A new year brings a new set of issues for the Brewers, whose surprising surge at the end of 2012 may have altered fans' expectations for 2013, even as the club moves to shed payroll. This club's high-powered offense is mostly back, but pitching questions figure to dominate Spring Training.
They sure dominated the year's first Inbox. Let's get to it:
Am I the only one not happy to see Yovani Gallardo pitching for Mexico in the World Baseball Classic? It's nice to see so many Brewers in demand, but I'm afraid he will get hurt or burned out.
-- Dana T., New Berlin, Wis.
No, you're not the only one concerned, and it seems there are just as many fans concerned about Marco Estrada pitching for the same team. Of the Brewers' current crop of rotation contenders, only Gallardo's spot is a lock, and Estrada looks to lead the rest of the pack. Plus, Hiram Burgos, last year's Brewers Minor League pitcher of the year, is on Puerto Rico's provisional roster.
But three things should make you feel better about Gallardo:
1. Tighter restrictions, first reported by FoxSports.com's Jon Morosi, have been imposed on pitchers in this year's Classic to reduce starting pitchers' workloads. They are limited to 65 pitches in first-round pool play, 80 pitches in the second round and 95 pitches in the semifinals and finals, down from 75-85-100 four years ago. It's a minor adjustment, but it also shows that protecting pitchers' arms is atop the agenda.
2. There is evidence that World Baseball Classic participants are actually healthier than their teammates running baserunning drills back at Spring Training camp. This was reported by ESPN.com's Jayson Stark, who passed along some interesting data gathered by Major League Baseball. (Small sample alert, because the tournament has only been staged twice.)
From Stark and MLB:
Only 11 of the 115 players on a Classic roster (9.5 percent) made a trip to the DL in 2009, compared to 17.8 percent of non-Classic participants.
Of the 73 players on the disabled list at the start of 2009, only two had been involved in the tournament: Pitcher Rick van den Hurk of Team Netherlands (and the Marlins) and Ichiro Suzuki of Team Japan (and the Mariners). van den Hurk suffered an elbow injury. Ichiro had an ulcer.
And I found this really interesting, so I'll quote Stark: "In only two of the past eight seasons has baseball started the season with less than nine percent of active players on the disabled list. It happened to be the two years in which the [Classic] took place during Spring Training -- 2006 and 2009."
3. The Doug Melvin rule: You can't protect all of your players, all of the time.
Melvin often points out that these are high-level, ultra-competitive athletes, and to think you can wrap them in a cocoon whenever they leave the baseball diamond is unreasonable. Gallardo badly wants to play after missing the '09 Classic because he was recovering from his '08 knee injury. So let him play.
Also, Gallardo could just as easily be hurt throwing a pitch in a World Baseball Classic game as he could be hurt throwing off a back mound at Maryvale Baseball Park.
Who do you think makes the rotation? And do you think Tom Gorzelanny has a shot to be a starter if he outpitches Chris Narveson?
-- @Jeremy1240 on Twitter
Second question first: The Brewers had interest in Gorzelanny as a starter a couple of years ago, but now they view him as a reliever who could start if the team finds itself in a bind. This makes sense after Gorzelanny pitched so well in relief last year -- when he made 44 relief appearances and only one start for the Nationals, and finished with a career-best 2.88 ERA. After last year's All-Star break, Gorzelanny pitched to a 1.33 ERA out of the bullpen (27 innings, four earned runs), tying for seventh among Major League relievers who logged at least 25 innings.
In short, it looks like he's found a niche.
First question: The rotation. I wrote about this during the holiday break, and not much has changed since then. Gallardo looks like a lock, Estrada has a big step through the door and so does Narveson if he's healthy. Tyler Thornburg and Burgos will probably start the year at Triple-A as insurance against injuries in the big leagues.
That leaves three youngish pitchers for two spots: Mike Fiers, Wily Peralta and Mark Rogers, one of whom could start the year in the bullpen. I'd give Peralta the clear edge of that trio based on the way he pitched late last season. He's a horse, and the Brewers will need that this season given their relative inexperience.
So, that would bring it down to Fiers, a bit of an enigma given his tailspin as last season wore on, and Rogers, who has a long injury history (and is out of Minor League options). I can see the merits of using either righty out of the bullpen. I'll take a pass for now on picking one or the other. Let's see them throw a pitch in Spring Training.
Why don't the Brewers make Shaun Marcum and Kyle Lohse an offer? Both are good fits and can't hurt to offer them something that fits the budget.
-- @uweggy31 on Twitter
Lohse: Doesn't fit the budget. He'll still get paid.
Marcum: They're simply not interested. They had a chance to extend him while Marcum was still in a Brewers uniform and never made a move.
When do single-game tickets go on sale for the regular season?
-- @AlexVanDeurzen3 on Twitter
The Brewers have not announced a date yet for their annual "Arctic Tailgate," but it's usually right around the first full-squad workout. That comes a bit earlier this year (Feb. 16, I believe) because of the World Baseball Classic, so stay tuned.
One last thing. I was asked by a fan (I'm sorry, I lost the Tweet) for details about the Brewers' Minor League Spring Training schedule. Here is some information:
Feb. 9: "Winter Session 2" begins. John Steinmiller wrote about this in 2010 and 2011.
Feb. 15: Early camp begins.
March 5,6: Pitchers and catchers report.
March 8: Position players report.
March 10: First full workout.
Keep the questions coming.