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Wednesday, Feb. 13, 2013

Duck and Cover, Ryan Braun!

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Here we go again. For the second straight year the Brewers begin spring training with their superstar, Ryan Braun, surrounded by questions involving performance-enhancing drugs.

 

Artie: At least Braun had a little more peace and quiet in the off-season.

Frank: The news that he'd failed a drug test broke on Dec. 10, 2011, and last Feb. 23 we learned his appeal was upheld by a Major League Baseball arbitrator.

A: This time he got all the way to Feb. 5 before we learned he was on the “client list” for that Florida guy whose “anti-aging” clinic allegedly supplied Alex Rodriguez and others with PEDs.

F: “Florida guy” seems to sum up the credentials of Anthony Bosch.

A: In a foxsports.com column, Jon Paul Morosi described Bosch thusly: “Failed businessman, long debt history, no license to practice medicine in Florida, degree from 'Central American Health Sciences University' on the wall.”

F: Braun's explanation of his link to Bosch is that his lawyers “used him as a consultant” in constructing their appeal of the failed drug test, and “there was a dispute over compensation.” And indeed, Braun's name was separate from Rodriguez and other alleged drug recipients. But the most basic question is why Braun or his lawyers would associate with such a person in the first place.

A: Especially since Bosch in 2009 was linked to Manny Ramirez, who flunked a test and was suspended for 50 games.

F: In addition, Bosch reportedly has strong ties to the baseball program at the University of Miami.

A: Where Braun played for three years before the Brewers drafted him in '05.

F: And one of alleged drug recipients from Bosch, pitcher Cesar Carrillo, a pitcher in the Detroit organization, was a Miami teammate.

A: Not just a teammate, but apparently a roommate on the road. If that's so, would Braun have known absolutely nothing about what Carrillo might have been up to?

F: The evidence is circumstantial but it ain't good. And again, why would Braun's people go for advice to someone like Bosch—whom Braun referred to familiarly as “Tony” in his statement?

A: Another comment from the Morosi column: “For a man of Braun's means... why not hire the entirety of Harvard's medical faculty?”

F: Especially since David Cornwell, Braun's lead attorney, said Bosch's input was “negligible.” He also said Bosch “was introduced to me at the earliest stage of Ryan's case.” By whom? If the answer is Braun himself, that's a red flag to me.

A: This whole thing reminds me of an old saying: “If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it ain't a hippopotamus.” But in this case it might be both a duck and a hypo-potamus.

F: Again, we know of no evidence that Braun got PEDs from Bosch. But questions about “the company he keeps” can't help Braun's image.

A: It's a shame that we can never really be sure about anyone in terms of PEDs, even with all the testing that's being done now. Thanks a lot, Lance Armstrong! The mantra of “I've never failed a single test” is out the window.

F: And in Braun's case, he has failed a test. In the last year he's talked about being “innocent” and “exonerated,” but the results of the test were never voided. The arbitrator simply held that there were irregularities in the “chain of custody” for Braun's urine sample.

A: Braun threw the test-handler, Dino Laurenzi Jr., under the bus for not shipping the sample quickly enough and storing it at his home.

F: But in fact Laurenzi was following MLB guidelines under the circumstances—which MLB basically acknowledged by tightening the language of the guidelines. And there's no hint that Laurenzi had any motive to sabotage Braun's sample.

A: As we've said before, Braun did himself no good last March when he told Tom Haudricourt of the Journal Sentinel, “It's unfortunate and disappointing that people would make judgments and form an opinion without knowing what actually happened.”

F: Implying that he does know. Which led Haudricourt to ask if it would be better if Braun gave more details. And his answer was, “Potentially, but then it just makes it a bigger story again... It really wouldn't do anybody any good.”

A: It'd do ME some good! I want to know what I can believe, especially in light of this Bosch stuff.

F: This will drag out for months because MLB is investigating Bosch and his baseball, um, acquaintances.

A. And nothing Braun can say at this point will keep him from getting booed on the road.

F: Just as nothing he can say, short of “I lied,” will keep him from getting cheered at Miller Park.

A: There's something he could do to get booed here—have a lousy season.

 

ARE THEY SUFFICIENTLY ARMED?

F: So much for the questions surrounding Braun. How about the questions facing the Brewers as they open camp in Arizona?

A: Pitching, pitching and more pitching.

F: Since the bullpen was the heart of the problem last season, let's start there. We don't have Francisco Rodriguez, Cameron Leo, Manny Parra, Jose Versa and Liven Hernandez to kick around anymore. And the main newcomers are...

A: Burke Baden hop, who had a nice year for Tampa Bay, and two left-handers, Mike Gonzalez and Tom Groveland. The main holdovers from within the organization besides closer John Oxford are Jim Henderson, Josh Stinson and Brandon Kindler.

F: the way baseball is today, having two “situational” lefties in the bullpen is a luxury. And it says something about the state of the game that Groveland is being regarded with downright awe because he apparently is able to go more than one inning at a time.

A: I wish that were true of me. I can't go more than one inning in anything at any time. If anyone could use a performance enhancer, it's me. Say, did anyone publish a number for Tony Bosch?

F: Bullpens rise and fall routinely, so this year the Brewers' could click. But the questions may be even bigger for the starting rotation.

A: Which, after Yamani Gallardo and Marco Estrada, has yet to be determined. And however it works out, it'll be young and inexperienced.

F: Mike Fires, Wily Peralta and Mark Rogers all contributed to the Brewers' late-season surge that almost got them to the playoffs. Chris Navision also is a candidate, but it depends on how quickly he can come back from shoulder surgery.

A: And there's Tyler Thornburg, who got three starts last year but probably is more of a bullpen guy.

F: Based on last year there's reason for a certain degree of optimism.

A: You never know before the games really count, but look at what Oakland did last year with pretty much a no-name rotation. It could work out for the Brew Crew, but of course it could turn out to be real trouble.

F: As for the position players, we begin another spring training with Corey Hart idled by a knee injury. Except that this time it leaves a question mark at first base, not right field.

A: Ideally, Mat Gamely will take over there, fully recovered from the wrecked knee that ended his 2012 in May and brought Hart in from right.

F: Gamely was playing OK but not especially great when he got hurt.

A: And he has two nagging issues: He's never really played for an extended period in the majors, and who knows if he's injury-prone like Hart? If he goes down before Hart comes back in May, it'll be interesting. They have Taylor Green, who can play first, and Hunter Morris, who had a nice 2012 but in Double-A.

F: Here's another question: Which Carlos Gomez will be in center field this year? The guy who had a turnaround second half in '12 or the free-swinging underachiever of previous times?

A: We don't want the Carlos who took three swings before the pitcher even delivered.

F: The rest of the outfield should be fine with Norichika Aoki in right and Braun in left. In the infield, the plan is to build on Jean Segura's solid showing after they got him in the Zack Greinke trade. But he's still a youngster.

A: Which made me glad that they re-signed Alex Gonzalez—assuming he's fully back from his own knee injury. And if Gonzalez can play a little third base to spell Aramis Ramirez, so much the better. Although a glance at baseball-reference.com showed that he's never played third in the majors.

F: Or first either, where manager Ron Roenicke says he's thinking of trying him as a sub. As for Ramirez, he had a fine 2012 but he'll be 35 in June.

A: And has played 149 games in each of the last two seasons. That may be too much to ask for again.

F: Behind the plate the Brewers have real good depth with Jonathan Lucroy, who was injured just as he was destined to be an all-star, and Martin Maldonado, who saved the day in Lucroy's absence. But I wonder if a poor April and May might tempt the Brewers to trade one of them for pitching.

A: Boy, they really don't want to do that, unless it was in another deal for a Greinke or a CC Sabathia. Because if they trade one catcher and the other gets hurt, there's really NOTHING behind them in the organization.

F: So to summarize, the Brewers go into camp with some definite strengths but major questions too. And we have five weeks to figure out where to put them in our fearless, peerless predictions for the season.

 

BELIEVE IT OR NOT

F: One of the relievers the Brewers had some interest was right-hander Jason Grilli. Did you notice who his agent is?

A: My jaw dropped when I saw Gary Sheffield's name. Then it dropped even more when I thought, “What kind of person would actually want him as a representative?

F: Our old friend Shef, who as a young player with the Brewers sulked and pouted and griped until he got traded away. And then kept it up in multiple other places, pretty much wearing out his welcome everywhere despite his undeniable hitting talent.

A: A guy who would hire him would have to be on some kind of drug. I could just see it: The Brewers sign Sheffield's client and he gets hit with a 50-game suspension.

F: As it turned out, Grilli re-signed with Pittsburgh.

A: Excellent.

 

GETTING SHOTS OF CONFIDENCE

F: I know you recommended last week that Wisconsin create more shots for Ben Brust, but I don't think what you had in mind was the 45-footer that saved the game against Michigan.

A: No, but I sure wasn't disappointed. And even though it was a desperation shot, Brust really shot it—elbow in, nice follow-through with the wrist.

F: It was a lot better looking than the Butler kid's buzzer-beater that sank Marquette in November.

A: Then Brust hit a conventional three-pointer in the overtime to beat the mighty Wolverines. And really, in the last three or four games either he's been looking for his shots more or his teammates have been finding him more, or both.

F: The Badgers sure aren't making it easy on their fans. In the previous game against Iowa they had to rally from nine points down late in regulation and then transform themselves into near-perfect free-throw shooters to win in double OT.

A: For UW to get to 8-3 in the Big Ten is amazing. Before the season, with Josh Gasser lost with a knee injury, just about everyone had them pegged for no better than seventh or eighth in the conference. I was hoping they could scrape out a .500 mark that would be good enough to get them into the NCAA.

 

Frank Clines covered sports for The Milwaukee Journal and the Journal Sentinel. Art Kumbalek could use some performance enhancement.