Brewers prepare to tune up with start of spring games
Club to get first look at newcomers, begin settling uncertainties in Thursday's opener
PHOENIX -- Marco Estrada will re-incorporate a cut fastball to his arsenal this spring, and Wily Peralta wants to refine his changeup. Matt Garza will be getting on the same page with new catchers. Ryan Braun will be getting back to baseball. Lyle Overbay will be among the non-roster players bidding for a job.
All of those projects can begin in earnest on Thursday, when the Brewers open their Cactus League schedule at Phoenix Municipal Stadium against the Oakland A's.
"I'm ready to see another uniform," said reliever Rob Wooten, one of the pitchers scheduled to work.
Thursday's game -- scheduled for webcast via MLB.com and Brewers.com beginning at 2 p.m. CT -- is the first of 31 Brewers exhibition games this spring, including the two games against the Royals at Miller Park just before Opening Day. After playing on the road at the A's Thursday and at the Giants Friday, the team will open Maryvale Baseball Park with a split-squad game against the Dodgers on Saturday, the first of 16 FS Wisconsin telecasts.
Along the way, the Brewers will settle uncertainties at first base and second base, see what Garza can bring to the starting rotation and whether Braun can make a smooth transition to right field, and will otherwise tune-up for the franchise's 45th season in Milwaukee.
"It's quick this year, so it's not like in the past when you have eight days with your full squad [before games begin] and you're looking to get it going," manager Ron Roenicke said. "We're trying to make sure actually that we're getting everything in before we start these games."
Wednesday was only the Brewers' fifth full-squad workout, so Roenicke has been doubling up some fundamental drills. By the time the team takes the field at Phoenix Municipal Stadium on Thursday afternoon, he said, it would be ready.
Estrada is scheduled to start against the A's, followed by fellow starting pitcher Peralta. Relievers Zach Duke, Will Smith, Wooten and Donovan Hand are also listed.
"I feel ready to go," Estrada said. "I'm a guy that likes to work on pitches. Like, early on, I tend to struggle with my curveball, so that's probably the one pitch you'll see the most. And my changeup is the one I have to work on the least, so I tend to stay away from it.
"Unless I get into trouble. Because, obviously, you don't want to go out there and get destroyed."
The cutter is not a new pitch for Estrada, but one he got away from after the 2011 season. He wants to bring it back as an extra weapon.
"It worked for me, but in 2012 I just completely went away from it," Estrada said. "I don't know why. I felt like I was doing OK, and I completely forget about the pitch. Last year at the end of the year, [pitching coach Rick Kranitz] came to me and said, 'Let's play around with it again.' I guess, why not? It's another pitch to give the hitters something to think about."
Smith's approach to Spring Training is simple: "Get outs."
"You're working on stuff, and there might be some counts where you're trying to get confidence in a certain pitch so you'll throw it just because," he said, "but you're still trying to get guys out and win a ballgame."
The 24-year-old left-hander is one of the key Brewers newcomers on a list that also includes Garza, whose first start is Sunday against the Rockies, and first basemen Mark Reynolds and Overbay. Milwaukee will also have a new right fielder, though Braun, who will probably play Thursday against the A's, is not exactly a newcomer. He is shifting positions to open left field for a group of young players, led by slugger Khris Davis.
First base will be an interesting camp battle, with Reynolds and Overbay bringing experience, Juan Francisco trying to hang on to a job he held for most of last season and Hunter Morris aiming to atone for a poor Spring Training last year. At second base, the Brewers must sort out a plan for upstart Scooter Gennett and veteran Rickie Weeks, who is coming back from hamstring surgery and is due $11 million this season.
"I'm looking for Rickie to be the guy he was for a lot of years," Roenicke said. "Hopefully he comes out and really gets locked in swinging it. Scooter, we're just looking for him to progress. He's not satisfied with [his strong finish in 2013]. He wants to get better."
As those position battles play out, Roenicke will play around with a starting lineup missing leadoff man Norichika Aoki, who was traded over the winter to Kansas City for Smith. Shortstop Jean Segura appears the leading candidate to hit first, though center fielder Carlos Gomez and even Gennett or Weeks could hit their way into the conversation.
Typically, it takes the hitters a few games to catch up to the pitchers.
"I haven't seen pitching since September of last year," said Gomez, who appeared a quick study Tuesday, when he homered in an intrasquad game. "You try to pick it up quick, but your timing is still a little bit off. I think you pick it up in a few days."
Said Peralta: "The good thing is we're getting back to baseball. I'm going to throw everything. I want to get everything ready as quick as possible."