Brewers' roster crunch forces Maldonado to hill
ST. LOUIS -- Brewers officials were considering a roster move late Wednesday to help fortify a bullpen so taxed that backup catcher Martin Maldonado was called upon to pitch an inning during Milwaukee's 9-3 loss to the Cardinals at Busch Stadium.
Maldonado delivered a scoreless inning as the first Brewers position player to pitch since Joe Inglett in July 2010. Manager Ron Roenicke said there was a "good chance" a reliever would be recalled in time for Thursday's series opener against the Reds.
"We're probably going to do something," Roenicke said. "We're going to confirm it later on. I just talked to [general manager] Doug [Melvin], and we'll talk again once we get to Cincinnati and see what we can do."
The possibilities are myriad. The Brewers played their series against the Cardinals with an injury-depleted bench, but shortstop Jean Segura and third baseman Aramis Ramirez are expected back in the lineup on Thursday night, making it easier to part with a position player to boost the bullpen to eight men if the Brewers opt to go that route.
The Brewers have so far avoided assigning right fielder Ryan Braun to the disabled list with his strained right rib-cage muscle, and Roenicke indicated on Wednesday the club would continue to be patient until Logan Schafer's DL stint expires on Saturday. Utility man Elian Herrera can be optioned, but his versatility is valuable to the Brewers in their current state. Second baseman Rickie Weeks has contributed little but is due more than $9 million for the remainder of this season.
Another option is to make a pitcher-for-pitcher move, which could potentially end the Wei-Chung Wang experiment. Wang, a 22-year-old left-hander who pitched in rookie ball for the Pirates last season, surrendered four runs and six hits in three innings against the Cardinals on Wednesday after Matt Garza exited with a bruised right thumb. Wang has pitched only four times this season, forcing Roenicke to use his other six relievers at a higher rate.
Only 20 big league relievers had been used at least 14 times through Tuesday, and the Brewers have three of them. Closer Francisco Rodriguez entered the day tied for the Major League lead with 16 appearances (all of them scoreless) and was deemed unavailable on Wednesday. Left-hander Will Smith finally allowed a run on Tuesday in his 15th appearance. Tyler Thornburg went two innings on Tuesday for his 13th consecutive scoreless appearance, and has pitched 14 times.
Asked whether the Brewers may be forced to reconsider Wang's spot, Roenicke said, "That's a decision that Doug is going to make. I can say what I think, but he's the one who puts this team together. We talk about things and try to do what's best for now and best for the next couple of years. It can't always be just 'now.'
"It's hard to have a crystal ball in Spring Training and think about getting off to a 20-8 start. Things that happen, you can't plan for everything. I thought he was a nice pickup, and we were hoping we could see enough of him to get a better read. I have a hard time where I am. I'm looking at Major League pitchers who have been out there for years pitching, and you get a comebacker and the guy looks at third base [as Wang did Wednesday]. Those things are going to happen.
"We know where he's at. He's got a nice arm, and we were hoping to see enough of him to get a good read. And we still may."
Among the relievers available at Triple-A Nashville are Rob Wooten, who is on the 40-man roster and has already appeared for the Brewers this season. Another right-handed reliever, Donovan Hand, is pitching well but is not on the 40-man roster. Top prospect Jimmy Nelson is also pitching well in Nashville's starting rotation and is on the 40-man.
"We can get back strong again in our bullpen again if we have a couple of good days," Roenicke said. "Just like it goes bad with one bad day, you can get it back with a few good days."
Of Maldonado pitching, Roenicke said, "Really uncomfortable. We all know he has a good arm. We all know he wants to go out there and throw 95 [mph], and my worse fear is he does that and goes out and hurts his arm."
Did Roenicke ask Maldonado not to air it out?
"I didn't ask him, I told him," Roenicke said.
"I was a little bit [disappointed]," said Maldonado, who topped out at 86 mph but thinks he could have touched 90.