What's brewing: Q&A on the Milwaukee Brewers
When the Milwaukee Brewers open their spring training camp next weekend in Phoenix, manager Ron Roenicke will begin his fourth season with the club. The Brewers won their first National League Central crown in Roenicke’s first year at the helm but slipped to 83 victories in 2012 and 74 during an injury-riddled season last year.
This will be an important season for Roenicke, who is on the final year of his contract, as well as the Brewers as they seek to get back on track. With that in mind, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel baseball writer Tom Haudricourt posed 10 questions to Roenicke about areas of his team entering spring training.
Here are those questions and Roenicke’s answers:
Q. Beyond staying healthy, what is your primary goal or goals for your team during spring training?
A. We’ve talked about hammering some fundamentals, not really more often because we do them pretty much every day. We want to make sure the guys know we need to be better fundamentally than we were last year. Instead of going 80 percent to 90 percent (in drills) we want to go at game speed and get enough repetitions that way. We go hard, but I think you can always go a little harder. We don’t need to be out there a long time, but we need to make sure we’re better fundamentally, in all areas. That includes bunting, running bases, getting good jumps, cutoffs and relays at full speed. We want to make sure we get all of that right. We’ll try to be more creative in doing things more efficiently than we have in the past.
Q. Is first base really going to be an open competition or do Mark Reynolds and Lyle Overbay have feet in the door because of big-league experience? And if so, what do you do with Juan Francisco?
A. Obviously, everybody isn’t going to make our team among the first basemen. With Overbay and Reynolds, we know from their history what we’re getting from them. We know that Juan Francisco has power and is going to hit a lot of home runs if he’s the guy. The other guys, they are younger. Hunter Morris struggled a little bit in Triple-A last year but figured it out in the second half, which I really liked. So, we’ll see. If one of the younger guys steps up, then things change. But going into spring training we do feel we have a veteran presence there. Defense also matters to me a lot there. If we think we’re better off defensively with the two veterans, that gives them an edge.
Q. If Scooter Gennett plays as well in camp as he did over the last two months of the 2013 season, will he be the No. 1 second baseman? And where would that leave Rickie Weeks?
A. We’re not exactly sure what’s going to happen there. We have an idea. It’s nice to have a couple of options there. Rick needs to get back where he was in 2011 and before. I’m hoping he can bounce back and be that guy again. If he does, then he makes it really tough on us. Last year, I thought the system worked really well. The first time we brought Scooter up, we platooned them and they both produced. I’m not saying it’s going to be a platoon situation. If Scooter comes into camp and shows what he did last year; we liked his defense, also. He showed he can really hit. So, going into it, we’re looking at two guys who we feel both can start in the big leagues. If it ends up being a platoon, fine.
Q. (Asked before Francisco Rodriguez was signed Friday) Your bullpen is lacking in major-league experience, including your two late-inning relievers, Jim Henderson and Brandon Kintzler. How big of an issue do you see that being?
A. We’ve talked about that. If there’s a piece there that makes sense for us, we’ll look at it. But we’ve got some good arms. The competition is going to be between a lot of guys I think are capable of being in the big leagues. We’ll have to see about (Rule 5 draft pick Wei-Chung) Wang. He’s a guy we’d like to keep on the team if we can. There’s going to be three openings, if we get a veteran, two openings, and for a lot of guys that pitched with us last year and at a high level. So, there will be a lot of competition. I’m sure someone will step up and do the job. As far as the late innings, if Henderson and Kintzler can repeat what they did last year; they both pitched so well. I know they don’t have a lot of experience as far as years go. But they showed if they can stay healthy, they are quality relievers.
Q. Do you plan to treat Ryan Braun any differently this spring in light of his 65-game suspension in 2013 for PED use? Do you expect him to interact more with teammates in the clubhouse?
A. Now that this is over with, I think his teammates will accept him well. He knows this is behind him, and I think he’ll open up and be a good influence in the clubhouse. My first year here (2011), he was certainly that. A lot of stuff has happened since, but I expect everything to go well there.
Q. The Brewers have a lot of money invested in Matt Garza. Considering his checkered medical history, will you take it easy with him in exhibition play or just let him go pitch?
A. We’ll map out a schedule for him. (Pitching coach) Rick (Kranitz) has already begun to do that, depending on what he needs in spring training to get ready. He has enough history to know himself and what he needs to do to get ready for the season. It’ll be conversations and what we see, and we’ll come up with a plan. And also during the year, is this a guy you want to keep on track every fifth day or if he gets an extra day when the schedule allows will that help him? Does it help in the middle of the season to bump him a start? That will be an ongoing thing depending on how he feels and how we can maneuver it.
Q. How long will the leash be on Khris Davis in left field? If he struggles in camp, would you start looking at others or stick with him as long as possible?
A. I think we have three guys we’re going to look at—Caleb Gindl, Logan Schafer and Khris. I’m not saying we’re going into camp saying, ‘You’re definitely our leftfielder.’ He’ll have the opportunity certainly because of what we think he can be offensively, and he did a nice job for us defensively. I’ll get him out there as much as we can. If we get close to the season and he’s not swinging it at all, and Gindl and Schafer are swinging, an opportunity (for them) will be better. Khris has more of an upside offensively, especially from a power and RBI standpoint, so that’s how we’re looking at it.
Q. How much do you think Yovani Gallardo will benefit from a normal spring training rather than being involved in the World Baseball Classic? He didn’t seem himself for much of last season.
A. No, he didn’t. In the second half, I thought he threw the ball well. In the first half, whether it was playing in the Classic or something else, something got him out of whack. Maybe it was because he didn’t get to prepare as he normally does. Hopefully, a normal spring training will change that. I’ve talked to him a couple of times and he seems ready. Hopefully, he comes in and everything goes like it did his first few years.
Q. With Garza, Gallardo, Kyle Lohse, Marco Estrada and Wily Peralta possibly filling your starting rotation, how much work will young pitchers such as Tyler Thornburg, Johnny Hellweg, Jimmy Nelson and Hiram Burgos get in camp?
A. I think we’ll be able to get them all work. Tyler Thornburg, the way he pitched last year, is definitely a guy we’re still looking at. Things happen all the time and we’ll see where we are physically with all the guys when we break camp. Burgos is coming back off an injury and we’ll figure out where he fits. We’ll stretch out the guys who go down to Triple-A to start. Some of them could end up in the bullpen. You never know. But we’ll give them all a look.
Q. General manager Doug Melvin says you two have talked about trying to avoid the slow starts that have plagued the team in recent seasons. With that in mind, will you conduct spring training in any way different from the past, in particular with playing time during exhibition games?
A. We’ve talked and had discussions about why we’ve started slow. If you look at last year, we were OK in the first month. It was the second month that was bad. This year, we have a real tough April schedule. So, we know we need to get off to a good start and get through that month. If we get through that month in good shape, I think we’ll have a good chance to continue it. If not, we know we have to do what we’ve done in each of the three years I’ve been here, and that’s put it together somewhere so we can get back in the thing. So, a strong start is important. Last year, we talked about getting Aramis (Ramirez) off to a better start but then he had the injury. We’re trying to put more emphasis on getting guys ready earlier, whether with a week to go that means guys are playing nine innings. It’s something we’ll look at with each player. Things can change. You plan on doing things a certain way and then things happen and you go to Plan B.