Right-hander Shaun Marcum is dealing with tightness in his right elbow and will not pitch in his regularly-scheduled start on Tuesday against the Toronto Blue Jays.
His absence leaves a massive void in the starting rotation. Milwaukee already dipped into their farm system once this season, plucking right-hander Mike Fiers from Triple-A Nashville to serve as the team’s fifth starter after the injuries to Chris Narveson and Marco Estrada. Thus, the potential reinforcements in the minors are exceedingly thin.
Despite the limited options in Nashville, manager Ron Roenicke said on Monday that the organization would look to the minor leagues for a starter on Tuesday. He simply is not comfortable attempting to cobble together a start-by-committee from the bullpen because it could leave the Brewers’ bullpen even more beleaguered than it has been as of late.
“If we do that, we’re going to be short Wednesday,” Roenicke said. “(Toronto) is a very good offensive team, and I would hate to be short in our bullpen trying to get through one game.”
Top prospect Wily Peralta was thought to be the organization’s sixth or seventh starter coming into the season. A severe decline in his ability to command the baseball, however, has led to a plethora of question marks and short starts throughout the first three months of the season. At this point, he does not profile as a young pitcher who is ready to make the gargantuan leap from Triple-A to the big leagues. Add in the fact that he should not be available due to throwing 5.2 innings on Sunday against Omaha, and the Brewers will be looking elsewhere for a spot starter.
So which minor league pitchers could possibly take the mound at Miller Park on Tuesday?
RHP Tyler Thornburg — The biggest buzz has surrounded the 23-year-old, who recently received a promotion to Triple-A and has not pitched since June 9. He has compiled a 3.00 ERA over 75 innings this season, striking out 71 batters and only walking 24. However, Milwaukee has been hesitant to push Thornburg too quickly to the big leagues and risk stunting his overall development as a starting pitcher. If the organization believes him to be mentally prepared to don a big league uniform and face the intense scrutiny that will undoubtedly result from a call-up, he would be the obvious choice.
RHP Claudio Vargas — No, this is not a flashback to 2007. Claudio Vargas is scheduled to pitch tonight for Triple-A Nashville and would make perfect sense for a one-night spot start. He possesses plenty of big league experience and should not suffer any ill-effects from bouncing between Nashville and Milwaukee at a moment’s notice. In his most recent start on June 13, he went six innings and only surrendered two runs.
RHP Seth McClung — Another veteran with big league experience in Milwaukee who would be pitching on full rest. McClung has been woefully inconsistent in Nashville, posting a 4.75 ERA over 66.1 innings. At times, he has shown the ability to miss bats and compile quality innings, though he has still been plagued by the same lack of command that has dogged him throughout his professional career.
Whoever ultimately gets the call on Tuesday evening will likely not be expected to remain in the big leagues for too long. The severity of Marcum’s elbow injury remains unknown at this point, but Marco Estrada began his rehab stint in Nashville last week, throwing three innings of scoreless baseball on Saturday. He should return to the big league rotation sometime next week.
It will be interesting to see what decision Doug Melvin and Ron Roenicke settle upon. Showcasing a hyped prospect such as Thornburg certainly has a PR appeal, and though not due to a reflection of their personal character, any decision resulting in Vargas or McClung coming back to Milwaukee will likely be met with a collective groan.
People want to see the young players they have heard so much about. People want to see Tyler Thornburg on Tuesday night. Will Doug and Ron give them the chance?