Tagged: LaTroy Hawkins

Why I’m Rooting For the American League

Let’s get this out of the way at the top. Thank you, San Francisco Giants! Thank you, NLCS MVP Madison Bumgarner. Thank you, Hunter Pence. Thank you, Santiago Casilla. Thank you, Pablo Sandoval. Thank you, Yusmeiro Petit. Thank you (and congrats), Tim Hudson. Thank you even to Buster Posey.

Thank you, Michael Morse for tying that one game.

Thank you, Travis Ishikawa for walking the birds off the field.

I wouldn’t be as happy as I am today without the efforts and success of the San Francisco Giants. You can drop the #EvenYear hashtag on social media. You can thank a blossomed ace in Bumgarner. You can shower praise on Bruce Bochy and his coaching staff. It’s all deserved. It’s all warranted. “THE GIANTS (WON) THE PENNANT! THE GIANTS (WON) THE PENNANT!”

And as happy as I am today that the senior circuit representative in this year’s Fall Classic plays its home games outside the state of Missouri, my desire for Giant victories ended when that ball left Ishikawa’s bat.

So why am I rooting against them starting tonight? I like the Giants just fine. I like most of their players. Only Angel Pagan really gets my dander up, and he’ll miss this series with injury anyway. So this isn’t about the Giants.

As far as leagues go, I absolutely prefer the National League game to that of its younger brother. The Designated Hitter should be done away with (though I realize it never will be). The strategy and timing of the NL game makes for a beautiful, and sometimes sickening, dance where decisions feel like they loom larger. You can’t always just pitch a guy until he’s done. Maybe you have to lift a pitcher early because of a key offensive spot. Maybe you try to stretch a guy farther because his spot is due up next half inning. Et cetera. There is so much more that goes into it. It’s more interesting and more fun, in my ever so humble opinion.

I’m a stump for the NL way of life. My team plays in the National League, for what that’s worth.

So, again, I ask: Why am I rooting against the Giants?

Well, to be fair it’s about rooting for Kansas City more than it is about rooting against San Francisco.

Lorenzo Cain, Alcides Escobar, Norichika Aoki. All former Brewers. All good guys who I enjoy watching succeed. But pulling for the Royals is deeper than just that connection. Doug Henry and Dale Sveum. Both former Brewers. Both members of KC’s coaching staff. I like that, and personally like Sveum as a coach, but certainly wouldn’t use that as a reason to cheer for one team over another. Ned? Not even a little bit.

So instead of continuing to tell you why I’m not rooting for them, even though they are fine reasons should you choose to use them, here’s why I am.

I look at the 2014 Kansas City Royals and I see the 2011 Milwaukee Brewers.

It’s not a perfect 1:1 on the field, of course, but the similarities even at that micro level are interesting. It’s more about how they go about their business on the field, the lights out bullpen, trading away young and controllable talent for a shot at the brass ring, the payoff of a long-term plan. You can take it one step farther and compare to 2008 in Milwaukee where the Brewers faltered down the stretch while trying to hold off other teams for the Wild Card. In 2008 there was only the one Wild Card spot available, but the Brewers held off the Mets to win it by just one game. In 2014, Kansas City got the home game by just one game over Oakland (who held off Seattle by just one game).

Kansas City rode years of awfulness to amass a bunch of young talent in their system. Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, Alex Gordon (drafted the same year as, and ahead of, Ryan Braun, by the way), Wil Myers, the list goes on. In fact, you could almost mark the 2005 draft which got the Brewers the final “homegrown” piece to their playoff runs in Braun as the start of the Royals turnaround. In that way, they’ve been a few years behind the Brewers’ blueprint. Get a bunch of young, talented guys in the system with a goal to hit the Majors at roughly the same time, supplement with free agents, and when the moment is right, make a big trade (or two) at the big league level by sending out minor leaguers to go for it.

Let’s break that down, in case you aren’t agreeing with me.

Milwaukee: Drafted Rickie Weeks, Corey Hart, J.J. Hardy, Yovani Gallardo, Prince Fielder, Ryan Braun. Traded away Matt LaPorta, Michael Brantley (and more)) for CC Sabathia in 2008. Traded away Cain, Escobar, Jake Odorizzi (and more) for Zack Greinke in 2011. Traded Brett Lawrie for Shaun Marcum in 2011. Supplemented with veterans: 2011 -Mark Kotsay, Craig Counsell, Jerry Hairston, Takashi Saito. 2008 – Gabe Kapler, Mike Cameron, Jason Kendall, Ray Durham, (ironically) Counsell.

Kansas City: Drafted Gordon, Hosmer, Moustakas, Billy Butler, Greg Holland. They scouted international amateurs like Salvador Perez, Kelvin Herrera, Yordano Ventura. Traded away Zack Greinke to acquire several young pieces. Flipped Odorizzi with Wil Myers to acquire James Shields and Wade Davis. Supplemented with veterans like Jason Vargas, Jeremy Guthrie, Josh Willingham, and Jason Frasor.

I think I’ve made my point.

Their offensive games differ, to be sure, as the Brewers hit home runs at a great pace in 2011 and the Royals are more about speed and getting hits that raise the ol’ BABIP. But the rotations were similarly solid from top to bottom, but the real crux of what sent me down this comparison exercise are the late inning relievers.

2011 Brewers:

  • Closer: John Axford (1.95 ERA / 2.41 FIP / 46 saves / 1.140 WHIP / 10.5 K/9)
  • Setup man: Francisco Rodriguez (1.86 ERA / 2.23 FIP / 1.138 WHIP / 10.2 K/9)
  • “7th inning guy”: LaTroy Hawkins / Takashi Saito (Combined: 2.28 ERA / 1.200 WHIP / 6.1 K/9)
    • (the Brewers used two veterans so as to keep them fresh)

2014 Royals:

  • Closer: Greg Holland (1.44 ERA / 1.83 FIP / 46 saves / 0.914 WHIP / 13.0 K/9)
  • Setup man: Wade Davis (1.00 ERA / 1.19 FIP / 0.847 WHIP / 13.6 K/9)
  • “7th inning guy”: Kelvin Herrera (1.41 ERA / 2.69 FIP / 1.143 WHIP / 7.6 K/9)

Six inning games are easier to win than nine inning games. Both of these teams had/have that game-shortening bullpen that general managers are yearning to cobble together each and every off-season.

I won’t lie to you though. The former Brewers being on the Royals certainly helps me root for them. In fact, it led to a series of tweets (@BrewerNation) with commentary how the team with the most former Brewers on it was winning every series (and even every game for a while) in the 2014 Postseason.

Market size, payroll relative to MLB’s elite, a fan base desperate for a winner after more than 25 years of missing the playoffs, that their last pennant was won in the 1980’s — these are all comparisons between the two franchises that help me see them in such a similar light.

But when it comes down to it, when all the dust has settled, at the end of the day, when all the clichés have been dropped…

I’m rooting for the 2014 Kansas City Royals because I see the 2011 Milwaukee Brewers and what might have been.

The comparisons can stop there, though, because this Kansas City team won the two games which that Milwaukee team didn’t. The Royals won their pennant and now have a chance to win another World Series, while the Brewers still seek their first championship.

But if these Royals can get the job done, it offers renewed hope that my team can one day get back and accomplish the same.

And that’s worth rooting for more than anything.

Hot Stove Report: A Cream City Reunion Could Be In The Works

Sometimes things seems so obvious after they are mentioned. While that’s true in various facets of life, it especially holds true in the roster composition of a Major League Baseball team.

If you think about the shortcomings of the Milwaukee Brewers over the course of the 2012 regular season, what comes to mind? Shortstop was pretty poor after Alex Gonzalez got hurt. Well, the team believes that they’ve addressed the long-term  (if not the immediate) future of that position when they acquired Jean Segura. The rest of the offense was fine as a whole. The rotation needs attention now, but that’s mostly because there are specific players who won’t return in 2013, but they’ve got the bodies to fill out the rotation if pitchers and catchers reported today. No, the biggest shortcoming which hasn’t yet been sufficiently addressed is the bullpen.

When 2011 ended the bullpen was thought to be a strength headed into 2012. John Axford and Francisco Rodriguez would lock down the 8th and 9th again and trading away Casey McGehee brought a capable “7th inning guy” so the Brewers thought they were covered. Well, there was a lot of failed opportunities all over and with no proven veteran options to turn to, the bullpen suffered for it.

Axford seemed to find himself again by the end of the season despite the late blown Save against the Reds and he’s been endorsed (for whatever that is actually worth) as the team’s closer heading into next season. Axford’s fellow Canadian Jim Henderson will return after performing well down the stretch also. Beyond that the only name still even on the roster is left-hander Manny Parra and many fans I’ve talked to this off-season so far expect him to follow Kameron Loe and Jose Veras to the Designated For Assignment line or at least be non-tendered.

The result is that in a “standard” seven-man bullpen, the Milwaukee Brewers have five spots to fill.

They’ve added several players already this Hot Stove Season, but they are all marginal talents to be fair. What I was told though was that Doug Melvin and a certain player’s agent have been talking about a potential reunion, one that would right what many fans consider to be a wrong from a year ago.

While nothing is imminent and there is reportedly at least one other team talking to this player’s agent as well, I was told that the Brewers have been in contact with the agent of veteran free agent right-hander LaTroy Hawkins.

Hawk first came to the Brewers prior to the 2010 season though he lost much of that year to injury. He pitched very well in 2011 once he was ramped up into higher leverage situations. Last December he signed a contract with the The Angels Angels of Anaheim in Orange County of the State of California. He pitched well again, though not as well as in 2011.

The potential downside is simply that Hawkins will be 40 next year and many players are finished by that point in there careers. Then again, many players don’t make it to 39 either. Exceptions exist for every rule.

I don’t know who contacted who first and I don’t know what kind of terms have been thrown around in the early talks but you’d have to think that Hawkins would love two years but being 40 next year makes that a near impossibility. One year plus an option should be enough to get Hawkins playing a 19th year in MLB.

Again, I must stress that nothing might come of this with the Brewers and nothing at all is imminent (at least not as of this morning). Hawkins is on vacation in London and obviously would have to be in the States to pass a physical for any deal. It might happen, but just not today.

Still, that the Brewers might be in contact with Hawkins’ agent is encouraging. He should be able to help provide a steady, dependable option like he did two seasons ago when the Brewers made it to the National League Championship Series.

Previous Hot Stove Reports

Brewers By the (Jersey) Numbers: #40 Jose Veras

We’re inside six weeks, faithful (or first-time) readers. If you look to the right-hand side of the page, and are reading this on the day it was first posted, you’ll also notice that we’re a week away from on-field action against another team.

It’s an exciting time of the year to be sure. One where, in a normal set of meteorological circumstances, we’d be talking more about the trading of the seasons from winter to spring.

Do you see what I did there?

One off-season removed from the trading which brought us Zack Greinke and Shaun Marcum, today “Brewers By the (Jersey) Numbers” profiles the only trade acquisition this current off-season:

Jose Veras.

Milwaukee’s recent addition will once again take the mound in Miller Park, though in a relief role unlike last off-season’s additions.

Acquired in exchange for 3B Casey McGehee back in December, Jose Enger Veras was recently described on Twitter by Brewers beat writer Adam McCalvy as “gigantic” when he reported to Maryvale for the start of Brewers Spring Training. In the tradition of reporting that a player has reported to camp in the “best shape of his life”, the term was met with some worry by those that read it. McCalvy clarified that he simply meant that Veras, who stands 6’6″ and is listed at 240 pounds, is every bit of human that his bio suggests.

Veras, 31,  pitched exclusively out of the bullpen last year for the Pittsburgh Pirates (as he has throughout his professional career) where he posted a line of 2-4, 3.80 ERA, 71.0 IP, 54 H, 32 R (30 ER), 6 HR, 34 BB, 3 IBB, 79 K. He held opponents to a .206 batting average, and his WHIP totaled 1.24 for the year. He was 1-for-8 in Save opportunities for the Pirates, and hasn’t saved a game since 2007 when he was 2-f0r-2 for the New York Yankees. In other words, neither incumbent closer John Axford, nor incumbent setup man Francisco Rodriguez need worry about their jobs.

That isn’t to say that Veras doesn’t have late-inning value. He was the primary setup man for Pirate closer Joel Hanrahan and appeared in 79 games. His talents and level of ability definitely fit better in the 7th inning, which for the record is where the Pirates would’ve pitched Veras in 2011 had Evan Meek been healthy the entire season. The 7th inning just so happens to be a spot where the Brewers have an opening (actually, two) created by the free-agent departures of LaTroy Hawkins and Takashi Saito.

It’s extremely early in the process to determine anything definitively, but if camp broke today and the Brewers faced the Cardinals tomorrow and the starter could only make it through six…it would be a safe bet that Jose Veras would get the ball first in a close game where the Brewers had the lead.

Veras features a big fastball (range: 92 MPH – 97 MPH with a 94.1 MPH average velocity), curve ball (range: 75 MPH – 82 MPH, average: 78.6 MPH), and split-fingered fastball (80-86 range, 83.8 average).

He is a strikeout pitcher, as evidenced by his 79 strikeouts in 71.0 innings last year and his career 249 strikeouts in 247.1 innings pitched. When batters put the ball in play against him, the ball tends to head skyward. His career ground-out-to-fly-out ratio is 0.81 and was actually 0.68 in 2011.

Bottom line: He’ll contribute positively much more often than not, but like any relief pitcher is prone to give up runs in bunches. In the 19 appearances in which Veras allowed runs to score on his record, he allowed multiple runs nine times. To put it another way, he seems to be a very on or very off pitcher (just based on hard numbers), so it will be part of manager Ron Roenicke’s job with the help of bullpen coach Stan Kyles, to make sure they can identify the days when they might be getting an off Veras.

 

Brewers By the (Jersey) Numbers: #50 Kameron Loe

Day three of this (possible) eight day run is here as we are an even 50 days away from Opening Day.

Picking out the man who wears number 50 on his back for the Milwaukee Brewers might seem a little like finding the right car at the dealership. Many choices to be sure, but there’s just something about this particular model that makes it stand out.

In this case, those conspicuous features include a bald head, lean body, and most notably a 6’8″ frame.

Of course I can be referring to none other than right-handed relief pitcher:

Kameron Loe.

I’ve been including a picture of each player as I’ve gone through this series, but briefly considered simply putting a picture of the lightning rod in this space and then just including Loe’s picture later in the piece.

It makes sense, doesn’t it? Nobody attracted more heat throughout the year on a Brewers’ mound than did Loe.

Loe pitched in parts of five seasons with the Texas Rangers before spending 2009 pitching professionally in Japan. The Brewers lured him back in 2010 so the upcoming season will be his third with Milwaukee.

Sure, Zack Greinke caught heat for his basketball escapades, and Shaun Marcum had his struggles late in the year, but deservedly or not Kameron David Loe caught heat early, often and consistently throughout 2011.

Loe’s 2011 season consisted of 72 appearances in which Loe totaled 72.0 innings pitched, a 3.50 ERA, 65 hits allowed, 30 runs allowed (28 earned), 4 home runs, 18 walks (two of which were intentional), and 61 strikeouts. He also hit two batters. Loe tallied one save and posted a record of 4-7.

He did appear in five games in the 2011 postseason, pitching twice against Arizona and thrice opposing St. Louis. The Cardinals put the only dents into Loe’s ERA by tagging him for four earned runs in Game 2 of the NLCS on October 10, a game which St. Louis won 12-3.

In three of Loe’s appearances he gave up at least three earned runs. Those three appearances combined for 12 earned runs in only 1.1 innings pitched. They were ugly outings and you can’t discount them when analyzing Loe’s season, but to fly off on the other end of the spectrum and try to claim that Loe was terrible more often than not or that he couldn’t ever get anybody out would be just as foolish.

Loe made 54 scoreless appearances and seemed to give up runs in appearances which were bunched together, though not always consecutively. What that means is probably a whole lot of nothing, but the facts remain.

Following the injury to Takashi Saito and kid-gloves approach the Brewers used with LaTroy Hawkins through much of the year, Loe was forced into working a lot of situations he normally wouldn’t have been called upon for. He was pitching to left-handed hitters in high-leverage situations. He was pitching in close and late situations. It cost him and the team.

If you’ve been a faithful reader of the series, you may recall that I mentioned in the Francisco Rodriguez article how when the Brewers acquired K-Rod their bullpen had already lost 20 games. Well, seven of those were Loe’s. To point out another thing, Loe wasn’t the pitcher of record in a loss once Rodriguez was acquired. As the back-end of the bullpen got filled out throughout the year, Loe was able to pitch in situations more suited for his skill level and abilities.

In an ideal world, Loe wouldn’t have to pitch to a left-handed hitter ever. He also would be used situationally in either early bullpen work for full innings for possibly 7th inning work when the match up at the plate works in his favor or the situation dictates a certain kind of pitcher being needed.

The reality of the baseball life is that Loe will be called upon in situations that are, for lack of a better phrase, above his pay grade. So long as those behind him in the bullpen repeat their solid seasons and allow Loe to pitch to his strengths, I expect that Loe will have an even better ratio of quality appearances to awful ones.

Loe’s ratio of ground ball outs to outs recorded in the air was an impressive 2.77 in 2011. That’s aided by the number one pitch in Loe’s repertoire: a sinker which he throws between 88-90 MPH. According to Pitch F/X information, he threw his sinker 78.6 percent of the time in 2011. He secondary pitch was a slider thrown with an average velocity of 79.4 MPH. He threw a handful of change ups but nothing worth noting. Interesting to note is that Pitch F/X said that Loe didn’t throw a straight fastball all season.

The sinker had pretty good movement, breaking down and in to right-handers, and the slider moves enough to where it can be a fair compliment to the sinker. As that 2.77 GO/AO ratio points out, though, the sinker is Loe’s main weapon.

Loe was eligible for salary arbitration this offseason and settled with Milwaukee at a figure of $2.175 million.

With the departure of Hawkins and Saito in free agency, Loe’s veteran leadership will be a welcomed presence. With the addition of Jose Veras via trade, Loe should primarily pitch in those controlled situations which I outlined earlier.

Put it all together and the result will hopefully be a positive contribution to Milwaukee’s efforts to repeat as NL Central Division Champions and take the next step or two in 2012.

Brewers By the (Jersey) Numbers: #58 Mike McClendon

Welcome back to this lengthy consecutive days streak for the “Brewers By the (Jersey) Numbers” series.

Yesterday, which was 59 days away from Opening Day, saw the first legitimate 2012 big leaguer profiled in John Axford.

Today, which is 58 days away from Opening Day, sees a guy who bounced back and forth a couple of times between Milwaukee and Nashville over the past couple of seasons:

Mike McClendon.

Michael Melton McClendon is a 6’5”, 225 lb, right-handed relief pitcher who made his MLB debut on August 14, 2010 after being selected by the Milwaukee Brewers in the 10th round of the 2006 amateur draft.

McClendon has had a fair amount of success in the big leagues, given his inauspicious promotion and use in mostly low-leverage situations.

He stayed up with the Brewers from his debut in 2010 through the end of the season. His MLB campaign saw the Texas native appear in 17 games, totaling 21.0 innings pitched. His first two appearances were 3.0 inning jobs, which shows that he wasn’t exactly designated for “close and late” situations. The balance of his year resulted in a line of: 2-0, 3.00 ERA, 21.0 IP, 15 H, 7 ER, 2 HR, 7 BB, 21 K. He held opponents to a .195 batting average and saw his WHIP finish at 1.05.

The next year, McClendon got a nice look in the spring but wasn’t brought north to Milwaukee. He began the season with the Triple-A Nashville Sounds where he would pitch in three games (1-0, 6.1 IP, 0 R, 4 H, 1 BB, 4 K, .174 BAA) before being recalled to Milwaukee on April 19th.

McClendon would pitch that same night against the Philadelphia Phillies, allowing just one walk in an otherwise perfect ninth inning, sealing up a win for Milwaukee.

That appearance kicked off a 2011 for McClendon that would see him pitch in eight more games for the Brewers before being sent back to Nashville due to the return of Zach Braddock from the disabled list. In those nine appearances, McClendon only gave up runs twice. One was a true blow up type where he allowed three earned runs on five hits (including one home run) in an inning and two-thirds at home against San Diego. I remember, because I was there! It was that game where the Padres scored eight runs in the eighth inning en route to a 13-6 victory.

Otherwise, another very encouraging season from McClendon. He totaled a 2.63 ERA in 13.2 innings, won three games, finished with a 1.32 WHIP after surrendering 15 hits and three walks. He did strike out 10 over the nine games as well.

The other lasting legacy of McClendon’s time in Milwaukee was the introduction of the quick pitch to many fans. LaTroy Hawkins used it a few times as well, but McClendon really brought it to the forefront of Brewers fans’ minds.

Back in Nashville, McClendon finished the Triple-A season with 38 appearances, all in reliefe. He tossed 58.2 innings, and produced a 5-6 record, 3.53 ERA and recorded 8 Saves.

Looking at the total picture, it was a solid season for McClendon. He has things to work on, but so does every player. The bottom line for the team is that he’s shown flashes of being a reliable and capable option for a call-up in the case of injury to one a member of the bullpen.

Barring injury, Mike McClendon isn’t likely to make the 25-man roster out of Spring Training. He will start the regular season in Nashville’s bullpen. These are likelihoods that you can feel comfortable with.

I just suggest that he keeps at least one carry-on bag packed.

Brewers By the (Jersey) Numbers: #59 John Axford

Opening Day is 59 days away.

59 days from the regalia and tradition of team introductions, bunting hanging from stadium facades around the league, and thunderous applause when the home team pitcher delivers the first pitch of the season.

For #59 on the Brewers By the (Jersey) Numbers countdown, despite it not being an exact match by calendar day Opening Day is the anniversary of his worst outing of the season.

Of course I’m talking about Milwaukee’s bullpen ace and resident purveyor of all things facial hair:

John Axford.

That’s right, Brewer Nation, we’ve finally reached the point in the countdown where players with significant amounts of MLB service time will start showing up in this space.

John Berton Axford hails from the great north and has a well-documented path to the big leagues. It’s not one that I’ll rehash here, but if you haven’t heard about his time as a cellphone salesman and bartender, nor read about how Jay Lapp braved treacherous weather to see Axford throw one cold, Canadian day, do yourself a favor and head to Google when you’re finished here.

Standing 6’5″ makes Axford an imposing presence on the mound. He may not be Kameron Loe out there, but Axford utilizes his height very well in his delivery.

The right-hander features a high-octane fastball that has tickled 98 MPH on the radar gun, a slider with good movement and a curve that keeps hitters plenty off-balance.

No doubt you’ve seen many a hitter throughout the 2011 season swing under and behind a fastball that crosses the plate at or higher than his neck. Well, that happens because Axford’s curve ball moves so well that it makes his fastball up and out of the strikezone extremely tantalizing to swing at.

Axford mixes pitches well, doesn’t rely on any specific sequence, and throws his off-speed stuff for strikes. It makes for a tough assignment in the ninth for any group of opposing hitters. It’s an assignment that resulted in Axford converting 46-of-48 Save opportunities throughout 2011.

If you haven’t been paying attention to the Brewers since April 18, 2011 (by the way, the Brewers won the NL Central Championship and beat the Diamondbacks in the NLDS), Axford rattled off 43 consecutive Saves from April 23rd through the end of the regular season. It was that security in the 9th inning that championed the Brewers to a team-record 96 victories.

After all, there’s nothing worse as a hitter than working hard to take a lead into the late innings only to have the lead evaporate within a few pitches.

Which brings us back to why I mentioned Opening Day 2011 at all. It was in Cincinnati on March 31st where the Brewers hitters (with some help from solid pitching) sent the defending NL Central Champion Reds into the bottom half of the ninth inning down by three runs. Axford entered from the visitors’ bullpen and, for whatever reason, couldn’t get the job done that day.

He surrendered a run to make the Brewers’ lead 6-4. Then, with two men on base, he served up a pitch to Ramon Hernandez that the Reds catcher deposited over the outfield wall giving his team a 7-6 victory.

This was Axford’s first day without his on-the-job mentor from 2010, future Hall of Fame closer Trevor Hoffman. It was the first game of the year, one that saw a Brewer (Rickie Weeks) lead off a season with a home run for the first time. It was a win that was basically in the bag.

But then it wasn’t.

There is plenty of talk in the sabermetric community that “closer’s mentality” is a myth. It’s something that is made up by agents as a way to justify higher salaries for the gentlemen that record the final three outs of a tight ballgame. I tell you this: whether you believe in the idea that closers are a different breed by designation, John Axford certainly is.

Normal men might have allowed that crushing loss to affect them for a long time. Normal men might have pitched tentatively the next time (or 10), trying to avoid a game-losing home run and allowing the opposition to nickel and dime him to a loss anyway.

Not Axford. He ticked off three saves, blew one on the aforementioned April 18th when he gave up a single run to the Phillies in a game that the Brewers ended up winning in extra innings anyway, and then didn’t blink the rest of the year. Sure, he gave up a run here and there, but was perfect much more often than not.

In fact, in Save situations after April 18th, Axford gave up a single run only six times. That’s 37 spotless Saves. Of the six blemishes, one was an unearned run in Colorado (you can probably remember that defensive 9th inning if you try), and three more were from solo home runs. In other words, only twice over 43 consecutive Saves was Axford hit enough where the other team was able to manufacture a run.

I think everyone can agree that Axford had a pretty good season.

The other thing to remember is that several leads were blown before Axford even had a chance to take the mound. If-come-maybes notwithstanding, Axford could have had a chance at a 50-Save season. Even without those games, Axford still set the team record for Saves in a single season.

Going forward into 2012, Axford returns as one of the top closers in the game today. With what figures to be an offense that is down in run production from 2011, a quality bullpen will be more important than ever. After losing setup men LaTroy Hawkins and Takashi Saito to free agency, the trade for Jose Veras and return of Francisco Rodriguez after the team expected K-Rod to depart will prove to be very important moves. Their play in front of Axford will greatly influence the team’s success.

The bottom line is that the ninth inning is still where the money is made though in that respect with John Axford, the Milwaukee Brewers are awash in riches.

Brewers By the (Jersey) Numbers: #63 Frankie De La Cruz

A late start to today’s installment of “Brewers By the (Jersey) Numbers”, but that’s certainly not due to a lack of consideration for today’s player. Rather it was caused by an extreme case of exhaustion on the part of yours truly after a long night Wednesday into Thursday. If you’d like some proof, go look at when the Michael Fiers article was posted and then added an hour or so onto that for my bed time.

Enough about me. That’s not why you’re here.

You’re here because being 63 days away from Opening Day on April 6, 2012 means you get to read about a pitching prospect that logged big league time in 2011 while wearing jersey number 63.

That man is none other than Eulogio (pronounced ay-oo-low-HEE-yo) De La Cruz.

Frankie De La CruzYou may be saying to yourself “Eulogio? I remember a Frankie De La Cruz, but not this other guy.” Both men are listed at 5’10” and 215 pounds. Both will be 28 years old by Opening Day. Both hail from the Dominican Republic. Lots of similarities, wouldn’t you agree? Well, as Mac McGrath once said about Babe Bennett and Pam Dawson, “They are, in fact, one in the same.”

Frankie De La Cruz has logged big league innings with four different teams in the four years he’s been on a big league roster. Originally with Detroit, he was traded to the Marlins organization as a part of the Miguel Cabrera deal. After exhausting his final minor league option, he was traded from Florida to San Diego in March of 2009. De La Cruz was then designated for assignment by the Padres just over a month later after the Padres had to call up a starting pitcher (Chad Gaudin) to cover some injuries.

After spending the 2010 season pitching in Japan, De La Cruz signed a minor-league contract with the Brewers prior to the 2011 season. He wound up pitching in 11 games for Milwaukee, allowing four earned runs over 13.0 innings pitched. His major issue in previous big league stints, walking batters, didn’t flare up as much with Milwaukee. He “only” walked five while allowing 10 hits. It worked out to a 1.15 WHIP and clearly aided him in compiling a 2.77 ERA.

What the future holds for De La Cruz as a member of the Brewers organization is something of a mystery, however. He is out of minor league options and the Brewers have a number of bullpen arms returning to the team after being out with injuries in 2011.

Manny Parra, Zach Braddock, and Brandon Kintzler all stand to have a shot to head north as a part of the Brewers bullpen. Parra is out of options also, but Braddock and Kintzler both could be optioned down if Doug Melvin decides that depth is a focus.

It may seem like the numbers game isn’t set up to work in the favor of De La Cruz, but he has an opportunity to pitch his way to Miller Park this spring. If I had to formulate a guess as to the bullpen right now, it’d be John Axford, Francisco Rodriguez, Kameron Loe, Parra, Marco Estrada and José Veras all making the team for sure.

The departures of LaTroy Hawkins and Takashi Saito to parts out west opens up a couple of jobs, but De La Cruz is hardly guaranteed of a spot. He was left off of the post season roster last year, after all, and only has a total of 32.0 innings pitched over his career.

Working in his favor are a fastball and curveball that once lead to a #6 ranking in the Detroit Tigers prospects list by Baseball America. These pitches haven’t developed as dominatingly as some no doubt hoped when he was labeled as a future big-league closer, but the raw stuff is still there somewhere.

Bottom line for De La Cruz is that despite relatively effective appearances for the Brewers in 2011 after being called up to replace an injured Chris Narveson on the roster, nothing is close to guaranteed for FDLC going into 2012.

He’ll have to pitch well from the jump in order to force his way back onto the 25-man roster. Is it doable? Certainly. Is it likely? That remains to be seen once the mitts start popping in Maryvale on February 20th.