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Gagne gets released: Pitcher opts for rehab over surgery

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McClatchy Tribune
March 9, 2009
— Eric Gagne’s attempt to atone for last year’s sins with the Milwaukee Brewers never got off the ground.

The Brewers released Gagne from his minor-league contract Sunday because he had no chance to make their club in spring training after being sidelined with an ailing shoulder. A recent MRI revealed fraying in both the labrum and rotator cuff.


Gagne, 33, signed a minor-league deal at the outset of camp that guaranteed him a $1.5 million contract if added to the Brewers’ roster by March 26. The thinking was that he’d serve in a set-up role for closer Trevor Hoffman if he pitched well enough in camp.


But Gagne never made it to the mound. First he came down with a sore calf, then the shoulder problem. Assistant general manager Gord Ash said Gagne decided to try to avoid surgery with a conservative approach of cortisone injection and physical therapy at a local clinic.


“Rather than have him rehab over on the minor-league side, it’ll be better if he’s in that environment,” Ash said.


Gagne’s relationship with the Brewers has been star-crossed from the outset. After signing a $10 million deal to be the team’s closer last season, he stumbled out of the gate and eventually forfeited that role to Salomon Torres.


Gagne, who also experienced shoulder problems last season that landed him on the disabled list, pitched better in a set-up role later and finished with a 4-3 record and 5.44 earned run average in 50 appearances. If Gagne works his way through this problem, Ash said the Brewers might take another look at him.


“He wants to pitch for us,” Ash said. “When and if he’s healthy, we’d like him to pitch for us as well. There was no animosity. This was the best course of action, we feel, for both sides.”


Riske moves forward

The news on another reliever, David Riske, was much better. Being brought along slowly after undergoing elbow surgery last September, Riske pitched a simulated inning in the minor-league camp.


Given a 20-pitch limit, Riske faced six hitters. Third baseman Bill Hall, on the recovery trail from a calf injury, took three of those at-bats. Hall socked a long homer in his first at-bat but was retired on a strikeout and foul pop in his other two trips.


“He has great deception with his fastball,” Hall said. “You see it late. He just got that one pitch up.”


Barring a setback, Riske should be allowed to pitch in an exhibition game next time out. Hall’s schedule remains more open-ended but manager Ken Macha said he still thought he would be ready for the start of the season.


“They’re still being very conservative with him,” Macha said. “They can’t put their finger on exactly when (he’ll be cleared to play).


”I still think he has plenty of time. If we get down to the end of this thing and we have 10 games left, he’ll get enough at-bats.“


Looper’s schedule

Braden Looper, coming back from an oblique strain, will throw in the bullpen Wednesday for the first time since being sidelined. If there are no setbacks, he’ll probably throw another time in the pen and perhaps some live batting practice before being allowed to pitch in a game.


Macha said it was still too early to know whether Looper can get enough work in to make the season-opening rotation.


”I was doing all that adding and subtracting, and I’ve stopped doing that,“ Macha said. ”Let’s see how he comes out of that (next session).“


Villanueva meeting

Macha said he would meet with pitching coach Bill Castro and reliever Carlos Villanueva to set a pitching schedule for Villanueva. Because Villanueva has scuffled some with his command, Macha wants to make sure he gets enough work to settle in.


”I just want to make sure we give him what he thinks he needs to be ready,“ Macha said. ”If he needs a 50-pitch outing, we’ll get that arranged for him.“



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