
"I'm going in with an open mind. It's a really tough pill to swallow. Luckily, I've always been humble in this game, and I realize what this game is like, so it's disappointing, but I'm not going to be angry about it. I have to go about my business and also appreciate how the Brewers went about this."
Roenicke lauded Wolf's preparation and his positive role in the clubhouse, pointing to the mental grind as the source of Wolf's struggles.
Wolf exited eight starts with the lead but was the victim of blown saves. The Brewers were 7-17 when he pitched.
"I think he needs a new atmosphere," Roenicke said. "Randy is still not done pitching. I think next year, he is going to have a good year for somebody. But I think when you get to a point where things happen so negatively every time you go out and pitch, you can't just wipe it out. He tries to. He'll pitch well for a couple innings, something will happen, and it will blow up on him, and those bad thoughts, they keep coming back. ... Any time something would go bad, and you guys were watching, too, you could kind of read it in Randy.
"I kept thinking it was going to turn around for him and for us, and it didn't seem to."
Melvin was most disappointed to learn that Wednesday was Wolf's birthday. He said he didn't know.
"I told him I'm proud of how he goes about his work," Melvin said. "He's a professional. He goes out there and battles, and he was a big part of our success last year, too. We signed him and brought him in here, and he did everything we asked and expected of him. So it's always tough, these kinds of decisions, with a professional guy like Randy and what he's meant to the game and the Brewers. But it's time that we give the ball to some of the younger guys."