Right-hander Shaun Marcum threw in a game situation on Wednesday afternoon for the first time all spring. Though it was only in a Triple-A game on the back fields, his return to the mound felt like the final piece of the roster puzzle fitting into place.
Marcum only tossed a pair of innings. He surrendered a first inning run on a solo home run. Aside from that early hiccup, however, the 30-year-old did not allow another base runner throughout his two innings of work and even struck out a pair in the second. His arm reportedly felt great, and reports following his brief outing stated that Marcum fully expects to begin the season in the Brewers’ starting rotation and not on the disabled list.
In terms of maximizing the win output of the roster, that news is phenomenal. The Brewers will begin the 2012 season with a healthy starting rotation, and right-hander Marco Estrada can slide back to the rotation and serve as the swingman, which proved to be a role that suit him quite well last year.
Marcum’s self-proclaimed health also clarifies the Opening Day roster even further. Here is the current projected 25-man roster for April 6th against NL Central rival St. Louis:
C: Jonathan Lucroy
1B: Mat Gamel
2B: Rickie Weeks
SS: Alex Gonzalez
3B: Aramis Ramirez
LF: Ryan Braun
CF: Nyjer Morgan
RF: Norichika Aoki
C: George Kottaras
IF: Cesar Izturis
IF: Brooks Conrad
OF: Carlos Gomez
OF: Logan Schafer/Caleb Gindl
SP: Yovani Gallardo
SP: Zack Greinke
SP: Randy Wolf
SP: Shaun Marcum
SP: Chris Narveson
CL: John Axford
SU: Francisco Rodriguez
RP: Jose Veras
RP: Kameron Loe
RP: Manny Parra
RP: Tim Dillard/Mike McClendon
RP: Marco Estrada
The above roster obviously makes the assumption that Corey Hart will begin the season on the 15-day DL. The Brewers’ outfielder was reportedly ahead of schedule with his rehab following a spring surgery on his knee, but just suffered a freak injury when a bar dropped on his head during weight training. Eight stitches were needed to patch up the injury, and he said Wednesday afternoon that he has suffered from headaches since the injury. It has been surprising that the term “concussion” has not been thrown around more in the wake of this story. Ongoing headaches are a significant symptom of a concussion. Not saying Corey Hart necessarily has a concussion. Just something to watch.
In the absence of Hart early in the year, the two man wrecking crew of Logan Schafer and Caleb Gindl has terrorized Cactus League pitching. Both prospects appear to have an equal shot at breaking camp with the big league squad (if needed), which is why both are listed under the same slot. Schafer should have the inside track at the fifth outfielder role because of his defensive versatility and his line-drive approach that tends to profile well as a pinch hitter. Still, Gindl has mashed the baseball all spring. The organization could lean toward a bigger bat, as neither Norichika Aoki nor Carlos Gomez should be counted on to replace any significant portion of Hart’s normal production in right field.
On a side note, first baseman Travis Ishikawa could slide into the fifth outfielder role with a scorching hot two weeks, though both Schafer and Gindl have outperformed him this spring and also provide better defense.
Plenty of questions continue to arise regarding the battle between Brooks Conrad and Taylor Green for the final reserve infield position, but it does not really profile as a true battle any longer. Conrad simply profiles better in the spot for the Brewers. That does not mean he is the better player — he likely is not — but in the context of what Milwaukee needs off the bench, Conrad fits. He can be the right-handed pinch hitter off the bench for manager Ron Roenicke. He can play a little first base. He also has a big league track record, which is always important when selecting bench personnel.
The only other true “battle” lies in the bullpen, though that has been cleared up with recent performances, as well.
Two spots remain in the Brewers’ bullpen. Coming into camp, a handful of relievers — Brandon Kintzler, Tim Dillard, Manny Parra, Zach Braddock, Mike McClendon, and Juan Perez — were poised to battle for the jobs. Since that point, Kintzler and Perez have been removed from consideration due to injury, and Zach Braddock has struggled with command as well as personal issues.
That leaves only Tim Dillard, Manny Parra, and Mike McClendon. Parra should be a lock at this point, given the fact that Roenicke currently has no left-hander in the bullpen and he remains the only southpaw left standing. The battle between Dillard and McClendon, though, will likely continue throughout the duration of camp.
McClendon has performed better this spring. He has compiled a 1.00 ERA in nine innings of Cactus League play, striking out nine and only walked one. Dillard, on the other hand, has a 4.32 ERA this spring — though keep in mind that he is out of options and has already shown success at the big league level; not to mention much of the damage against him this spring has been against left-handers, which he will not face with regularity in the regular season.
Doug Melvin and the Brewers value pitching depth (as they should) and tend to favor the player without options getting a chance first. That allows the organization to retain both players and have a higher probability of ultimately accumulating value at the big league level. Because of those factors, Tim Dillard should be considered the favorite for the final bullpen spot for Opening Day.
The 2012 season should prove captivating with a three-team race between the Brewers, Cardinals, and Reds atop the NL Central. The newly-added second Wild Card also increases the likelihood that Milwaukee earns a postseason berth in back-to-back seasons for the first time since 1981-82.
Quite the return to baseball relevancy, no?