Veras can provide Brewers seventh-inning relief

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Tom Haudricourt, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Wednesday, March 21, 2012
— Ron Roenicke knows it won’t be easy to replace the late-inning combination of relievers Takashi Saito and LaTroy Hawkins that handled the seventh inning so well in the second half of the 2011 season.

But the Milwaukee Brewers manager thinks he has a viable replacement in Jose Veras.

“We really like what we see,” Roenicke said Tuesday. “I think he’s going to be a big addition to our bullpen. He keeps the ball down well and his fastball has movement on it. He has a great breaking ball. He is trying to throw more changeups.

“When he’s down in the (strike) zone, he’s going to be really good.”

Roenicke was impressed with what Veras did Monday when he entered the game in the sixth inning with two on and no outs and the Brewers holding a one-run lead over Texas. Veras, acquired from Pittsburgh over the winter for third baseman Casey McGehee, mowed down three consecutive hitters and the Brewers went on to a 5-3 victory.

The 6-foot-6, 242-pound Veras, an imposing figure on the mound, is a fastball/curveball pitcher for the most part but his curveball is kind of a “slurve,” a mix of a curve and slider.

“For right-handed batters, it starts right at them and they freeze, and he’s able to bring it back over the plate for strikes,” said Roenicke. “It’s not really a slide. Usually the power guys are fastball/slider.

“He can definitely be huge. It’s a big loss when you lose your two seventh-inning guys who pitched so well for us last year. We know what we have in the eighth and ninth ( Francisco Rodriguez and John Axford), but you still have to get to the eighth and ninth. To have Veras there and Kameron ( Loe) there when we need him, it’s really important.

“It’s really important to have a guy, when a starter is in trouble, how do you get out of that inning? How do you stop the damage?”

Roenicke noted that Veras, 31, has been a workhorse reliever during his career. Last season, he made 79 appearances covering 71 innings, going 2-4 with a 3.80 ERA for the Pirates.

“I think he’s very durable,” said Roenicke. “We try not to put that kind of workload on guys. The unfortunate thing is the better you pitch, the more the manager wants to use you. If he was used that much, they really liked him.”

Veras has made six appearances this spring, compiling a 3.00 ERA. Over six innings, he has allowed six hits with no walks and four strikeouts.

“Every spring training is different,” he said. “I try to work on something to get better. This is about getting better day by day. You can’t do the same thing every year because the hitters make adjustments; they watch videos.

“You have to make adjustments, too. Every time, every outing, you’re working on something to get better. I’m not 100% (ready) but I’m OK. There is still plenty of time before the season.”

Braun scratched

Leftfielder Ryan Braun was scratched from the lineup against the Los Angeles Dodgers because of lingering right groin tightness that had bothered him for a few days.

“He has had it for a few days but has been playing with it,” said Roenicke. “It was a little tighter today. He hasn’t been running (in games) and that’s why. We’ll give him three days off and see how he is.”

Roenicke referred to sitting out Braun again Wednesday before the team’s scheduled off-day Thursday. Roenicke said he didn’t know if Braun would have been able to play against the Dodgers had it been the regular season.

It already has been a tough spring for Braun, who has one hit in 17 at-bats after a tumultuous winter in which his positive drug test and successful appeal played out publicly when news of it leaked to the media.

He’s hot, by George

Roenicke has been very pleased with the at-bats of backup catcher George Kottaras. After going 1 for 2 with a walk in three plate appearances in a 7-6 loss to the Dodgers, Kottaras was batting .346 (9 for 26) with a .433 on-base percentage and .577 slugging percentage.

“He’s really been good,” said Roenicke. “Not just how he’s hitting it, but where he’s hitting the ball, the pitches he’s taking. He’s really good right now.”

No. 1 catcher Jonathan Lucroy has been swinging an even hotter bat (.520), so Roenicke is feeling pretty good about his catching tandem. And he noted that Martin Maldonado has done a nice job behind the plate, making the Brewers three-deep at catcher should a need arise.

Roenicke said it’s a better situation than a year ago, when the Brewers chose to keep light-hitting Wil Nieves over Kottaras as the backup catcher. Nieves was so inept offensively (.140 in 20 games) that the Brewers later switched those catchers, calling up Kottaras.

Not rushing Hart

Rightfielder Corey Hart has been pushing the envelope in his return from arthroscopic surgery on his right knee, which took place exactly two weeks ago Tuesday.

He’s now taking part in batting practice, doing work with the other outfielders and even doing some light running.

But when it comes to Hart making his Cactus League debut, Roenicke says caution is still the word—regardless of Hart’s wishes.

“There’s no plan as to when he’s going to be in a ball game,” Roenicke said. “Even though he tells you that there’s going to be a plan, there’s no plan in place. The trainers will decide when he’s ready to play in a game.”

Roenicke made his comments with a smile on his face, knowing full well Hart is anxious to return as quickly as possible. He termed him “day-to-day,” and it appears Hart now has a good shot of being ready to go for opening day April 6.

“I’m very happy about how it’s going,” Roenicke said. “I was hoping that it’d go this well. He’s doing great.”

If Hart is able to make the opening roster, there would be only one roster spot available, assuming backup shortstop Cesar Izturis is kept. Switch-hitting utility infielder Brooks Conrad has a foot in the door on that spot.

Nice recovery

Left-hander Chris Narveson had a rough first inning in the loss to the Dodgers, allowing four hits and three runs in the first inning. He then settled down, pitching shutout ball over the next three frames.

“The first inning, they came out aggressive,” he said. “I had to settle down and make some pitches.”

Narveson has had trouble at times with first-inning outbursts and has tried to change his routine to address that.

“Last year, I had a routine I went into and tried to follow that,” he said. “Today, a couple of balls got up in the jet stream. It is what it is. You still have to make pitches and get outs, no matter what happens.”

Last updated: 7:54 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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