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Lohse alters outlook for Brewers' rotation

PHOENIX -- Before Kyle Lohse signed on the dotted line Monday evening, the Brewers' challenge boiled down to this:

In 2012, their No. 2 starter was was Zack Greinke, a former American League Cy Young Award winner widely considered one of the best pitchers in baseball. In 2013, it was to be Marco Estrada, the 29-year-old right-hander who began last season in the Brewers' bullpen, and the year before that was not even in their Major League camp.

So it qualified as a dramatic development when the Brewers struck a three-year, $33 million deal with 34-year-old Lohse, another "win-now" move for general manager Doug Melvin that, in the short term, could help quell criticisms of the Brewers' largely unproven starting rotation.

The group now includes Opening Day starter Yovani Gallardo, Lohse, Estrada, Chris Narveson and youngsters Wily Peralta and Mike Fiers. One of that group could end up in the bullpen or in Triple-A, where the Brewers have some promise in prospects Tyler Thornburg, Hiram Burgos and Johnny Hellweg.

Melvin characterized the Lohse signing as significant.

"It fills a hole we were missing," Melvin said. "With the innings he pitches, the poise he has, the experience, he'll bring a lot to our bullclub and our pitching staff.

"We're a better ballclub today than we were yesterday. It's good news as we're breaking camp."

Where exactly Lohse fits remains in question. He was to throw a bullpen session on Tuesday and pitch against the Rockies on Thursday. That would line him up for the Brewers' second game of the season, but Lohse will more likely wait to debut until the Brewers' second series, against Arizona.

In the bigger picture, his arrival pushes the rest of the Brewers' starters down one spot. Estrada seems a lock to remain in the rotation, and Narveson is likely to stay assuming he has no setbacks in his surgically repaired shoulder. So the Brewers would have to decide between Peralta and Fiers for one spots. As of Monday, manager Ron Roenicke has yet to discuss the Lohse deal with any of those pitchers.

The rumor mill had long connected the Brewers and Lohse. Agent Scott Boras said his first informal conversation with Melvin about Lohse came in November at the General Managers Meetings, and something like 20 conversations followed between Boras and Melvin or Brewers principal owner Mark Attanasio before a deal was struck late Sunday and finalized Monday morning.

"This didn't have anything to do with any of our younger pitchers at this point," Melvin said. "We liked the progress they were making. It was an opportunity to add someone who had an outstanding year last year and put him in a rotation with our other most experienced starting pitcher in Yovani Gallardo. Kyle and Yovani bring a lot of credibility and experience to the top of the rotation."

The best of the rest may be Estrada, who was originally lined up as the team's No. 2 starter after going 5-7 with a 3.64 ERA in 23 starts and six relief appearances last season. Melvin liked to point out over the winter that Estrada's 4.93 strikeouts per walk in 2012 ranked third in the Majors among pitchers who logged at least 120 innings, trailing only the Phillies' Cliff Lee (7.39) and the Braves' Kris Medlen (5.92).

Estrada's 1.14 WHIP tied CC Sabathia, Felix Hernandez and Chris Sale for 15th among pitchers with at least 120 innings.

"For him to come in and do what he did was pretty good, pretty exciting," said Gallardo, who pitched with Estrada for Team Mexico in the World Baseball Classic. "I've said from Day 1 that I saw him pitch -- he's a good pitcher. He's aggressive. He's got some above-average offspeed stuff."

Estrada said he didn't care where he lined up in the rotation.

"It doesn't matter if I'm one, two, three, four, five," Estrada said. "I'm going to pitch the same and give them as many outings as I can, every outing. Last year after the All-Star break I think I started off as No. 2 and I faced a lot of the No. 1 and No. 2 pitchers from the other teams. I guess they thought I did well enough to where they'd give me the opportunity to go out and try it all over again."

With Gallardo and Lohse, Estrada will have two experiences starters to lean on. News of the Lohse deal broke just before the Brewers began their Monday morning workout, and was met with excitement in the clubhouse.

"He has three or four years of being a top innings-eater guy, and he's at the top of his game, too," Brewers second baseman Rickie Weeks said. "You add a guy like that, you can't ask for more than that."

Does it change Weeks' view of the Brewers' chances this season?

"Definitely, but a lot of times when you come into Spring Training, everybody is optimistic," he said. "When something like this happens, it just boosts the ballclub that much [more], even if it is just one player."

Adam McCalvy is a reporter for Read his blog, Brew Beat, and follow him on Twitter at @AdamMcCalvy.
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