The Milwaukee Brewers’ pitchers and catchers report to spring training Tuesday in Phoenix and hold their first official workout the next day at Maryvale Baseball Park.
With his third camp as Brewers manager about to begin, Ron Roenicke participated in a question-and-answer session with Milwaukee Journal Sentinel baseball writer Tom Haudricourt:
QUESTION: You have stated that Yovani Gallardo is your No. 1 starting pitcher and Marco Estrada is expected to fill another rotation spot. Of the candidates to fill the other three spots, does anyone have a foot in the door beyond the others?
ANSWER: Because of different circumstances, I can’t really say whether they do or they don’t. Some of that involves (Chris) Narveson and his health, and whether he’s going to be ready (after rotator-cuff surgery). (Mike) Fiers showed over a longer stretch that he can do well although he didn’t finish strong (in 2012). We know (Wily) Peralta and (Mark) Rogers threw some great games (late last season). I don’t want to say somebody has the first shot and so-and-so has the second shot because I don’t think it’s going to happen that way.
Q. Your offense led the league in scoring last year and returns basically intact. Doesn’t that make it a risk to go with so many unproven starters at a time when otherwise you could field a contending team?
A. Some of that has to do with what happened in the offseason and whether you can pick up some pieces you like (via trade or free agency). We didn’t just say, “These younger guys pitched well for a period last year and they’ll definitely do the job next year.” (General manager) Doug (Melvin) looked at different pitchers and how they might fit in as far as length of contract and salary, and was it that much better than what we have? When things didn’t fit — we talked to Ryan Dempster but it didn’t work out — sometimes it doesn’t work out the way you’d like it to work out. We looked at getting one more veteran pitcher but it didn’t fit with our budget and what we’re trying to do.
Q. How much better do you feel about going with young Jean Segura at shortstop now that Alex Gonzalez is coming back as insurance at the position? And if Segura struggles mightily in camp, would you reconsider opening the season with him at short?
A. We’re going to go with Segura. Things do change at times but he’s not going to have to come out and bat .300 in spring and “pick” everything (in the field) for us to go with him. If he completely falls apart (in camp), we may say, “Come on, we need to get this guy going.” We’re going to do whatever is best for him to get him to be that shortstop we hope he can be, not just for this year but a long time. If things are best for Alex to slip in there and spell him for a game or two, that’s what we’re going to do. But, right now, Segura is our shortstop.
Q. With Corey Hart expected to miss at least the first six weeks of the season, are you expecting Mat Gamel to play nearly every game at first base or will others be in the picture?
A. I don’t think Gamel will be in there every single day. I’m hoping Alex (Gonzalez) can play some first base. I’m going to talk to him about that. He could stay sharper and get some more at-bats if he can play first base, especially against tough left-handers. But I think Mat will do the bulk of playing first base, and then we’ll see how it goes.
Q. How do you like your rebuilt bullpen, especially having a couple of veteran lefties in Tom Gorzelanny and Michael Gonzalez? And what is your confidence level in John Axford as your closer after the struggles he experienced in the middle of last season?
A. I’m still really confident in Ax. I think everybody goes through a little funk at times. If you look at his total numbers over the last two years, he has been outstanding. He finished well and I don’t have any question marks about him. I’m confident he’s going to be that guy again. We know when we have a late lead, we need to win those ballgames. And it’ll be huge to have a couple of lefties to match up late in games if we need to. We’ll see how the games go and when it’s best to use them. It certainly gives us a different look than we’ve had the last two years. It gives me more options in what I can do.
Q. Carlos Gomez started to break through last year and became your No. 1 centerfielder. Do you think there’s still more upside with him or would you be happy just to get what he gave you last year?
A. I was happy with what we got last year. Does he have more upside? Yes, he does. But with what he did last year, it made us feel confident going into this season with Gomey as our everyday centerfielder. That doesn’t mean he’s going to play all 162 games. If (Logan) Schafer is the backup there, I think he can fill the gaps when Gomey needs some time off. Whether that’s once every week or every 10 days, or whatever the case may be, Gomey will show us how much he can play and how much rest we need to give him, just looking at performance.
Q. Norichika Aoki worked his way into regular playing time last year in right field and was a valuable contributor to the team in his first year in the major leagues. Do you see him being even better the second time around and does it matter that he’s not the prototypical rightfielder in terms of hitting for a lot of power?
A. First of all, he doesn’t need to do more than he did last year. Do I hope he can do more? Yes, I do. But he had a really good year for what we needed as a leadoff hitter or in the No. 2 spot, wherever we put him. He doesn’t have to hit for a lot of power because we get power from other positions that you don’t normally get a lot of power, at second base with Rickie (Weeks) and from center with Gomey. So, we have enough power at the other positions that you don’t have to get a lot from right field. It doesn’t matter what positions it comes from if you have overall team power. He still is very important to us for what he can do at the top of the lineup.
Q. In his first season with the Brewers, third baseman Aramis Ramirez was very productive, both offensively and in the field. As he gets into his mid 30s, how much harder will it be for him to maintain that level of consistency?
A. With what we saw in the second half last year, he can certainly have that kind of year. And if he gets off to an even better start, you’re looking at an MVP-type year. I don’t have any question that he can do that again this year. How many more years can he do that? I don’t know. There will be a point where age will affect his production. Everybody is different. Aramis may be one of those guys where age doesn’t affect him until later than it does with other players.
Q. You have a solid 1-2 punch behind the plate in Jonathan Lucroy and Martin Maldonado. There is very little experience behind them in the system, however. Is that something that concerns you should something happen to either of them?
A. Backup catching is always a concern with most teams. You look around the major leagues and you see there aren’t a lot of really good No. 2 catchers. Behind the backups, you’re always hoping there’s somebody at Triple-A who can come up and fill in if you have an injury. It’s a little different with our situation because we have two guys we feel can catch every day. When you have that, the backup in Triple-A isn’t as important. He doesn’t need to come up and catch a lot. If somebody does get hurt, that other guy could catch every day.
Q. You have 15 players from the organization participating in the World Baseball Classic this spring, the most from any team. That includes 11 players on your 40-man roster. Do you look at that as a negative because of the high number of players missing from camp or as a positive because you’ll get to look at other players and maybe find out more about them?
A. I’d rather not have as many guys as we have in the World Baseball Classic. I understand these guys want to play and we have no problem with them playing. We’ll work around it. But it’s not to our advantage to say we’ll look at other guys. We can look at whomever we want to in spring training. The regulars don’t play that much at the start and there are plenty of opportunities for other players to get their chance.
Q. You are positive and optimistic by nature. Taking into account the reality of going with some inexperienced pitchers in your starting rotation, how do you feel entering spring training about your team’s chances of competing for the playoffs?
A. I’m still very positive that our offense is going to be really good again. I’m counting on that. Defensively, I think we’re going to be good. There’s no reason to think we wouldn’t be. We have basically the same personnel out there. On the mound, we’ve got some guys that are question marks as to whether they can pitch at the level they pitched at last year for a full season. But the nice thing is we have options that if somebody isn’t pitching well we can give somebody else an opportunity. I’m really excited about that. And I’m excited to see what can happen with some of these guys who have a pretty high upside. When you change faces in the bullpen, you’re not familiar with everybody, but their track record is pretty good. So, I have a lot of confidence that they’re going to do the job. So, it’s always a matter of when a team gets confident and what it can do. Last year, it didn’t happen until late in the season. Where that comes and when it comes is a big factor.
Q. For the second consecutive spring, Ryan Braun comes to camp with his name tied to a performance-enhancing drug controversy. How do you think he will handle himself, and is there any fear about his focus?
A. I don’t know the circumstances so it’s hard to even comment on it. Whatever it is, Ryan will handle it OK. He will be fine.
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