Roenicke doesn’t mind taking a gamble
Had the Milwaukee Brewers tied the game in the ninth inning Tuesday night against the Los Angeles Dodgers instead of winning it on George Kottaras’ two-run double, manager Ron Roenicke would have used an interesting infield alignment in the 10th.
Third baseman Aramis Ramirez would have moved to short (Kottaras hit for Cesar Izturis, and Alex Gonzalez was still away for the birth of a son), first baseman Mat Gamel would have shifted to third and either Kottaras or Travis Ishikawa would have taken over at first.
Would that have been a gamble?
“Yes,” Roenicke said.
So, are you something of a gambler?
“Yes,” Roenicke answered again.
Anyone who has watched Roenicke manage games for the Brewers knows he is not averse to pushing the envelope. He employs the squeeze bunt perhaps more than any other manager; he’ll use a five-man infield with games on the line in the final inning; he’ll shift his infield against hitters no one else thinks of shifting against.
“When we’re down, I think you have to do what you can to tie it or go ahead,” said Roenicke, who went to Kottaras with two on, one out and the Brewers trailing, 4-3.
Asked whether he would have been uncomfortable with that makeshift infield had the game continued, Roenicke said, “More than what we started with, yes. But they’ve played there before. I feel comfortable with that. I also have my two outfielders (Ryan Braun and Carlos Gomez) who both want to play shortstop. They’re in my ear.”
Many managers, including Roenicke’s predecessor, Ken Macha, don’t believe in bunting much or using the backup catcher as a pinch hitter. Roenicke has shown he’s willing to do either.
“You don’t try to do it too early in the game,” he said. “But later in the game if you’re down and you have to win a game, there’s times I feel comfortable because George is such a good hitter.”
The Brewers already have executed two suicide squeeze bunts and two safety squeezes this season. So why don’t opponents pitch out more in those situations?
“They are hard decisions because if you have guys in scoring position and your pitcher is behind in the count, he’s not a happy camper,” Roenicke said. “When it doesn’t work, it’s a hard play.”
Roenicke said the main reason he uses the bunt as an offensive weapon is because he has players who can execute the play.
“I don’t want to put a bunt on if I think somebody is going to fail half the time,” he said. “If I feel good and confident that the guy is going to succeed, then I’ll feel confident about putting the bunt on. It’s pretty hard to defend.”
Legging ’em out
While Mat Gamel’s offense is what the Brewers need most in the post- Prince Fielder era, it has become clear that he can positively affect games in other ways.
The latest example of that came Tuesday night.
Gamel, who had homered and singled, walked to give Milwaukee two runners on with nobody out in the bottom of the ninth against Dodgers closer Javy Guerra. After Jonathan Lucroy struck out, Kottaras sent his double to right-center that scored pinch runner Gomez from second to tie the game.
Gamel, motoring from first, was waved around third by coach Ed Sedar and scored the winning run with what amounted to a perfect slide for the situation - feet-first and to the right of the plate, giving him enough time to elude the tag attempt of catcher A.J. Ellis and enough room to slap the plate with his left hand to cap the walk-off.
“If you’re athletic, you can make those kinds of slides,” Roenicke said. “It’s instinctual.”
You can’t work on that. I guarantee you if you work on it, somebody’s going to get hurt.”
Gamel also stole a base in the game, giving him three for the year. He’s stolen as many as 14 bases in a season, but that was in 2007 in high Class A ball. In 2010 he stole three during an 82-game stint at Class AAA Nashville.
While he certainly isn’t a blazer, Gamel’s ability to steal in spots and score from first on extra-base hits gives the Brewers’ offense another dimension as the team seeks to become less reliant on home runs.
“I think he’s a good base runner,” Roenicke said of Gamel. “He’s got better speed than other people think he does. He runs well. And he came in, in better shape this year, a little lighter in weight. He’s running better for that. He’s going to do some things on the bases that are going to help us.
“It’s definitely a part of his game.”
Gamel thinks his base running will become better the more he plays. Including the 11 he’s played this season, Gamel has 96 games of major-league experience dating to the 2008 season.
“Even if you asked Eddie ( Sedar), he’d say I was never a good base runner by any stretch,” he said. “But you play the game long enough and you’re around it long enough, you pick up on things. Base running’s a big part of it, and it can definitely help you win games.”