Brewers By the (Jersey) Numbers ’15 – #47 Rob Wooten

BBtJN LogoHow many days away from Opening Day are we? And who gets a “Brewers By the (Jersey) Numbers” profiling as a result?

Let him tell you himself.

So let’s take a looksee at…

Rob Wooten.

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Bobby Woots, as nobody calls him, is a 6’1″ right-handed pitcher from North Carolina. He makes no secret of the fact that he pitched collegiately at the University of and that he bleeds Tarheel blue. He was drafted from UNC by the Brewers in the 13th round of the 2008 First-Year Player Draft. His MLB debut would come five years later, but we touched on that in last year’s profile.

Following his debut campaign, Wooten would break camp back with the Class-AAA affiliate Nashville Sounds, a victim of the numbers game in spring. Wooten was basically the last guy sent to the minors so we knew it would be a matter of time before he returned. When Brandon Kintzler hit the early DL with a strained rotator cuff, Wooten got recalled. Wooten again was a victim in late April as his having pitched 2.0 innings of a 14-inning affair on April 20 resulted in the team needing a fresh bullpen arm just to cover outs. Alfredo Figaro came up and Woot (which people do call him) would be sent down. That trip turned out to be for the minimum 10 day stay as he was right back up on May 1.

Wooten carried an 8.31 ERA back to Nashville thanks mostly to a three-run home run surrendered in his second appearance. It would be Wooten’s only home run allowed in 2014 in 40 appearances. Wooten pitched better than his traditional numbers would indicate (1-4 record, 4.72 ERA), though his ERA+ was below average at just 81. Wooten’s strikeout numbers were better in his second MLB season and he improved on his walk rate. His WHIP was up somewhat significantly, and a mark of nearly 1.5 is really hard for a reliever to consistently avoid negative results. Still, Wooten’s FIP was 2.61 so there’s reason for optimism.

Another reason for that bright side look is that Wooten earned manager Ron Roenicke’s trust to handle higher-leverage situations when sometimes there weren’t other options available. Granted he lost some of those chances when first Jeremy Jeffress and later Jonathan Broxton joined the ‘pen, but knowing that he could be inserted into a late and close situation was a benefit for Wooten’s confidence.

In fact, Wooten had his ERA down to 2.65 by the end of May, a month in which he allowed just one run across 13 games. He was also at 2.91 on June 14th before a doomed outing the next day against Cincinnati would demolish his ERA. Recording zero outs, Wooten would allow six straight hits and ultimately five earned runs. He ERA jumped to 4.98. Wooten would allow just six more earned runs the rest of the season (in 16 games). He would rack up some frequent flyer miles between July 21 (when he was optioned to Nashville) and September 10. He would be up and down three times in total during that stretch.

Wooten got to finish off his 2014 with a cool trip as he was a part of the contingent of players sent over to Japan for a series pitting MLB players against the Japanese national team. Wooten raves about the experience and will no doubt share some stories on Twitter if you ask nicely.

For 2015, Wooten’s early role will almost assuredly be determined by a combination of the numbers game and how well everybody is pitching. If the Brewers break camp with the stable of relievers they currently have, meaning they don’t add a closer type between now and then, Wooten has a better chance of breaking camp on the 25-man. However, newcomer Corey Knebel and returning injured pitchers Jim Henderson and Tyler Thornburg could squeeze him into his first trip to the new Brewers Triple-A affiliate in Colorado Springs.

Rest assured, Wooten fans, he’ll spend some time in a Milwaukee uniform at some point in 2015. How much depends on factors that he can control (how well he pitches) but also on some he does not. Such is the life of a middle reliever.

Follow Rob on Twitter: @RobWooten35

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Brewers By the (Jersey) Numbers ’15 – #48 Neal Cotts

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We’re inside seven weeks until Opening Day! We’re also just three days away from the official Brewers Pitchers & Catchers report date of Friday, February 20, but this series counts down to Opening Day. As such, we are 48 days away so let’s look at the player who’ll be wearing #48 in camp, newcomer…

Neal Cotts.

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Neal James Cotts is a 6’1″, left-handed pitcher originally from Illinois. 35 by Opening Day, Cotts was a second round draft pick by the Oakland Athletics out of Illinois State University back in the 2001 draft when he was 21 years old. Cotts pitched just two minor league seasons in Oakland’s system before becoming a player to be named later in the deal with the Chicago White Sox that brought Keith Foulke to the bay area.

Cotts made his big league debut in 2003 with the White Sox (just four games) and was a mainstay on the south side of Chicago for three more years. He would pitch in 56, 69, and 70 games respectively in his three full White Sox seasons.

Still a pre-free agency pitcher, Cotts was traded to the Windy City’s north side after the 2006 season. He pitched for the Cubs for parts of three seasons including 50 appearances in 2008. His time in Chicago came to an end on May 27, 2009 as he was optioned to the minors after posting an ERA of nearly 7.36 in 11.0 innings.

Following his demotion, Cotts ended up tearing his ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) which led him to Tommy John surgery on July 2, 2009. That off-season the Cubs non-tendered him.

The Pittsburgh Pirates would sign Cotts to a minor league contract less than a month after the Cubs let him walk, despite his still needing a few months minimum to come back from the Tommy John surgery. Then, as Cotts was firmly on the comeback trail, he injured his hip and would ultimately miss the entirety of the 2010 season, culminating in his release by the Pirates before the big league season was even over.

Cotts once again found an employer fairly quickly as the New York Yankees inked the now 30-year-old southpaw. That relationship would come to an end that same off-season though. It was just over one full year after that release when the Texas Rangers would take a chance on a quite possibly broken down player.

(I could relate more about this period in Cotts’ career, but the story has been written already by better writers than I. Here is a link to Ken Rosenthal’s piece from 2014 which goes through a bit of the timeline including quotes from Cotts and his agent, Joe Bick.)

He was slowed in his first season in the Rangers org with a strained lat muscle in camp and would only pitch in the minors for Texas in 2012. They resigned him to a minor league deal after that year, however, and would purchase his contract on May 21, 2013. Cotts earned the call-up, after posting a 0.78 ERA with a wonderful 42 strikeouts to just five walks in 23.0 innings pitched. Cotts was brilliant for Texas in 2013 as well, totaling a 1.11 ERA in 57.0 innings across 58 appearances. He struck out 65 and walked 18.

Last year, Cotts would maintain his health — he pitched in 73 games — but not as much of his effectiveness. His FIP from 2013 to 2014 was 2.17 versus 3.58, but his 2014 ERA was a rough 4.32 as he was the losing pitcher in nine decisions.

Cotts should factor in the bullpen from the time camp breaks for the Brewers. He was signed to a Major League contract by Milwaukee, after all. Despite some of the 2014 numbers, Cotts has proven that he’s still got the ability to pitch at the big league level. The Brewers award winning medical staff will hope to keep Cotts healthy, and a move back to the National League could be a good thing for the veteran as well.

At the end of the day though, Milwaukee has a competition brewing in their bullpen already. If Cotts isn’t performing, left-handedness and being owed $3 million won’t be enough to keep him on the roster. There are younger, cheaper guys who could certainly take the ball and do so happily.

Follow Neal on Twitter: @NealJames56

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Jedi Luc? Talking Harry Doyle?

Brewers to host Star Wars™, Major League™, Country, and Zubazpalooza Nights

OFFICIAL RELEASE

The Brewers are excited to announce four theme nights that will be coming to Miller Park in 2015. Beginning at 12 p.m. today, fans can buy special ticket packages to Country Night, Star Wars™ Night, Major League™ Night and Zubazpalooza.  Special ticket packages for each theme night are limited and include entry to the game and a special themed promotional item.

On Friday, May 29, the Brewers will host Country Night when the team faces off against the Arizona Diamondbacks. While everyone in attendance will be treated to a special postgame concert by Grammy-nominated country artist Joe Nichols, fans who purchase the special Country Night ticket package will also receive a Milwaukee Brewers cowboy hat. Ticket packages are available in the Loge Outfield Box for $30 and Terrace Reserved for $18.

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In a not too distant future, in a ballpark very, very close to you, the Brewers will host Star Wars Night on Saturday, May 30 when Milwaukee duels (with bats, not lightsabers) the Arizona Diamondbacks. A number of Star Wars characters will be making special appearances throughout the night, and fans who purchase the Star Wars Night ticket package will receive a limited-edition Jonathan Lucroy “Jedi Luc” bobblehead. Ticket packages are available in the Field Outfield Box for $39 and Terrace Reserved for $22.

Back by popular demand, Zubazpalooza returns to Miller Park for the third consecutive season on Friday, June 12, as the Brewers host the Washington Nationals. All fans who purchase the special Zubazpalooza ticket package will receive a pair of green and blue Zubaz pants with the Brewers 90’s logo. Tickets are available in the Loge Outfield Box for $34.

Finally, fans can take home the one and only Harry Doyle (aka Bob Uecker) immortalized in Bobblehead form, Tuesday, July 21 as the Brewers host the Cleveland Indians during Major League Night at Miller Park. Fans who purchase the special Major League Night ticket package will receive a limited-edition talking Harry Doyle bobblehead with famous quotes including: “This guy threw at his own kid in a father-son game,” “Personally, I think we got hosed on that call” and “Juuust a bit outside.” Ticket packages are available in the Field Outfield Box for $39, Loge Outfield for $29 and Terrace Reserved for $19.

Tickets are limited and only those who purchase the special theme night ticket package are eligible to receive that night’s promotional item. The Jedi Luc and Harry Doyle Bobbleheads are only available to the first 4,000 fans that purchase this exclusive package.  All theme night tickets must be purchased in advance and can be obtained by calling the Brewers Group Sales department at 414-902-GRPS (4777) or by visiting Brewers.com/specialevents, beginning at 12 p.m. today.

STAR WARS and related properties are trademarks and/or copyrights, in the United States and other countries, of Lucasfilm Ltd. and/or its affiliates. © & TM Lucasfilm Ltd.

Brewers By the (Jersey) Numbers ’15 – #50 Mike Fiers

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Round numbers are to baseball… wait… I already used that one. Hmm…

Hey everybody! Welcome back to “Brewers By the (Jersey) Numbers”, my annual time-passing countdown to Brewers Opening Day by way of profiling players who wear a uniform with a number that matches how many days it is until said Opening Day.

I used that one too…

No matter. We ride! Let’s get the party started as we sit half a Franklin away from April 6. Let’s talk…

Mike Fiers.

 

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That a 6’2″, 190 lb right-handed pitcher from Hollywood, Florida via Deerfield Beach High School, Nova Southeastern University, and the 22nd round of the 2009 First-Year Player Draft would make the majors is a longshot. That he’s excelled at the highest level of competitive baseball despite being undervalued by many, overlooked by most, and dismissed by all but a few is remarkable. But that’s not necessarily the way Michael Bruce Fiers would tell it.

Oh, he’s overcome an incredible set of odds just to etch his name into the big scorebook at all if nothing else was a problem, but Fiers has a well-documented story of getting past injury, personal tragedy, and a pitching profile that caused so many prospect evaluators to not bother profiling Fiers at all. I won’t get into it all here, but if you search “Mike Fiers BBtJN” over in the search bar on the right, you’ll find some of it that you might not have known.

But just looking at his skills as a pitcher, Fiers had a questionable ceiling to say the least in the eyes of most scouts. His fastball sat upper 80s (89.5 average velocity in 2014 according to FanGraphs.com) to low 90s and none of his other offerings were really considered to be “plus”. He brings a curve, changeup and cutter now which have helped him have staying power, but the phrase “working off of his fastball” holds very true for Fiers.

It’s his pinpoint control and command that is most noticeable when Fiers is on his game. I believe it was Greg Maddux who once said that he learned by taking some MPH off of his fastball, he could put it wherever he wanted whenever he wanted to, including getting more movement on it. Now, Mike Fiers is no Greg Maddux but the philosophy can be applied to others. Fiers hits the corners and throws all of his off-speed pitches for strikes. That combination allows him to elevate his fast ball out of the zone and get a plethora of swings and misses as guys are expecting the fastball to catch the zone or perhaps that Fiers is spinning a change up or a curve ball that’ll drop into the zone if they don’t swing.

But these are big league hitters, you say. Why don’t they just recognize the pitch better, you ask. Well, that’s where the deception in Fiers’ delivery comes in extremely handy. He hides the ball incredibly well and hitters don’t get much of a look at it late in his motion. Every fraction of a second later adds up to big losses in reaction time for a hitter, yes even big league ones.

Every year is the same song for Fiers though. He pitched well in the minors on his way to being on the radar at Triple-A (his 2011 season was fantastic, incidentally) but he had a rougher go in 2012 and 2013 in the minors. Some of that was injuries, some of that was no doubt mental as his priorities were rightfully off the field at times.

While 2012 may have been the coming out party for Fiers, it was 2014 that really showed what a physically and mentally healthy Mike Fiers is capable of. He stymied hitters over and over. His minor league season (17 starts) completed with a 2.56 ERA in 102.0 innings pitched. He tallied 129 strikeouts and led minor league baseball in strikeouts for a few weeks after getting the call back to The Show. He didn’t miss a beat once back in Milwaukee. In 14 games (10 starts), Fiers would pitch to a 2.13 ERA in 71.2 innings, with 76 strikeouts. One of his most fun to watch and most dominant starts of 2014 came on August 14 against the Chicago Cubs. Fiers would strike out 14 baby bears that day in just 6.0 scoreless innings.

At the far other end of the spectrum was Fiers’ game on September 11 in Milwaukee. In a wildly uncharacteristic moment, Fiers lost a fastball that would hit Marlins superstar Giancarlo Stanton in the face. Fiers was visibly shaken and only finished the inning after an ugly brawl broke out due to some miscommunication following a pitch to replacement hitter Reed Johnson. The details needn’t be relisted here, but if you want to read about it because you somehow missed it, there are plenty of accounts of it. I even archived Fiers’ entire postgame availability on my Instagram account (@brewer_nation).

Afterward, there was a lot of talk about whether Fiers would even make his next start, let alone how he would pitch in it. Showing the kind of mental fortitude he’d built up over the years, Fiers would not only make the rest of his starts last season, but he’d pitch pretty doggone well (18.0 IP, 6 ER, 13 K, 4 BB), especially factoring in the circumstances. But Fiers was truly at his best in August, during a stretch of time when both Kyle Lohse and Matt Garza were on the shelf with injuries. The team desperately needed someone to rise to the occasion, and Fiers answered the bell.

In the oldest sense of the word, Fiers has proven to be a bulldog for the Brewers. He wants the ball, he takes the ball, and he baffles hitters with good old fashioned swing-and-miss stuff. He doesn’t blow it by you with speed, but it still gets past you consistently. That’s a true artist.

Fiers finally enters a season with a job waiting for him in a big league rotation. In fact, he’s the #4 as things stand today, meaning that even if Yovani Gallardo hadn’t been traded, Fiers still would have had a job. He’s proven capable. He’s proven dependable. Now he has a chance to prove consistency over an entire Major League season, one where teams see him multiple times and there will be no more excuses for the doubters to look to.

As a 29-year-old, it’s time for Fiers to show it all off from the jump. It could truly be an incredible season if it all comes together.

Follow Mike Fiers on Twitter: @Fiers64

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Brewers By the (Jersey) Numbers ’15 – #51 Jonathan Broxton

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Today is Saturday, February 14 and we are inside of a week until big league Pitchers and Catchers report! P&C might be the best non-game-day day of the winter. On Deck is great, and Truck Day signifies that Spring Training is drawing nigh, and some players show up at Maryvale Baseball Park early, but “P&C” is when — with apologies to Montell Vontavious Porter — the mitts start poppin’, and the little things be stoppin’.

One man who will officially report on February 20 with all of his pitching brethren and the men who wear the tools of ignorance is today’s profile subject…

Jonathan Broxton.

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Jonathan Roy Broxton joined the Milwaukee Brewers via trade with the Cincinnati Reds on August 31 of last season. His cost was the full financial assumption of his contractual obligations and two minor league pitchers (Kevin Shackelford and Barrett Astin). Broxton was brought over to assume 8th inning duties for Milwaukee, along with possibly closing occasionally if the notoriously durable Francisco Rodriguez ever actually needed a day off when a close game situation arose in the 9th inning.

Broxton had done the setup man’s job incredibly well with the Reds earlier that year. He picked up seven saves — mostly when Aroldis Chapman was on the shelf to start the season — and finished 16 games in all for Cincinnati. He pitched to a 1.86 ERA in 51 appearances though his FIP was a troublesome 3.53 before September.

With the Brewers, Broxton saw action in 11 games, totaling 10.1 innings pitched. He allowed five earned runs causing his ERA to balloon to 4.35 with Milwaukee. He had allowed just 10 earned runs in the five prior months combined. Ironically, Broxton’s FIP as a Brewer was much better despite worse results. To paint as accurate a picture as we can, Broxton did give up four of his five September earnies in one outing against the Pittsburgh Pirates. That coming a day after the “Mark Reynolds didn’t know how many outs there were” game in which Broxton blew a save in the 8th inning against the St. Louis Cardinals.

The results were far more positive than negative for Broxton, but as is the case when you’re pitching late in games that are usually close, the individual bad results loom larger than the sum of the positives. Still, Broxton showed the late-inning mentality rebounding after a few days off to put up a pair of scoreless innings to close out the year.

Broxton’s professional road to Milwaukee is one of some note. If you’ve never looked into Broxton’s path, allow me to fill in some of those mental gaps.

Originally drafted by the Los Angeles Dodgers in the second round of the 2002 First-Year Player Draft out of Burke County High School in Waynesboro, Georgia, Broxton grew into a 6’4″, 295 pound frame that he used (and uses) to generate a lot of power behind a heavy fastball. A full-time reliever following his 2005 MLB debut for the Dodgers, Broxton has posted career bests in various seasons of 82.0 innings pitched (2007), 36 saves (2009), and a 2.30 ERA (2014).

Twice an All-Star (2009 & 2010), Broxton would pitch parts of seven seasons for the Dodgers before leaving as a free agent. He signed a one-year deal with the Kansas City Royals in 2012. The Royals would trade Broxton to the Reds later that same year. The following winter, Broxton would re-sign with the Reds on a three-year deal (with a mutual option for a 4th year) worth at least $22 million and up to $29 million in base salary. With an eye on the future, the Reds dealt Broxton in the division to the contending, if floundering, Brewers to bring some relief from their bullpen to their budget.

As we sit here today, Saturday, February 14, Broxton is lined up to be the closer when Opening Day rolls around on April 6 (just 51 days away). Whether that holds remains to be seen. The Brewers have been linked repeatedly to current Phillies closer Jonathan Papelbon which suggests that Doug Melvin doesn’t completely trust Broxton to handle the 9th inning at this point in his career. In fact, if one Ken Rosenthal report is true, the Brewers even offered Broxton back to the Phillies in one round of negotiations so that the Brewers wouldn’t be taking on quite so much “new” salary if they acquired Papelbon.

For now though, “Brox” will get the ball in the ninth. We all know how volatile that job can be though. Recent history? How about 2014 when Jim Henderson was earmarked for the job until physical limitations thrust K-Rod into the role. It happens all the time.

I had a chance to talk to Broxton’s agent in an interview conducted right after the announcement of the trade came down last season. At the time, B.B. Abbott told me that Broxton was happy to be joining a pennant race and would be content helping the Brewers in any way manager Ron Roenicke wanted to use him. That article can be found here.

Broxton is a competitor though, so I can only imagine how much he’d probably want the 9th inning back if he can get another crack at it. For the Brewers’ sake, you hope it’s because he’s pitched well enough to earn it and it’s not simply by default.

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Brewers By the (Jersey) Numbers ’15 – #52 Jimmy Nelson

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The last 36 hours of my personal life have been crazy. While that doesn’t affect you, it does mean that I need to cut this profile short to get it posted.

Wearing #52 for the foreseeable future is…

Jimmy Nelson.

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After making his big league debut as a September call-up in 2013, James Jacob Nelson would find himself on the outside looking in when camp broke in 2014. He would instead start the year at Class-AAA Nashville, quickly establishing himself as the staff ace. Nelson would end up pitching in 17 games for Nashville in 2014, compiling a 1.46 ERA across 111.0 innings pitched. That’s just 18 earned runs allowed. His batting average against for Nashville was a miniscule .179 with a 0.92 WHIP and 114 strikeouts. In 431 batters faced as a Sounds pitcher, Nelson allowed just three home runs.

Great strikeouts per nine (9.2), good walk rate (2.6), heavy ground ball tendency (57.3%) and skinny line drive rate (12.5%)? Yes please.

When the trade deadline was approaching and Milwaukee holding a lead of a couple of games in the National League Central, there were many questions surrounding Nelson. Would he be offered in trade to secure a starting pitcher? Would he come up to bolster Milwaukee’s rotation or bullpen? Was he ready for the big leagues despite clearly having nothing left to prove in the minors?

To that point in the season, Nelson had made four starts. He had a spot start in May against the Miami Marlins which he pitched worse than his numbers show but still ended up with a scoreless outing and a win. He then joined the rotation when Marco Estrada was demoted to the bullpen just before the All-Star break. He was hammered by St. Louis in that first July start but showed better after that putting up “quality starts” (defined as at least 6.0 innings pitch with three or fewer runs allowed) in his next five turns. In fact, he dropped his ERA from 5.40 to 3.86 over those five outings, three of which the Brewers won.

In August, both Kyle Lohse and Matt Garza would lose time to injuries and Nelson found himself smack dab in the middle of the divisional race and responded well enough for a rookie. Nelson would be sent to the bullpen following a start on September 7 against the Cardinals. He fared better than back on July 12, but still wasn’t pitching to the level the Brewers needed him to be. When the rotation was at “full strength” following the injury bug, it was Mike Fiers and not Nelson who remained as the fifth guy.

Nelson made two appearances out of the bullpen before making one final start on September 26, once it was clear that the Brewers were sunk.

Nelson’s trial by fire season was complete. All told, it was a 4.93 ERA in 69.1 innings across 12 starts and 14 games pitched for the rookie right-hander out of the University of Alabama. His inexperience was evident at times and, by his own admission, he got away from his pitch sequencing and selection that worked so well for him in the minors. He was primarily, overwhelmingly a two-pitch pitcher in his 2014 Brewers campaign. He knows he needs to feature his change up more, and reports are that he’s working on another pitch as well to really give him more weapons on the mound. His slider can be and was a wipeout offering at times with Milwaukee in 2014, but the consistency needs to come around on it.

A 2nd round pick in 2010, Nelson was often overlooked by prospect mavens but consistently improved year after year in the minors, eventually assuming the mantle of “top pitching prospect” after Wily Peralta graduated. After Dylan Covey decided not to sign with the Brewers from the first round of Nelson’s year, and 2011 co-first-rounders Taylor Jungmann and Jed Bradley both lagging behind their projections to this point, Nelson emerging as a dependable rotation option would be a nice win for Milwaukee’s scouting and development staffs. Granted, you probably expect a second-rounder to be there anyway, which keeps Nelson from being some unearthed gem, but a win is a win and getting any homegrown starting pitchers to the majors is a good thing.

Nelson has reached the top level. Staying there is up to him.

Follow Jimmy on Twitter: @Jimmy_J_Nelson

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Brewers By the (Jersey) Numbers ’15 – #53 Brandon Kintzler

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We roll along on “Brewers By the (Jersey) Numbers” as the temperatures dip in Wisconsin. Hopefully knowing that we’re one day closer to Opening Day on April 6 helps warm your soul.

Today’s profile is on a player who is one of the best stories of perseverance and eventual success currently on the roster…

Brandon Kintzler.

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Brandon Lee Kintzler is no stranger to the BBtJN countdown series. As such, if you really want his full backstory of overcoming injury, persevering through non-affiliated ball, working his way to the big leagues, and overcoming more injuries to stick…hit the search box and enter “Brandon Kintzler BBtJN” and scroll through the previous accounts.

After you do that, however, realize that 2014 contains another chapter in his saga. After once working his way into a prominent setup role in Ron Roenicke’s 2013 bullpen, Kintlzer dealt at times with ineffectiveness due to, perhaps worse, some inconsistency last season. The inconsistency was brought on by physical limitation as Kintzler wound up requiring off-season surgery on his left patellar tendon to correct an issue which had progressively gotten worse over the course of two years.

The 5’10” right-hander from Nevada is no stranger to overcoming odds though, as I mentioned. He was still able to figure out a way to pitch relatively effectively, including being a secret weapon (as much as any statistic can be a secret these days) against opposing left-handed hitters, who he collectively held to a .648 OPS in 88 plate appearances. .250/.310/.338 slash line. Believe it or not, that’s actually worse than he career split against lefties. Speaking of career splits, Kintlzer was markedly worse against right-handers in 2014 when compared to his full MLB career.

Kintzler looks to return to a middle relief role to begin 2015, though he could pitch his way back into the later innings if his knee proves to be as troublesome in 2014 as he felt it was. Higher-leverage situations will be harder to come by for Kintzler should the Brewers do what many people expect and add another piece to their bullpen before camp breaks.

We haven’t been given an official update on Kintzler in some time, but the fact that it wasn’t a point of discussion at Brewers On Deck back on January 25 in Milwaukee makes me think that he should be a full participant in camp from the first day on. Then again, they could very well ease him back if they want to monitor the knee to see how it reacts to more consistent pitching.

All that said, I expect Kintzler to rebound and once again contribute to a bullpen that could be a strength for this edition of the Brewers.

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Brewers By the (Jersey) Numbers ’15 – #54 Michael Blazek

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Last year, as we trudged our way through a woefully cold and snowy winter in Wisconsin, I profiled today’s Brewers player on February 5. This year, with Mother Nature taking it easier on us in the Dairy State, I again profile this man as we sit 54 days away from Opening Day. Only now, it’s February 11. That’s because the season gets as late a start as you could hope for by not coming around until April 6.

But I digress. Let’s move forward and not consider how Major League Baseball added six days to our winter this year as we take a look back at the 2014 campaign of…

Michael Blazek.

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Michael Robert Blazek had his first profile in my annual countdown series last year, so if you need a refresher on how he was acquired by the Brewers and the Cliff’s Notes version of his pro career up to that point, check it out here.

As for 2014, Blazek would spend all of the season pitching with the Class-AAA affiliate of the Brewers. The 6’0″ right-hander, who turns 26 in March,  appeared in 37 games for Triple-A Nashville of the Pacific Coast League last year. He would pitch to a 4.15 ERA across 102.0 innings pitched, his highest innings total since he was a full-time starter in the Cardinals system back in 2011. Blazek worked out of the bullpen to begin the year, but as injuries and call-ups dotted the Nashville transaction log, he eventually answered the bell of starting. He would make 17 starts, winning four and losing just one.

Blazek had mixed results in 2014. He had 17 appearances in which he allowed runs, but allowed just one run in only four of them. To put it another way, Blazek either pitched very well or quite roughly. Blazek gave up at least three runs on eight separate occasions, including four outings of at least four runs allowed.

If you read last year’s article or any scouting reports on Blazek, you know that control and command have been the problems that keep him from blowing away big league hitters. Some evidence: In the eight games allowing three runs or more, only once did Blazek get roughed up without issuing a walk. Most of those games had at least two walks allowed. His worst outing of the season — a four inning, seven earned run start on August 19 — saw Blazek walk four Albuquerque Isotopes.

I caught up with Blazek at the annual Brewers On Deck fan fest in Milwaukee (held this year on Sunday, January 25) and asked him about his control and what he was doing to improve. His answer is near the end of this audio. It’s not long.

For 2015, Blazek needs to hope that his hard work during the off-season pays dividends. He’ll almost assuredly begin the season at Triple-A with the new affiliate in Colorado Springs. And although Blazek only allowed nine home runs in his 102.0 innings last year, walks ahead of doubles can be similarly brutal if the merry-go-round gets a-spinnin’.

I also asked Blazek about his preparation from a length perspective. As you no doubt took to time to hear in the audio clip, he said that he prepares as a starter every off-season so he’ll have that endurance and arm strength should he be asked to start.

The herd is a little thin at Triple-A for starters following the off-season trades of first Marco Estrada and then Yovani Gallardo which guaranteed jobs in the big league rotation to Mike Fiers and Jimmy Nelson, both of whom opened 2014 in Nashville’s rotation. Taylor Jungmann is the presumed #1 for the Sky Sox, and former big leaguer Hiram Burgos has been resigned after some injuries (though there’s no guarantee he’ll begin in Triple-A). Tyler Cravy reached Triple-A at the end of 2014 and could start there in 2015. You’d assume Ariel Peña could be there as well. Johnny Hellweg will rejoin the rotation this summer once he’s cleared to following his long Tommy John rehab. The well-regarded Taylor Williams and Hobbs Johnson, non-roster invitees to big league camp this year, haven’t yet pitched above High-A.

We’ll see which role Blazek ends up with to kick off 2015, but he’ll be doing so in Colorado Springs. Whether he spends all year there is as much up to him as anyone or anything else.

You can follow Michael Blazek on Twitter: @MichaelBlazek34

Catch up on the countdown!

Group Ticket Sales Begin Thursday

The Milwaukee Brewers will begin to sell group ticket packages to the general public for all home dates (except Opening Day) beginning this Thursday, February 12 at 9 a.m.  Group orders of 25 or more have prices starting as low as $9 per person for designated dates and can be ordered by calling the group sales department at 414-902-GRPS (4777).

Groups at Miller Park enjoy the advantage of locking in their seating locations before individual tickets go on sale to the general public on Saturday, February 28. Some of the benefits for group outings at Miller Park include name recognition on the Miller Park scoreboard, block seating in a preferred location, no per ticket handling fees and two Group Leader tickets to a future game.

The 2015 schedule features high-profile opponents making appearances at Miller Park such as the Kansas City Royals, Chicago Cubs, Los Angeles Dodgers and St. Louis Cardinals.  Monday through Friday and select weekend games offer many ways to save on group tickets with prices starting at $9.  The earlier a group purchases tickets, the more they save.

Prices for All-Inclusive Areas range from $39-$112 per person.  These areas include the Miller Lite Deck, located just above the right field bleachers; the ATI Club, located on the field level giving you a player’s view of the action; the Gehl Club, which was named one of the top five luxury areas in all of baseball by Forbes Travel Guide; and the Dew Deck, featuring a 25-foot high climbing wall.  In addition, for those fans looking to sample the All-Inclusive Areas they can now purchase the AIA Tour Package.  For $299 fans will receive one game in each of the five All-Inclusive Areas for select dates. More details can be found at brewers.com/allin.

Also available are 20-person and 30-person Party Suites for single game rental, which offer open-air seating, a private lounge that features a wet bar and in-house flat panel HD televisions, as well as complete food and beverage service from DNC Sportservice.

Key large group days for 2015 are Weather Day (April 23 vs. Cincinnati), Little League Night (June 16 vs. Kansas City), Boy Scout Night (August 3 vs. San Diego), Girl Scout Night (July 31 vs. Chicago-NL) and American Legion Day (August 9 vs. St. Louis).

Groups can make a purchase by calling the Brewers group sales department at 414-902-GRPS (4777) or by visiting Brewers.com/groups, beginning at 9 a.m. this Thursday, February 12.

Injury News: Lucroy Expected to Miss 4-6 Weeks

JonathanLucroy1

(Forgive the relative tardiness of this, but I was busy at Truck Day and finally am at a keyboard.)

The Brewers sent out the following tweet this morning, which worried fans.

The injury — a partial tear of his right hamstring tendon near the top of the muscle — flared up when Lucroy began running drills about two weeks ago. Apparently the area bothered Lucroy as early as August of last year, but the Brewer backstop played through the discomfort. The strain is classified as “mild” and both the Brewers medical staff and Lucroy himself feel that the All-Star will be just fine for Opening Day on April 6.

Brewers COO Rick Schlesinger met with the media during “Truck Day” at Miller Park and said that 4-6 weeks is a range and that there’s a good chance that someone as dedicated and diligent as Lucroy could come in on the short side of the same. Schlesinger said that the club won’t rush one of it’s most important players back before he’s healthy. He also chuckled and said that the biggest thing might be slowing Lucroy down so that the catcher doesn’t go too hard too quickly and suffer a setback.

It was revealed to the media that, to aid in his recovery, Lucroy received a PRP injection as well.

The silver lining, according to Gord Ash who met with the media about Lucroy’s injury earlier on Wednesday, is that he won’t be completely shut down from Spring Training activities. He can still field, throw, catch, and do anything that won’t stress the injured tendon. Running is out for the time being and I can’t imagine squatting behind home plate at all is a good thing for him at this point.

From an overall team preparation standpoint, Lucroy missing this time behind the dish won’t be too large of a negative. He’s worked with all the starting pitchers in the past and unless the team does acquire Jonathan Papelbon from the Philadelphia Phillies, there are only a handful of new relief pitchers (Cotts, Knebel, Pérez) to get to know. That can be done with side work or even late in camp as there’s more work to go around for the big league guys.

As for Lucroy’s scheduled defensive work at first base, it sounds like he might be slowed, but he won’t be stopped. If he is to get some starts over there against left-handed pitching, he’ll want to get better quickly. Colorado, the Brewers season-opening opponent, could potentially start southpaws in two of the three games of the opening series at Miller Park.

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