Spring Training, 2014
Well, that was fast. Thirteen games in just under four weeks goes quickly, especially with seven games in the first nine days. If there’s a silver lining from not going to the ball park anymore its the surest sign the season is about to start.
The Brewers started this spring season with two straight road games, with the home opener against the Dodgers on March first. I missed this game due to my wife’s birthday, so my first game back in the booth was on Monday, March 3rd against the Cardinals. Now, in case you haven’t heard, the Brewers adopted this stray mutt that wandered into the park one day. He’s a little thing, a Bichon mix with what looked to be some kind of terrier. He’s cute as dogs go, but being white the staff had trouble keeping him white, he always looked like he slept under a car with a leaky oil pan. He was named Hank (after Aaron) and achieved celebrity status to the point during one game the line was longer to get pictures taken with the dog than to get Fergie Jenkins’ autograph.
Speaking of, Jenkins was in Maryvale on March third along with former Cub Bob Dernier signing autographs for the Fergie Jenkins foundation. He made the rounds of all the spring training facilities and had with him guys like Blue Moon Odom, George Foster, Rollie Fingers, Bert Campaneris, Dave Stewart, Vida Blue and Gaylord Perry. My wife was out of town on business this day, so I had to bring my daughter with me. She got to meet Hank and had her picture taken with Jenkins, and as a bonus got to be the “Junior Announcer” for the game, which is a promotion the Brewers run to give a kid a chance to go up to the booth and announce the first three Brewer hitters in the bottom of the fourth inning. She rocked it.
The Cubs won the game with a late rally of Mike Fiers, but the highlight took place in the second inning when shortstop prospect Javier Baez lined a 425 foot bomb just to the right field side of the batter’s eye.
March 5 vs. Oakland: The Brewers won this game getting four runs off relievers Drew Pomeranz and Phil Humber after being stifled by starter Jarrod Parker. He seemed to be throwing well, so the subsequent Tommy John situation came as a surprise. He pitched into the fourth inning, giving up two hits, one a Ryan Braun homer. Enigmatic Michael Taylor went yard off Yovanni Gallardo for the A’s. Another prospect on hand for Oakland was outfielder Billy Burns. My friend Bernie Pleskoff routinely clocks him faster than Billy Hamilton, but his offensive profile is even less than Hamilton’s, so the chance he makes it at this point (he’s 24) is slim.
3/6 vs. Colorado: The Rockies were a split squad, so they sent over their Triple A team. Their shortstop, Cristhian Adames looked good, but no one else really stood out in a game the Brewers won late on an Elian Herrera homer.
3/7 vs. Padres. Padres won 6-2, with starter Tyson Ross the best pitcher I saw all spring. He’s a big guy and throws the ball so effortlessly. Matt Garza was the loser in his first Maryvale appearance. Highlight was an inside the park homer by Padres minor leaguer Rico Noel, a line drive to right center that skipped past Eugenio Velez in center.
3/8 vs. Royals. This was the most entertaining game of the spring, with both teams scoring runs and overcoming deficits. John Lamb started for KC and didn’t get out of the first inning, walking two and giving up four hits and four runs before taking a shower with two outs in the inning. The Brewers added another run in the second off reliever Ray Marimon to go up 5-0, game over, right? Wrong.
The Royals scored three in the third inning and two more in the sixth to tie the game, and scored a single run in the top of the ninth to take a 6-5 lead. In the bottom of the ninth, Mitch Haniger led off with a double and scored on a single by Jeff Bianchi. Sean Halton singled to put runners on first and second with no outs. Jason Rogers sacrificed, the Royals then walked Velez intentionally to load the bases for Robinzon Diaz, who promptly one hopped the left center wall to score Bianchi and win the game.
The best part of the day took place before the game started. In Maryvale, both teams enter and exit the field through a tunnel down the right field line. The Brewers side is the first base side, so when the visitors enter for the game they’ll usually walk around the diamond and enter the third base dugout from the outfield side. Sometimes they’ll walk down the first base line but far enough from the crowd lined up along the railings waiting for the Brewers to come out and sign autographs. Norichika Aoki came out and as a former Brewer walked over and signed a few, but that really wasn’t unexpected. Brandon Laird saw him and signed a couple himself, but Mike Moustakas went over and walked the entire line, he must have been there fifteen minutes easy and signed for everyone. Never saw a visiting player do that before, and it was way cool. (He then went over to the third base side and signed for another ten minutes). First class dude.
3/10 vs. White Sox: Was looking forward to seeing the Chisox’ new first baseman, the Cuban import Jose Abreu, but he didn’t make the trip. Adam Dunn did, and so did Alexi Ramirez so it wasn’t so bad, and Chris Sale started for Chicago, who won 6-3.
3/14 vs. Diamondbacks: Brewers won 9-8 in ten innings, the only extra inning game of the spring and second walk-off. I figured with Arizona leaving on the 16th for their trip to Australia they wouldn’t send any starters, but Didi Gregorius, Aaron Hill, Paul Goldschmidt, Martin Prado and Gerardo Parra made the trip, along with most of their front line bullpen guys. It was 2-2 after the first inning and 6-2 Dbacks after five. The Brewers scored two in the sixth and three in the seventh to take a 7-6 lead, but the Dbacks went ahead in the eighth on back to back homers from Tuffy Gosewich and Rudy Flores. Heading to the bottom of the ninth the Brewers were still down one, but consecutive one out doubles by Kevin Mattison and Sean Halton tied the score. In the tenth, Khris Davis led off with a pinch double and was sacrificed to third. With the infield in, lefty hitting Caleb Gindl shot a ball between third and short that was somehow fielded by Didi Gregorius on a totally ridiculous play, but he slipped trying to throw home and it was late, Davis scored and the game was over.
3/15 vs. Reds. This was the blow-out game of the spring, the Reds winning 16-4. It started in the first, with two outs Todd Frazier walked and stole second and scored when Jean Segura booted Ryan Ludwick’s groundball. Chris Heisey then left the building and it was 3-0. The Red scored three more in the second and it was 6-1 after two. Tyler Thornburg gave up seven runs (four earned) in two and two thirds, with Donovan Hand giving up five and Rob Wooten three, each in one inning. Neftali Soto, Roger Bernadina and Chris Nelson also homered, the last two back to backers off Wooten.
3/17: The White Sox made their second appearance of the spring in a game highlighted, if you want to call it that, by the Brewers decked out in green uniforms and caps for St. Patrick’s day. The Sox won 9-0 and Abreu did play, going 0-4. He looks good in the box, but the scouting reports of him being just a little slow through the zone seems true, he’ll kill mistakes but I don’t see him being the superstar power hitter some think.
3/18 vs Rangers. Brewers won 9-3 behind a three run homer by Carlos Gomez and a grand slam from Mark Reynolds. Rangers first base prospect Ronald Guzman hit a three run bomb in the ninth for the Rangers scoring.
3/22 vs. Angels: First sellout (10,151) I’ve seen in three years at Maryvale. Angels won 9-6 behind homers from Mike Trout, Josh Hamilton and a three run pinch job from Chad Tracy. Gomez went yard for Milwaukee.
3/25 vs. Giants. Madison Bumgarner entered the game having pitched 17 innings for the spring and allowing a grand total of zero runs. The Brewers changed that, hitting three solo homers off of him, including back to back shots by pitcher Wily Peralta and Carlos Gomez. Bumgarner seems bigger to me, (and Pablo Sandoval smaller) but it looks to be good weight, he just seems more like a man now and less like some gangly teenager. The Giants won thanks to three ninth inning runs.
3/27 vs. Reds. The Reds second appearance closed out the 2014 spring training season in Arizona, as the Brewers charter flight back to Milwaukee took off shortly after the game. The Reds were a split squad and sent their minor league roster to Maryvale but it didn’t matter as they won 8-2.
For the spring, the Brewers went 12-17 overall and were 5-9 at home. I like their rotation, but their bullpen is a problem, and it’s just not with one spot, it’s top to bottom. Everyone struggled, it’s going to be interesting to see how Ron Roenicke juggles guys if more than one are struggling at the same time. I think the lineup will score runs, although some of the bench decisions were puzzling. They will struggle on defense as well, so to be competitive the starters will need to pitch deeper into games and guys like Braun, Gomez, Ramirez and Reynolds will need to consistently drive in runs.
In my season prediction contest I have them finishing third with a .500 record, ten games behind second place Pittsburgh and one game ahead of fourth place Cincinnati.