Brewers playing shallow in the field

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McClatchy Tribune
March 3, 2009
— The starting outfield for the Milwaukee Brewers on Monday featured Trot Nixon in center and Brad Nelson in left.

Even for an early exhibition game, that alignment revealed how thin the club’s outfield situation is at present.

With leftfielder Ryan Braun off to play for Team USA in the World Baseball Classic and Tony Gwynn Jr. sidelined indefinitely with a shoulder problem, the Brewers were down to two healthy outfielders on their 40-man roster: centerfielder Mike Cameron and rightfielder Corey Hart. The club invited only two nonroster outfielders to camp: Chris Duffy and Nixon.

With no free-agent outfielders on the market worth considering, the Brewers are going to bide time for a while by using outfielders from the minor-league camp to fill innings during exhibition season. That situation improved Monday when Lorenzo Cain and Cole Gillespie, two of the top outfield prospects in the system, became available to play.

Cain had been held back because of a sore wrist and Gillespie was a bit behind after having off-season toe surgery.

“We’re just going to give our young guys a chance,” general manager Doug Melvin said. “If you brought anybody in as a free agent, it’s going to take him seven to 10 days to get ready. By the time they get ready, Ryan will be back and you’ll know about your guys.

”We’ll watch other clubs and follow this. If we have another injury, some clubs have a lot of outfielders. We would probably go that way (a trade).“

The Brewers thought Gwynn would be able to play the outfield by now. He reported to camp with an impingement in his throwing shoulder that has not improved as expected.

Manager Ken Macha said Gwynn tried playing catch Sunday but had to stop after a few minutes because of pain in the shoulder. He was sent for an MRI on Monday to see if there was more damage than an impingement and the club awaited the results.

”They’re just trying to get more of a sharper (idea) of what’s going on,“ Macha said.

Mixing and matching

With Cameron and Duffy getting a rest, Macha gave the 34-year-old Nixon a try in center in the game against the San Diego Padres. Nixon played some center for Macha in Boston’s system in the late 1990s but has been mostly a rightfielder in the majors.

Entering camp, Gwynn, Duffy and Nixon were considered to be in a three-way competition for one or two reserve outfield spots. Duffy has four hits in 14 at-bats (.286) and has made some nice plays in center. Nixon is hitless in 12 at-bats.

”They’ve been throwing (Nixon) a lot of off-speed pitches and he has been out in front of them, trying to pull them,“ Macha said. ‘’Duffy, right now, out of those three, including Gwynn and Nixon, is kind of the front-runner right now. I’m not saying that won’t change.“

A new candidate has emerged for a reserve outfield spot, particularly if Macha decides to keep two on his bench. Nelson, a first baseman by trade, has been swinging the bat so well (4 for 7, .571, two RBI) that Macha plans to play him more in the outfield.

”I’m going to take a look and see what he can do out there,“ Macha said. ” ’Nellie’s’ spring has been impressive. Almost every at-bat, he takes a lot of pitches. His strike-zone knowledge is pretty good and he stays on the ball.“

Nelson, 26, who saw his first big-league action as a September call-up last season, said he had benefited from working with hitting coach Dale Sveum in camp.

”I got a little rusty from the winter,“ Nelson said. ”Dale saw something, a little extra movement. It’s a timing thing.

“He has an honest way to tell you like it is. He doesn’t beat around the bush. He sees something and tells you, and you go from there. You just have to be able to handle it. He knows that everybody has their own tweaks.”

Defensive positioning

In the 4-3 loss to the Padres, Nixon had one putout in center and nothing was hit to Nelson.

“I want to see if Nixon can play center field,” Macha said. “That gives you another option if he can.

”I’ve been pretty happy with watching Duffy play in center. He had a couple plays the other day against Oakland where he was a little hesitant on balls in right-center. That was addressed. We want him to be aggressive and take charge out there.“

Macha said he might give Hart some time in center during exhibition play. Hart has played some center in the majors but the plan is to keep him in right, barring an emergency.

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