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Brewers' rotation adds up to one of issues

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Michael Hunt
March 29, 2010

As much as you hate to reduce anything to a moldy TV sketch, the Milwaukee Brewers' starting rotation has this way of forcing you to places not ordinarily chosen of free will.


So, do you want the good news or the bad news first?


(Audience groans.)


OK, Johnny, hit us with the bad news.


Jeff Suppan and Manny Parra were slapped around again last week in spring training.


And the good news?


Suppan's ERA actually went down . . . to nearly 8.00!


(Louder audience groans.)


So here's an idea to start the 2010 season:


Tear off the Miller Park roof, hope for a few freeze-outs and go to a three-man rotation.


That is, if you trust Yovani Gallardo, Randy Wolf and Doug Davis as 1-2-3.


Heavens to Glendon Rusch, it's not going to be that kind of a year again, is it?


In, um, hinting that Gallardo, Wolf and Davis would be 1-2-3 by setting them up 1-2-3 at the end of camp, Brewers manager Ken Macha said, "You can just do the math and figure it out. It doesn't take a mathematician."


Nor would it take Copernicus to understand why the Brewers were two games below .500 last season. While we've covered this ground, it bears repeating that the starting rotation was last in all of baseball in ERA; last in on-base percentage; next to last in WHIP (walks plus hits to innings pitched) to the Cleveland Indians, who have this habit of giving away Cy Young award-winners; and almost last in strikeouts-to-walks ratio.


Among the teams at or near the top in all or some of those categories were the Los Angeles Dodgers, San Francisco Giants, St. Louis Cardinals, Philadelphia Phillies and Atlanta Braves. Check that against the '09 standings to draw a wholly redundant correlation between success and pitching.


Meanwhile, the Brewers are stuck with different kinds of realities.


They can't afford to eat the last $12 million of Suppan's contract, at least not right away. Their best option would be to arrange the rotation in such a way that Suppan would get a few starts at the back end during April and hope he doesn't cause too much damage as a means to salvage something from all that bad paper.


Unlike Suppan, the Brewers could trade Parra, but only at the risk that he might flourish elsewhere. An attempt to create depth is not the only reason to sort of pretend there are seven starters for five slots at the end of spring.


This overly lefty rotation is scary in so many ways. You somehow want me to assure you Wolf won't be a left-handed Suppan? OK, he won't be a left-handed Suppan. But at the risk of alerting the guy with the big net, I'll hazard grounds for optimism.


For one thing, Parra could take responsibility for his career. He could actually get it together on his own, regardless of the new pitching coach. That's what professional pitchers do. They figure it out themselves.


For another, there are certain predictors for something as fleeting as pitching, always one tendon tear from bringing the whole house down.


Gallardo has fulfilled the role of staff ace before. There are few reasons to believe he can't do it again. Wolf and Davis had good numbers last season in the statistical categories that matter. It doesn't mean they'll do it again in different uniforms, but positive track records are what you'd call nonexistent among the holdovers.


And you keep going back to the fact the Cardinals, who know a thing or two about pitching, gave up on Suppan and Braden Looper for a reason. The Brewers are getting closer to cutting their losses on both mistakes.


Of all the numbers associated with pitching, addition by subtraction is never to be underestimated.



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