Results tagged ‘ Ryan Dempster ’

Hot Stove Report: Brewers Made Offer to Dempster

Doug Melvin spoke to Tom Haudricourt this morning after free agent pitcher Shaun Marcum said on the radio yesterday that he’d be open to returning to Milwaukee.

(You can read about that part of the conversation on Haudricourt’s blog.)

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Photo courtesy of John F. Rhodes – taken during the fourth inning of a MLB baseball game against the Baltimore Orioles in Arlington, Texas on Monday, August 20, 2012.

I’m posting a new blog today to expound on an additional point revealed by Melvin. He confirmed that he had made an offer to free agent pitcher Ryan Dempster but that based on reports and that he hasn’t heard back from Dempster’s agent since, it appears to Melvin that Dempster won’t be coming to Milwaukee.

In the blog post, Haudricourt says that Melvin confirmed it was a two-year offer, but on Twitter, the Brewers beat writer appeared less certain about the terms:

I asked a source and he told me that the offer to Dempster was officially for two guaranteed years with a club option for a third year. The guaranteed dollars, however, were not competitive to what Dempster reportedly turned down from Boston (2yr/$25 million) and Kansas City (2yr/$26 million) last week.

I suppose the thought process would be that a third year option (with appropriate buyout price) might allow for a lower AAV over the guaranteed two years if nobody else stepped up to offer a guaranteed third year. While there has been no indication the Boston has gone to a third guaranteed year, it could be what got the two sides to the point of being “close” which I first saw reported this morning by FOXSports.com’s Ken Rosenthal.

So, to summarize, it looks like Ryan Dempster will not be donning a Brewers uniform to begin the 2013 season.

***UPDATE: Ryan Dempster is reportedly in agreement (again via Ken Rosenthal) on a two-year deal with the Red Sox for $26.5 million.***

Knowing what I know about the offer, that’s not a shock, but it’s also something I’m more than comfortable with. The Brewers have a budget in mind, made Dempster an offer that they felt was palatable based on that budget and their expectations for the following two seasons, and weren’t going to put themselves in a position where they felt that they were doing a disservice to the long-term view of this franchise.

They may not have gotten their man, but in forgoing increasing their offer to guarantee a third year to a player who they felt wouldn’t properly fulfill that obligation they feel they will still come out ahead in the long run. I don’t disagree with that philosophy at all.

Update on J.P. Howell:

To update on the most recent Hot Stove Report focusing on J.P. Howell, I was also told that the Brewers have made no further advancement on Howell at this time. I wasn’t told why and they certainly still could. Just wanted to pass that along.

See Previous Hot Stove Reports:

Winter Meetings Day 3 Recap: Swing and a Miss, Strike 2!

What a busy day at the Winter Meetings in Nashville, Tennessee.

Busy, but not all that productive for the Milwaukee Brewers.

After expressing their interest in Sean Burnett, Jason Grilli, Randy Choate, Ryan Dempster, and others this week, the Brewers have lost out on a couple of those names.

Burnett is reportedly going to the Angels on a two-year deal worth “just south of” $9.5 million total.

Mike DiGiovanna has since confirmed the cost for Burnett, which is higher than I was told the Brewers wanted to offer.

Jason Grilli tweeted that he was headed to the Winter Meetings for a “full day” (which isn’t over yet) and his agent Gary Sheffield reportedly told Nick Cafardo that he was closing in on a deal. While I’ve been told that Sheffield isn’t as close as he made it seem, it could still come together quickly. Also, Doug Melvin now tells the media that he hasn’t spoken directly to Sheffield this week despite telling those same reporters on Monday that they had talked about Grilli.

CBSSports.com’s Jon Heyman tweeted about why the market for Grilli might be bigger than the Brewers had anticipated when discussing the offer idea I mentioned yesterday.

Not that it’s not understandable to a degree, but Melvin seems to change his story to keep himself from looking bad if his advances are rebuffed by free agents. Manager Ron Roenicke confirmed the team’s interest in Grilli as well, but not in the $5-$7 million AAV range. If you press me to remember specific examples I’ll try, but it’s just a feeling that has been in my head for a while. This new Grilli talk feels no different to me.

For what it’s worth on Grilli, this came in just prior to my posting this early evening recap and I doubt that the Brewers are in play despite being so earlier this week:

Randy Choate, reportedly on the Brewers radar as a left-handed reliever agreed to a (are you sitting down) reported three-year deal with the St. Louis Cardinals.

It’s becoming quite apparent that the market for relief pitching is inflated right now. Melvin may be better of simply biding his time until cheaper options start to sign their deals once the market is set.

The latest on the Ryan Dempster situation is that he still wants three years and the Brewers still don’t want to go over two years. That’s not a secret anymore, but either discuss compromises or simply move on at some point.

More on the Brewers starting pitching desires come from Danny Knobler:

Would the Brewers be willing to trade Hart? They’d listen. Hart isn’t signed past next season and the long-term future at the position is something which the Brewers need to make a decision about. Plus Hart could always ask for way more money than the Brewers want to pay him and he could leave town anyway for no return. Now, should they trade Hart and reinsert Mat Gamel as the team’s every day first baseman? That would depend on what the Brewers would get back beyond the $9.5 million or so in salary relief.

In minor league news, Tom Haudricourt of the Milwaukee Journal/Sentinel passed along that the Brewers have resigned shortstop Hainley Statia to a minor league deal.

Also as I reported earlier, the Brewers signed someone new to the organization in right-handed relief pitcher Chris Jakubauskas:

Doug Melvin did tell the media that he is keeping an eye on a specific player as it relates to the Rule V Draft tomorrow but he doubts the player will reach them with the 16th pick of said draft.

Finally, Gord Ash was a guest on a Toronto-based radio program broadcasting from Nashville. He confirmed the team’s mutual interest in Josh Hamilton and laid out some reasons that Hamilton was drawn to the Brewers but said that it simply comes down to a matter of dollars and Milwaukee’s not having enough of them given the way the market appears to have been shaping up for the free agent former AL MVP.

***UPDATE: Adam McCalvy indicated that Doug Melvin said he met with the agent who happens to be the representative of free agents J.P Howell and Edwin Jackson but wouldn’t divulge what was discussed.***

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Hot Stove Report: Brewers Make Pair of Offers

As of last night, Brewers GM Doug Melvin stated that he didn’t have any trade discussions underway. He also admitted to making contact with a pair of free agent relievers.

What I didn’t recall reading was him saying that he hadn’t made any contract offers yet so I was curious. I reached out to a source and was told that the Brewers have offers “on the table” to both LHP Sean Burnett and RHP Jason Grilli.

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Please make sure you read that properly. Offers only. No indication of response. Nothing “imminent” or “guaranteed” nor should anything like that be implied. Does that make sense? Good.

I was told dollar amounts on both deals, but money is very fluid and can change pretty rapidly so keep that in mind. The years I was told don’t change as often so I’ll pass along those specifics.

Grilli’s offer is a one-year deal at a slight raise over his 2012 salary of $1.1 million from the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Burnett’s offer is a two-year pact resulting in an AAV greater than his 2012 salary of $2.3 million with the Washington Nationals. I wasn’t told how the dollars would breakdown between the two years at this time.

Could options or incentives or other elements to contracts change or be added or what have you? Of course. Just passing along what was passed along to me.

It was also confirmed to me what Melvin said yesterday in that Dempster is seeking a three-year deal and the Brewers are still at two (at least right now), but it was not said whether the Brewers had a formalized offer on the table to Dempster. I’d guess not because Dempster’s agent is on the record as saying that (at least for right now) an offer under three years in length would be a deal-breaker.

I was also passed along a note about Josh Hamilton due to assumed interest. I was told that right now Hamilton’s camp isn’t even entertaining teams unless they show a willingness to go seven years on a contract. That seems absurd to me based on the majority of reports out there. I have a feeling that this tidbit is absolute misdirection. It was indicated that the Brewers did express interest (as has been reported of their being “on the periphery”) but at a length of five years (again, at least right now). I’m less inclined to believe that Hamilton will get seven years, for what it’s worth.

So, there you go. As with all rumors, especially those coming out of the Winter Meetings, take them with the necessary amount of salt.

***UPDATE: I was told that the Brewers did not make “official” offers to Grilli or Burnett. Terms were discussed but official offers were not submitted to the players’ representatives.***

See Previous Hot Stove Reports:

Winter Meetings Day 1 Recap: Rumors and Meetings and Contacts, Oh Well?

The Winter Meetings are underway in Nashville. Hopefully you read my preview column so that I don’t have to re-reference a lot of reasoning behind my forthcoming comments, but if you didn’t you can definitely do so and then come right back.

The first official day of the Winter Meetings is complete and while much talking and negotiating takes place “after hours”, there is daily availability from Doug Melvin to recap the day for the Milwaukee Brewers.

Today, Melvin pulled back the current a bit to confirm that he has made contact regarding a pair of free agent relief pitchers. He also, as I said he would and already basically did, retreated from his previous comments stating that they would not go over two years for a starting pitcher. He reminded those that needed reminding that for the right player at the right dollars, he’d go longer than two years.

Melvin was asked about the team’s reciprocal interest in free agent starting pitcher Ryan Dempster. He said that he hadn’t met with Dempster’s agent yet but that he “might as well” discuss the right-hander while they’re all here. He was quick to note that it might simply be time to let their young pitchers earn their keep. He listed the same group of in-house options that I’ve mentioned more than once in this space, so no reason to list them again. He did state that he feels the top level of the organization’s depth at starting pitcher currently features Tyler Thornburg and Hiram Burgos.

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Much-discussed free agent relief pitchers Sean Burnett (left) and Jason Grilli.

The relief pitchers with which Melvin has made contact are righty Jason Grilli and lefty Sean Burnett. Melvin was clear that he wants to get a left-handed relief pitcher but through free agency rather than a trade. He also said that while he spoke to Grilli’s agent, former big leaguer Gary Sheffield (yes, that Gary Sheffield), there is still a long list of available relievers. Those names on Milwaukee’s radar include Jason Frasor, Kevin Gregg, and Jon Rauch. Melvin noted that he has no interest in Matt Capps or Daisuke Matsuzaka. There’s always a group of recent additions to the organization that will get  an opportunity to fill a bullpen spot or two including Michael Olmstead, Fautino De Los Santos, Jairo Ascenio, Arcenio Leon, et cetera.

More specifically on the if any negotiations are underway or any ideas are “down the road”, Melvin said that he had no active trade talks and that the trade market was pretty quiet right now while the top free agents determine the locations of their new home offices.

As for current Brewers, Melvin was asked about Corey Hart and responded that he hasn’t talked to Hart’s agent about an extension yet and also had not fielded any recent trade ideas for the longest-tenured Brewer. In other words: nothing to report.

Melvin was also asked about their current catching situation. He made it sound like he’d prefer to keep Jonathan Lucroy and Martin Maldonado in place but has been asked more a couple of times about the availability of half of the catching duo. He did also say, however, that someone would have to come with a strong offer to pry one away (likely Maldonado would be more available than Lucroy, in my opinion) so that’s not an untouchable situation by any means.

Finally, the subject of the big fish Zack Greinke and Josh Hamilton was broached. Melvin said that he didn’t foresee getting involved on either player because they appeared to be “getting market value” which means too pricey for Milwaukee.

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Winter Meetings Preview: Milwaukee Brewers

2012-Winter-Meetings-logoThe Winter Meetings aren’t officially underway just yet as I sit down to give my keyboard a workout this evening, but the Opryland Hotel in Nashville, Tennessee is set and baseball executives from across North America have checked into their rooms and have no doubt begun to follow up on things begun prior to departing for Music City.

Doug Melvin is there (along with his entourage) and has had plenty to say about what he expects out of the 2012 Winter Meetings. With appreciation to the Milwaukee Journal/Sentinel for the quotes themselves, I’ll be laying out some things Melvin said and analyzing what I think they mean for the Brewers heading through the rest of the off-season.

Before I do that, let’s recap the basics about what educated fans know already about the Brewers and their needs.

Bullpen

John AxfordThe bullpen was bad in 2012. In fact, it underperformed so incredibly that it alone could be labeled as a singular reason that the team failed to reach the postseason. Just a handful of losses flipped to wins and the Brewers would have had that opportunity to face the Braves in the first-ever National League Wild Card Game.

As a result of their collective struggles, the bullpen has been basically gutted. Gone are multi-year Brewers like Kameron Loe, Francisco Rodriguez, Tim Dillard, Mike McClendon, and Manny Parra. Along with them, first-year tryouts for Jose Veras and Livan Hernandez ended in free agency. Even short-term fixes like Vinnie Chulk came and went. The only guys left who pitched in the big league bullpen to end the regular season and are still a part of this organization are likely closer John Axford, likely setup man Jim Henderson, and the finally healthy Brandon Kintzler.

As we all know, the Brewers did announce a trade acquisition on Saturday when they dealt a minor-league outfielder for established relief pitcher Burke Badenhop. That addition still leaves three jobs to be filled. FoxSports.com’s Jon Morosi already tweeted earlier this evening about one of those open roles:

Just some names to know.

Starting Pitching

Yovani GallardoThe Brewers got good performances for the most part from the men who took the ball every fifth day during the year but there is a lot of flux possible in what was left at the end.

A return of all five starting pitchers from the 2011 NLCS team was seen as a rarity, not to mention that the Brewers only used six starting pitchers all that season. Now? Randy Wolf was released, Shaun Marcum is a free agent, Zack Greinke was traded, and Chris Narveson is coming off of shoulder surgery.

That’s the stuff of how question marks are made.

Yovani Gallardo is set to return atop the rotation but after that hasn’t yet been decided. As it stands right now, the Brewers have probably six arms vying for the open four spots in the rotation. Mike Fiers, Marco Estrada, Chris Narveson, Wily Peralta, Mark Rogers and, to a lesser extent in my opinion, Tyler Thornburg.

Doug Melvin has mentioned a couple of free agent starters by name this off-season already (Edwin Jackson and Ryan Dempster, for the record) but had some commentary on that front as well.

Offense

ryan-braunWhile the starting offense can be returned completely intact, the bench will need addressing and a couple of decisions need to be made.

Will Jean Segura begin the season as the starting everyday shortstop in Milwaukee or in the aforementioned city of Nashville as he gets a bit more seasoning in Triple-A? Who will take over as the backup infielders after the Brewers burned through a number of MLB veterans during 2012? Travis Ishikawa is gone, Alex Gonzalez is a free agent after being hurt most of the season, Mat Gamel should be healthy but missed a ton of at-bats and doesn’t really have a job at this point…and that’s just the infield.

In the outfield, Nyjer Morgan was released and Logan Schafer seems incredibly obvious to become the fourth outfielder with Milwaukee. After that, though, will they carry a fifth outfielder? If so, who will it be?

About the only spot on the field where there isn’t a question is behind the plate. Jonathan Lucroy and Martin Maldonado are healthy and coming off of strong seasons.

Excuse whilst I knock on some wood.

Okay. With that, let’s get to those quotes from Melvin.

dougmelvinThe big quote is one about payroll. After setting a franchise record in 2012 with a payroll north of $100 million, the Brewers finished in the red, meaning that they actually lost money this year. (Part of that is because the fans didn’t show up quite as well as they had budgeted for, but wins bring attendance.)

Melvin said, “(The payroll is) coming down. We’ll probably look at (an opening payroll) of $80 million or thereabouts. We want to keep flexibility in case players become available.”

In other words, despite a large chunk of money coming off the books there should be no expectation of a dollar-for-dollar reassignment. That could limit how much the Brewers can do in free agency but it will almost certainly limit the magnitude of what the Brewers can do.

That assumes that Melvin sticks to his initial words, but more on that in a bit.

Melvin was clear in that the Brewers don’t plan to get involved on high-end (in terms of years or dollars) relief pitchers.

“We’re not looking at those kinds of guys. We’d probably be reluctant to go three years with anybody. We might have to do two. David Riske was our last three-year deal for a reliever. That didn’t work out,” said Melvin.

Would left-handed reliever Sean Burnett be a pipe-dream then? Burnett had to debunk a rumor that he was seeking a four-year deal but that doesn’t mean he isn’t looking for three.

The starting rotation was mentioned earlier and was brought up to Melvin as well. He stated that with how the contracts worked out with Jeff Suppan and Randy Wolf that the Brewers “wouldn’t go three years with a starter. You look at those contracts and they don’t usually work out. Look at all the free-agent players who have been traded the last few years. Free agency gets people excited, but it’s not as effective as people would like to think.”

Does that mean that following a report which I linked to on Twitter the other day that the Brewers are taking themselves out of the market for the aforementioned Jackson and Dempster, both of whom are believed to be seeking deals of a minimum three years? Perhaps.

Melvin stated that the Brewers will probably go with some of their younger players in the rotation but that he understands the dangers of trusting a small sample size.

josh hamiltonAs for the offense, Melvin admitted (as reported in this space) that contact was made between him and Josh Hamilton’s agent Michael Moye, but Melvin also said that, “I don’t see (a big-ticket signing) happening. If it does, we’d have to be creative with something.”

Melvin added, “You never know how those things work out. I never thought we’d be able to get Aramis Ramirez last year (for what they signed him for). Things change. If major things happen, you have to be prepared to act quickly.”

In other words, Melvin is reminding everyone that you simply can’t use definitives when discussing transactions in Major Leage Baseball. Or, to go the cliched route…Never say never.

Finally, for the bench, Melvin said that they’re in the market “mostly for depth.” He stated that they “may have to go with some of our younger guys” but that “it’s always nice to have an experienced bat on the bench.”

And since a lot of you have reached out via social media as to why I haven’t pass along many rumors in the last few days, Melvin confirmed that he has made no offers to any free agents yet and, as of the time he said so out loud, he didn’t have any serious trade talks going either.

Then again, he’s in Nashville now at the Winter Meetings. It’s made for just those kinds of things.

Stay tuned all week for reaction and analysis to anything and everything that I hear or read related to the Brewers. I’ll pass it along just as soon as I can.

My suggestion? If you aren’t on Twitter or you are and don’t follow me @BrewerNation…now’s one of the best times of the year to take the plunge. I can’t always blog right away but tweeting is much easier to do on the fly.

Hot Stove Report: Brewers Begin Testing Pitching Market

The Winter Meetings start next week and, as I’ve said more than once in this space, there is opportunity for a lot to get done every year during them.

If I need to post a picture of Ryan Dempster, why not post a picture of Ryan Dempster with Marisa Miller?

Last year we here at Brewer Nation were the first to bring to you that the Brewers made contact and were potentially “down the road” with then free agent Aramis Ramirez prior to the Winter Meetings. We had the money right though we were slightly off on the years (though we later learned that it may have been a misinterpretation on our end of the information we obtained).

Well, Doug Melvin is at it again in the days leading up to the 2012 Winter Meetings in Nashville, Tennessee. Though “it” in this case is merely dipping his toe in to test the water a bit more so than being anywhere significant.

FoxSports.com’s Ken Rosenthal reported this morning that the Brewers are one of three teams that have “shown interest” in free agent starting pitcher Ryan Dempster.

(By the way, this absolutely qualifies as something that makes sense but that I hadn’t yet heard independently so it’s not something I had passed along yet.)

Rosenthal said in a tweet earlier:

Naturally, I’ve already seen on Twitter where someone interpreted that as “The Brewers are close to signing Dempster to a three-year deal.” Jumping to conclusions is one of the most repeated acts on the internet.

But just take Rosenthal’s tweet for what it says which (according to his sources) is:

  • Ryan Dempster wants a three-year contract.
  • The Milwaukee Brewers have expressed interest in Ryan Dempster.
  • The Boston Red Sox have expressed interest in Ryan Dempster.
  • The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim have expressed interest in Ryan Dempster.

It does not say that any of those teams are willing to give Dempster a three-year deal, just that Dempster (understandably) is seeking a three-year deal. It does not say that Dempster is not willing to sign a contract at less than three years. It does not say whether any of the mentioned teams expressed their interest in Dempster after they learned that Dempster is seeking a three-year deal.

I hope I’ve covered all the ways the you could read into Rosenthal’s tweet.

I’ve reached out to someone to see if he knows anything further about the Brewers “expressed interest” in Ryan Dempster. I’ll update this space when I hear back.

***UPDATE: I heard back. My friend had heard the Brewers being tied to Dempster but thought it was “speculative” talk that sometimes goes on and not something concrete enough to pass along.***

See Previous Hot Stove Reports:

Series In Review: Brewers Fall Short of First Four-Game Wrigley Sweep

The Brewers hit the road following their brief three-game season-opening homestand. They headed south on Interstate 94 to Chicago to take on the Cubs in a four game series which, because it’s Chicago, meant two evening games and two day afternoon games.

The Crew took the first three games in the series and looked good heading into an opportunity for their first ever four-game sweep of the Cubs at Wrigley Field. They fell painfully short of that goal, but more on that later.

The fact is that in a venue where the 96-win 2011 Brewers only won two games all year, leaving town with three notches on the bedpost is certainly an acceptable outcome.

For more on each game’s individual happenings, read on!

Game 1 – Monday – Brewers (1-2): 7, Cubs (1-2): 5

Winning Pitcher: Shaun Marcum (1-0, 4.50) Losing Pitcher: Shawn Camp (0-1, 7.36)
Save: John Axford (1)

In the opening tilt of the series, the Brewers not only scored early (RBI sac fly by Aramis Ramirez, plating Nyjer Morgan), but often (scoring runs in six of their nine frames).

In a nice blend of small ball and…big ball, I guess…the Brewers got a solo home run from Rickie Weeks in the third and RBI extra-base hits from Mat Gamel (triple) in the sixth inning and Ramirez (double) in the Brewers’ next frame. Milwaukee also picked up RBIs by way of both a safety and suicide squeeze, and a pair of sacrifice flies.

The only real point of concern came in the bottom of the ninth when, sporting a 7-3 lead and with closer John Axford having just thrown 27 pitches the night before, manager Ron Roenicke called on Manny Parra to finish out the game.

Parra allowed a leadoff double and was lifted for Tim Dillard once the left-handed hitters were done. Dillard walked Geovany Soto which forced Roenicke’s hand.

Axford entered the game and allowed his first batter faced to single home a run on Parra’s linescore. With men at second and third and only one out, Axford struck out David DeJesus but then walked Darwin Barney to load the bases.

In a beautifully-called and executed sequence, Axford then struck out Starlin Castro on three pitches to end the game.

Game 2 – Tuesday – Brewers (2-2): 7, Cubs (1-3): 4

Winning Pitcher: Chris Narveson (1-0, 3.60) Losing Pitcher: Paul Maholm (0-1, 13.50)
Save: Francisco Rodriguez (1)

A cold night in the Windy City saw a team of (mostly) hooded men residing in the first base dugout.

The hoods designed to keep a player’s head and neck warm could also be pulled up to cover the face while running the bases, and the sight of so many of the Brewers wearing them caused many fans to invoke a “ninja” theme to the evening’s events.

It was a mostly fitting description for the early part of the game as the Brewers struck blows to the Cubs starting pitcher repeatedly. The loudest blow of the night for Milwaukee came from the first hitter in the batting order to plays sans shroud, Alex Gonzalez. He made plenty of noise by blasting a three-run home run into the left-center field bleachers, capping the scoring at five for the frame.

The ninja thing might have been a perfect description if not for the fact that Corey Hart and Mat Gamel were both hit by pitches in the first inning. After all, ninjas are supposed to be incredibly stealthy and therefore shouldn’t be able to be plunked.

Or something.

The Cubs were never really in this game, though they did cut the lead to three runs in the third inning.

There was more ninth inning drama as well. The Brewers once again put a four-run lead up against the Cubs final three outs and put a non-closer on the bump to begin the ninth.

After Kameron Loe had pitched two mostly brilliant innings of scoreless relief, Jose Veras was given the first chance to slam the door but hung a curveball to Geovany Soto which was blasted into the stands for a home run. After striking out the scuffling Marlon Byrd, Veras walked the pinch-hitting Bryan LaHair.

The situation now being a three-run lead with the tying run in the on-deck circle made it a Save opportunity. With John Axford having thrown over 50 pitches over the previous two days, manager Ron Roenicke had decided prior to the game that the Ax Man was off limits tonight. Roenicke walked to the mound and signaled for a right-hander to enter the game.

Francisco Rodriguez jogged to the mound looking to record his first Save as a member of the Milwaukee Brewers.

K-Rod needed just seven pitches to get through the final two hitters. He secured Chris Narveson’s first Win of the year by striking out David DeJesus and inducing Darwin Barney to ground out to Alex Gonzalez.

The Brewers had just guaranteed themselves no worse than a series split, but had eyes for more.

Game 3 – Wednesday – Brewers (3-2): 2, Cubs (1-4): 1

Winning Pitcher: Yovani Gallardo (1-1, 5.91) Losing Pitcher: Ryan Dempster (0-1, 1.88)
Save: John Axford (2)

Yovani Gallardo’s start on Opening Day was brutal. (You can click here for that recap.) A lot of people were questioning the staff ace and his abilities, which is ridiculous but they were, and were looking for a bounce-back start against the Cubs.

Gallardo delivered.

Going seven strong innings, only allowing one run (earned) while scattering five hits and two walks, he struck out six Cubs hitters on the day. He shaved nearly nine runs off of his ERA (early season small sample sizes are fun!), nearly a point and a half off of his WHIP, and thousands of doubters off his back about his admittedly rough start five days earlier.

Nearly exceeding his performance, however, was Cub starter Ryan Dempster. He too pitched on Opening Day for Chicago, but with much better personal results than Gallardo achieved. Dempster made it to the seventh scoreless, but allowed a one-out, two-run home run to George Kottaras which proved to be the difference in the game.

Gallardo was set to be pinch-hit for had Kottaras not come through, but instead he came back out in the bottom of the seventh and worked himself into and out of the only substantial Cub threat of the afternoon.

The eighth and ninth were by design after that, with both Francisco Rodriguez and John Axford striking out the side around two walks and one double, respectively.

Having hoisted the L flag atop Wrigley for the third consecutive game, the Brewers looked to do what they had never done before…

Sweep a four-game set from the Cubs at Wrigley Field.

Game 4 – Thursday – Brewers (4-2): 0, Cubs (1-5): 8

Winning Pitcher: Matt Garza (1-0, 1.23) Losing Pitcher: Zack Greinke (1-1, 6.75)

When you head into the final game of a series with a chance to sweep that series, and you have one of the best pitchers on your staff starting, you feel pretty good about your chances that day. So, too, did the Brewers with Zack Greinke toeing the rubber on Thursday afternoon.

In a confluence of recent and unfortunate trends, however, Greinke pitched during the day and on the road. While coincidental at best, neither of those situations was particularly friendly to Greinke last season. (For the record: Greinke’s Win-Loss record was good during the day last year, but we all know how much that actually reflects his performance.)

Regardless of the circumstances, Greinke seemed out of sorts the entire day. He barely touched speeds with his fastball that he usually sits comfortably at. He normally sits 94-95, touches 97, but on Thursday he was sitting 91-92 and his high watermark only rounded up to 95. PitchFX information had Greinke topping out at 94.9 MPH, while averaging 92.64. (Those figures were quoted to me by mutual Twitter follow Jaymes Langrehr of the Disciples of Uecker blog. You can follow him on Twitter: @JaymesL.)

The second half of the Brewers pair of aces could only muster 3.2 innings pitched on Thursday afternoon, and he was charged with eight earned runs before it was all said and done. That was a far cry from his seven shutout innings against the St. Louis Cardinals five days prior.

The highlights of the game for the Brewers would be that two relief pitchers, who had been previously roughed up a couple of times, posted multiple, scoreless innings in relief of Greinke. Manny Parra took over in the fourth inning and pitched through the sixth, striking out four along the way while walking none. Tim Dillard then covered the seventh and eighth, also walking no one. Each relief pitcher allowed two hits while working.

Otherwise, Matt Garza simply had his way with every Brewer hitter not named Nyjer Morgan (two hits in four trips to the plate) or Jonathan Lucroy (one hit, one walk in three PAs).  Garza only allowed three hits through 8.2 innings pitched, while striking out nine and walking only two.

His only hiccup, if you can even call it one, was when Garza induced a ground ball back to himself off of the bat of pinch-hitter Norichika Aoki but then threw the ball way over and past first baseman Bryan LaHair, allowing Aoki to reach.

With Garza then at 119 pitches, Cubs manager Dale Sveum marched to the mound and lifted his starter in favor of Monday’s starter Shawn Camp. Camp got George Kottaras to ground out on four pitches to finalize things.

In Summary…

Like I said at the top, taking three out of four games at Wrigley Field is never a bad thing, regardless of whether you lost the final game with arguably your best pitcher on the bump.

Games against the very much so rebuilding Cubs are just as important, if not more so, as games against other opponents in the division. You must beat the teams which you are supposed to beat if you hope to approach last season’s franchise-best win total.

I really liked seeing solid starts from Shaun Marcum and Chris Narveson in their first turns, and was greatly encouraged by the fact that heavy use early didn’t affect John Axford and Francisco Rodriguez as they were both very good as usual.

The bats need to wake up a bit still. Look no further than notoriously slow starter Aramis Ramirez (2-for-22 to begin the campaign) as evidence of that, but there is plenty of time to turn things around.

After beginning 2011 with a 0-4 record and not winning for the third time on the road until their ninth try, being 4-2 after six with three victories away from Miller Park isn’t a bad place to be.

The Brewers are in Atlanta tonight for the first of a three-game series. Tonight is the Braves’ home opener. That game will be contested by Randy Wolf and Jair Jurrjens with the first pitch being scheduled for 6:35 Central Daylight Time.

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