Brewers name Junior Guerra Opening Day starter

PHOENIX — Milwaukee Brewers manager Craig Counsell wanted to be sure a stellar rookie season at 31 years old wasn’t a fluke, but after consideration, named Junior Guerra the team’s Opening Day starter for the Apr. 3 game against the Colorado Rockies at Miller Park.

“It was unexpected. It was certainly the most pleasant surprise of the season for us,” Counsell said during a Feb. 27 session with the media. “He was a waiver claim. And to have the season he did with the consistency he did — he was one of the top starting pitchers in the National League.”

Counsell was referring to Guerra’s 2.81 ERA in the 2016 season, which ranked seventh among National League pitchers with at least 120 innings. Guerra hit his planned shut-down number of 121.2 innings in mid-September last season, but also spent some time in the minor leagues. Counsell has seen enough this spring to give Guerra the nod for Opening Day, after throwing 10 innings of two-run ball.

“He pitched really well last year,” Counsell said on Thursday. “I know he has a different story, but for his [121.1] innings [last year], he was really one of the better starters in the National League. At this point, he’s pitched really well. That’s what it boils down to.”

Guerra drew trade interest from several teams this offseason, but Milwaukee wisely kept him around. His original plan was to play in the Venezuelan Winter League playoffs, but the Brewers urged him to sit out due to some elbow issues that crept up late in the MLB season.

Guerra figures to be a main component to Milwaukee’s pitching staff this year, with his main weapon being the split-finger fastball.

“The split-finger, which is really the pitch that makes him dangerous, it by nature that pitch takes a while to get going,” Counsell said of Guerra via Fox Sports Wisconsin. “It’s a difficult pitch, that’s why a lot of guys don’t throw it. In the age of trying to get a swing-and-miss, it’s a big swing-and-miss pitch if you can master it, if you can get a feel for it and get a handle on it.”

Report: Villar turned down Brewers $20 million extension

PHOENIX — While the Milwaukee Brewers prepare to begin Cactus League play at Maryvale Baseball Park, infielder Jonathan Villar has turned down a $20 million contract extension offered by the club, according to a FanRagSports.com report.

As pointed out by Tom Haudricourt of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Milwaukee’s offer is likely a move focused on keeping Villar’s contract cost down in the future. Villar is eligible for arbitration after this season, and if he becomes the player they hope he can be, that won’t come cheap.

Entering his presumed first full season playing second base, Villar will make somewhere in the $513,000 range this season. After posting a .285 batting average in 2016 with 19 home runs, 63 RBI, 62 stolen bases, and an OBP of .369 (16th in National League), a similar performance this season would mean a big payday for Villar.

Villar claimed to have no knowledge of the reported deal, while GM David Stearns  said “I’m not going to comment on any contract negotiations.”

Counsell not yet ready to call Feliz “closer”

PHOENIX — Milwaukee Brewers manager Craig Counsell addressed reporters Monday at Maryvale Baseball Park, but wasn’t yet ready to hand over the keys to the “closer” position for newcomer Neftali Feliz.

“Neftali is going to get really important outs for us,” Counsell said. “That’s what we signed him to do.”

Perhaps that’s Counsell’s politically-correct approach to allowing competition this spring, but so far, no other candidates have stuck out as legitimate replacements for Jeremy Jeffress and Will Smith.

Feliz was signed to a one-year, $5.35 million guaranteed contract on Jan. 19 after failing to reach a multi-year extension with the Pittsburgh Pirates in November. The 28-year-old 2010 AL Rookie of the Year posted a 3.52 ERA and 1.137 WHIP with the Pirates last season.

“He’s got a track record, Counsell said. “What we saw last year was him getting back to the player that broke into the big leagues and was really a dynamic arm and reliever, and capable of great things.”

Feliz is no stranger to pitching in late innings, but after the Texas Rangers tried to convert him to a starter in the 2012 season, he injured his throwing arm and underwent Tommy John surgery which kept him out for the entire 2013 season.

It’s possible Counsell doesn’t want to bank on Feliz’ resurgence in 2016 as means that he’ll be able to last an entire season in Milwaukee as the closer. But with no other real options at this point in spring training, it would appear it’s just a matter of time before Counsell makes the label official.

Takeaways from Brewers On Deck fan fest

MILWAUKEE — The offseason in Major League Baseball is sometimes filled with a lot of change, but for the Milwaukee Brewers, their “On Deck” fan event only provided a few surprises.

One of the most noteworthy observations from the event held at the Wisconsin Center in Milwaukee is that second baseman Scooter Gennett will be experimenting with several positions during spring training, mainly in the outfield. His playing time would be limited if he played solely at second base, due to newcomers Travis Shaw (third base), Orlando Arcia (shortstop), and Jonathan Villar (second base).

Gennett noted that he’s had limited experience as an outfielder, mainly in high school.

“I can catch a fly ball, I’m not saying it’s going to be easy,” Gennett told reporters. “I can catch a fly ball and I can run, so hopefully I’ll be able to adjust and if I’m needed in the outfield, I’ll be able to handle it.”

Another offseason storyline clarified at the event was the future of outfielder Ryan Braun. Braun was a big talking point last August when it was reported the Los Angeles Dodgers had nearly brokered a deal with Milwaukee that would have sent Braun to LA in exchange for Yasiel Puig and a top prospect. That deal fell apart minutes before the Aug. 31 midnight deadline and Braun has remained in Milwaukee ever since. Manager Craig Counsell revealed on Sunday that he never expected Braun to be dealt this offseason.

“I expected Ryan [Braun] to be back and I expected Ryan to hit third [in the batting order] and I’m very happy that I get to continue to write his name. I thought I’d always continue to write his name at third in the lineup. He’s played at a high level last year; he’s going to play at a high level this year; and he’s going to continue to…”

Braun will enter his 11th MLB season with $72 million remaining on his monster five-year, $105 million contract. The 33-year-old will make $19 million in 2017.

Additionally, principle owner Mark Attanasio revealed that he’s in discussions to purchase the club’s Class A affiliate, the Carolina Mudcats. That’s significant because it would allow the Brewers to control decisions about the farm system team without risk of it changing locations or being bought out by another club during contract negotiations. Milwaukee has parted ways with longtime affiliate, the Brevard County Manatees.

Brewers give manager Craig Counsell a three-year contract extension

The Milwaukee Brewers were a better than expected 73-89 this past season, and that’s led team management to hand manager Craig Counsell a three-year contract extension after his first full year on the job.

“I am pleased that we have reached an agreement with Craig to keep him as our manager well into the future,” Milwaukee general manager David Stearns said in a statement. “Craig possesses the skillset, intelligence and determination to lead our team back to consistent competitiveness. Over the past year, I have observed Craig’s leadership first hand, and am confident that he is the right man for this job.”

Counsell originally signed a three-year deal when he took over for Ron Roenicke early in the 2015 season, and the move to extend it removes any notion that he won’t be around to reap the benefits of the current rebuilding process the club is in.

“Representing this franchise is a great honor for me,” Counsell said in the statement. “We’ve taken the first steps of a difficult process. I am encouraged and inspired by both the progress we’ve made and the possibilities that lie ahead. I look forward to working alongside the leadership of David Stearns and to the ultimate results that our collaborative efforts will yield.”

The team announced earlier this fall that all but one member of the coaching staff would return for 2017.

During Counsell’s tenure, the Brewers have gone 135-165, while trading away several major pieces like catcher Jonathan Lucroy.

Brewers announce schedule for 2017 season

Milwaukee Brewers Press Release:

MILWAUKEE — The Milwaukee Brewers announced the team’s 2017 schedule Wednesday, which begins with Opening Day in Milwaukee against the Colorado Rockies on Monday, April 3 at Miller Park (1:10 p.m. start) as part of a four-game series. The season-opening homestand also includes a three-game series against the Chicago Cubs from April 7-9.

The interleague schedule features games against each team in the American League East Division, as well as four games in the border battle against the Minnesota Twins. The Brewers will host the Red Sox from May 9-11, marking Boston’s first trip to Milwaukee since June 6-8, 2003. The Blue Jays (May 23-24) and Orioles (July 3-5) will also travel to Milwaukee and the Twins will make their annual visit from August 9-10.

The Brewers will travel to Toronto to play the Blue Jays for their home opener (April 11-12) during Milwaukee’s first road trip. The Brewers will visit Yankee Stadium from July 7-9 for a weekend series against the Yankees directly before the All-Star break. Additional road interleague games will be played at Tampa Bay (August 4-6) and Minnesota (August 7-8).

The team’s longest homestand is a 10-game, 11-day stretch against the Cardinals (April 20-23), Reds (April 24-26) and Braves (April 28-30). The longest trip of the season is a 10-game, 11-day trip to Pittsburgh (July 17-20), Philadelphia (July 21-23) and Washington (July 25-27). The Brewers will take a nine-game, 10-day road trip in August, traveling to Colorado (August 18-20), San Francisco (August 21-23) and Los Angeles-NL (August 25-27).

The Brewers will play at home on Mother’s Day, May 14 vs. the Mets and Father’s Day, June 18 against the Padres. The Fourth of July features a home tilt against the Orioles, beginning at 3:10 p.m.

New this year, Monday and Tuesday evening home games will begin at 6:40 p.m. Weekday night games at Miller Park from Wednesday through Friday will start at 7:10 p.m. Most Saturday games will begin at 6:10 p.m. (except May 27, June 3, June 17 and July 1, which begin at 3:10 p.m.). All Sunday home games are scheduled to start at 1:10 p.m. The majority of weekday day games will begin at 1:10 p.m.

All game dates and times are subject to change, and road game times will be announced at a later date.

Three homers not enough to get Brewers past Reds

CINCINNATI — The Milwaukee Brewers recorded three home runs at Great American Ballpark on Tuesday night but still fell to the Cincinnati Reds 6-4.

Dan Straily had a career night on the mound, throwing eight innings of two-run ball.  He struck out eight Milwaukee batters in the process to give Cincinnati a season-high fifth straight win.

The Brewers were paced offensively by Keon Broxton, Jonathan Villar, and Chris Carter, who all went deep in the loss. Villar also got his first career start at second base, but manager Craig Counsell wouldn’t say if that was a preview of what we could see from the Brewers in 2017.

“I just thought this was an opportunity to see [Villar] at second base,” Counsell said. “He’s going to play mostly third base for the rest of the season, but there’s going to be some spots where we see him at second base. I just want to see what it looks like.”

Matt Garza gave the Brewers five innings, only allowing one earned run (Joey Votta’s solo shot in the first inning) while striking out three.

Brewers break out the brooms in Pittsburgh

Pittsburgh — Last week the Pittsburgh Pirates swept the Milwaukee Brewers in Milwaukee. Today the Brewers returned the favor, completing a sweep of the Pirates in Pittsburgh.

Domingo Santana homered twice and Chase Anderson pitched five strong innings as the Brewers shut out the Pirates 10-0. Jonathan Villar also his a grand slam that broke the game open in the sixth inning. The Brewers had to play most of the game without manager Craig Counsell who was ejected in the third inning after an argument with umpire crew chief Brian Gorman. The ejection was the second of the season for Counsell and the fourth of his career.

 

Villar’s grand slam was the sixth pinch-hit grand slam in Brewers history and first since last Sept. 27, when Jason Rogers — now with the Pirates — hit one in the ninth inning in a victory at St. Louis. It was also the Brewers’ second grand slam of the season, with Aaron Hill hitting the other on May 7 as part of a three-homer night in Cincinnati.

The Brewers return home to start a series with Cubs at Miller Park on Labor Day.

 

Pirates use long ball to complete sweep of Brewers

MILWAUKEE — Starling Marte, Gregory Polanco, and John Jaso each went deep for the Pittsburgh Pirates in a 3-1 win over the Milwaukee Brewers on Sunday.

The Pirates victory secured a four-game sweep of the Brewers at Miller Park for the first time since Apr. 30 | May 2, 2004.

Chase Anderson took credit for Sunday’s loss, despite five strikeouts over five and 2/3 innings. Jonathan Villar provided Milwaukee’s only offense in the form of a third inning home run.

“We got very little going today,” Brewers manager Craig Counsell said after the loss. “I think our only hits were with two outs in the inning and we didn’t have a hit with a man on base at all today, so it was a quiet day offensively, for sure.”

Part of Milwaukee’s struggles were compliments of Pittsburgh starter Ivan Nova, who fanned four batters over six frames and only allowed three hits. He earned his fourth win of the season.

Homers doom Suter in Brewers debut

SEATTLE — The Seattle Mariners logged home runs from Kyle Seager, Robinson Cano, and Adam Lind, spoiling the debut of Milwaukee Brewers southpaw Brent Suter.

It could have been a historic night for Suter and the Brewers, ending a drought of 474 straight games without a left-handed pitcher starting for Milwaukee. Suter was called up from Triple-A Colorado Springs as a product out of Harvard (Brewers general manager David Stearns is also an alumni).

The Brewers fell 7-6 Friday night, dropping them to 19-40 in games away from home  this season and 0-5 on the current road trip. Suter lasted just 4 and 1/3 innings, allowing seven hits and four earned runs. Twice the opposition went yard against the youngster.

“It was kind of as advertised,” manager Craig Counsell said after the loss. “There’s some late movement going on that’s really confusing the hitters. I thought he did a good job. He kept us in the game. You see why he’s having success in Triple-A.”

Seattle has been known to hit the long ball, though, coming into Friday’s game with 167 on the season, third most in the league.

Wily Peralta gets the start on Saturday at 8:10 p.m. opposite Felix Hernandez.