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Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Waiter, There’s a Flaw in Our Soup

The Fairly Detached Observers

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Pitching was the main concern for the Milwaukee Brewers this winter, and the question mark wasn't any smaller after the season's first week saw the Brewers go 2-4 against San Francisco and the hated Chicago Cubs. Most troubling were the two starts by Jeff Suppan, the top veteran after the departures of CC Sabathia and Ben Sheets. Suppan got bombed by the Giants and handed the Cubs three runs on bases-loaded walks Sunday night. With a $12.5 million salary this year and next, Suppan will be a lightning rod for fan fury if the season goes bad. Frank was at Miller Park for the Sunday debacle while Artie was part of the ESPN audience.

Artie: As I was returning home from my Easter obligations I thought, "Hey, my favorite No. 8 starter is facing the Cubs. It ought to be a walk in the park." How right I was!

Frank: Alfonso Soriano could have walked around the bases after he homered on Suppan's first pitch. Lots of folks who had been yelling "Soup!" changed their order to a super-sized "Boo!"

Artie: I missed that, thankfully, but I caught the merry-go-round in the fourth inning. Four runs on one stinkin' hit!

Frank: Plus five walks and a hit-batter. Three of the walks were on four pitches, including the first four thrown by the reliever, Jorge Julio. And in later innings Julio, Seth McClung and Mitch Stetter each walked a guy who came around to score.

Artie: It boggles the mind how a veteran like Suppan can't compose himself enough to throw some strikes. That's what we'd see from "Quadruple-A" guys like Ben Hendrickson, who was fine at Triple-A but a disaster here.

Frank: But doesn't Suppan's huge salary mean you have to keep starting him?

Artie: Not for me. Here's my crafty plan: Send him to the bullpen and if there's a 12-0 game, hey, Soup's on. Then sign Pedro Martinez, who looked pretty good for the Dominican Republic in the World Baseball Classic, as a one-year stopgap.

Frank: Or a stopgap until the trading deadline, when they execute my crafty plan of getting Randy Johnson as this year's Sabathia. But with the payroll already at $80 million, and 15% of it going to Suppan, I'm not sure Mark Attanasio can spend much more.

Artie: Otherwise, put McClung in the rotation. Maybe give Suppan one more shot. On normal rest his next start would be Friday in New York, and all he'd have to do is out-pitch Johan Santana.

Frank: Who has an ERA of 0.71 in two starts, compared to Soup's 12.91. Because the Brewers have days off Thursday and next Monday, they could skip Suppan in the rotation and use Dave Bush against Santana. They wouldn't need a fifth starter until two weekends from now in Houston.

Artie: Except for Suppan's two crummy outings, the rotation did pretty well in the first week.

Frank: I'd rate 'em lower. Yovani Gallardo was fine in winning Game 2, but Manny Parra didn't get out of the fifth inning against the Giants and Braden Looper struggled to get through five in the home opener.

Artie: But Bush pitched into the seventh Saturday night. Three earned runs in 6 1/3 innings; that's what they call a "quality start" nowadays.

Frank: Almost no one goes seven innings consistently, so the bullpen is just as important if not more so.

Artie: We saw what can happen Friday and Saturday. First the Cubs blow a ninth-inning lead and then the Brew Crew, with interim closer Carlos Villanueva giving up a two-run bomb to Soriano.

Frank: So in the first week the rotation had three poor starts, one good and two "not bads." That's acceptable only if your bullpen and offense are sharp.

Artie: Speaking of the offense, on opening day I noticed Corey Hart actually working a pitch count. Of course it was in the seventh inning, and he had swung at the first pitch in his first two at-bats.

Frank: Hart drew four walks in the first six games after getting only 27 all last year. Even though he also had eight strikeouts in 22 at-bats, Manager Ken Macha's decision to use him in the No. 2 spot is looking good.

Artie: He's a good hitter, goes the other way well-two homers to right-center in the first week. And with his speed following Rickie Weeks, they could score a ton of runs.

Frank: The rest of the lineup hasn't started hitting homers yet, but you figure that will come. Prince Fielder should have had two in the first week, but he was robbed at the wall Sunday night.

Artie: Here's another thing I've noticed-J.J. Hardy's batting stance is a lot different. He seems way more open, and his hands are way out away from his body

Frank: It's like a right-handed version of Hideki Matsui.

Artie: Is that to protect against the inside pitch? But who the hell pitches inside anymore? And I see Bill Hall hasn't changed from that wide-open, leaning-back stance. I guess he's protecting the inside, but he looks as though he couldn't hit an outside pitch to save his life. He had six strikeouts in his first 14 at-bats.

Frank: The good news is that the Brewers are walking more-29 in the first six games. But they also struck out 60 times in the first six games, more than any team except the hapless Nationals.

Artie: Remember, they faced some tough pitchers in Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, Carlos Zambrano and Rich Harden.

Frank: Still, you can't have 10 outs where the ball never gets in play. Saturday night they had the tying run on base in the ninth but Ryan Braun and Fielder whiffed. And Sunday night, Prince ended the game with another K as he tried to slug a game-tying homer.

Artie: Speaking of Prince, on opening day I thought someone had grafted his lower body onto Weeks! Rickie's definitely put some baggage into his caboose. Below the waist he's Prince-illian, or maybe Manny-esque.

Frank: The TV guys said he'd put on 15 to 20 pounds in the off-season-they hastened to use the word "muscle"-saying he wants to "feel stronger in the dog days" later in the season. But I wonder if that lower-body thickness will be a strength or an added burden in August.

Artie: If Ted Thompson notices, he might try to make Rickie the next two-sport player la Bo Jackson and draft him as a prospective Packer cornerback.

Frank: I have an observation about Mr. Macha. He seems pretty calm, not as tightly wound as Ned Yost was. But some of his post-game quotes have been, shall we say, more candid, more blunt...

Artie: Not as protective of the players as Yost always was.

Frank: Exactly. Ned would never do anything but defend players.

Artie: Suppan or Bush would give up six runs in five innings and Yost would say, "He threw great, except for just a couple of pitches."

Frank: Macha, on the other hand, had this to say about removing Parra in the fifth against the Giants: "At that particular time I didn't feel like I could trust (him) to make a pitch." It'll be interesting to see if that tone continues, and if so how it goes over with the players.

Artie: A sense of accountability. How refreshing, ain'a?

Frank: Hey, one last thing about the weekend from a fan's standpoint. Sunday night my buddy Rick had to pay FIFTEEN bucks for parking in a general lot because it was one of those special games against the Cubs. And the preferred parking was $25. Pretty crafty, Mr. Attanasio.

Artie: Yeah, what's the deal with these "Marquis" games? Don't the Brewers know the Cubs traded Jason Marquis to Colorado? And even if he was still with Chicago, he couldn't pitch every day, so how could they all be Marquis games?

Frank: Um, if a kind reader would like to explain "marquee" games to Mr. Kumbalek, feel free.