The Milwaukee Brewers are no strangers to pitching dilemmas this season. This time however, the focus is away from the bullpen and squarely on the starting rotation.
With the season far out of reach of the postseason, the coaching staff and front office for the Brewers are switching to a new strategy – tinkering. The changes are set to come later this month and into September as Shaun Marcum looks to get back into the rotation following a long stint on the Disabled List after dealing with elbow problems.
Shaun Marcum, before going down with an injury, was one of the most consistent pitchers Milwaukee had to start in 2012 – before leaving after his last start on June 16th, he had won four of five decisions and set his record at 5-3 with a 3.39 ERA, good for second on the team behind rookie Mike Fiers. He was pitching very effectively, and even recorded his highest K/9 rate – 8.4 – of his career. The injury put a damper on one of the brightest spots in the 2012 campaign.
But after a great four hit, one run performance in his final rehab start on Monday with Class-A Wisconsin, Marcum is set to don the Brewer Blue once more and should be back into the rotation either Saturday or Sunday when the Crew battles the Pirates. As good as that news is, that isn’t the only change.
If you’ve been doing the math in your head – Marcum plus the rotation equals six pitchers. A six-man rotation is unconventional to say the least, even more so if there is no postseason to rest your pitchers for. As usual, Doug Melvin, Ron Roenicke, and the rest of the Brewers brass are staying mum on the issue of what to do with the odds and ends in the rotation.
Let’s focus on the good news for now: Shaun Marcum is back. He’s been a very good pitcher for us this year, and his presence on this team cannot be overlooked. I think his return should be watched very closely from here on out, and efforts should be made to re-sign him in the offseason. There are some health concerns, yes, but his ability to pitch well over long stretches and the veteran stability he can bring to the rotation is invaluable leading into a season (2013) that will see a lot of youth on this team in all sides of the ball. If he continues to locate the ball well, we should continue to see him eat up innings and put this team in line for the win. It’s all we could ever ask from him, and he’s one of the only pitchers that’s been able to that consistently for us.
That leaves us with the question of who moves from the rotation upon his entrance. Let’s assume, for a moment, that Milwaukee does not want to stick with a six-man rotation. That mean there are three viable candidates for a bullpen role amongst the starters moving forward. Those three are Mark Rogers, Marco Estrada, and Randy Wolf.
Mark Rogers picked up his first win last night, and the organization (as well as the fans) have put a lot of energy into his comeback. Unfortunately, it hasn’t fully come to fruition. He has had a few quality starts, but trouble locating his pitches and a high walk rate has kept him from grabbing a victory sooner. He has a great story, to be sure – but is he a future piece of this rotation. I want to say yes, but the reality is that we can’t afford as a ballclub to keep nuturing a pitcher along at the Major League level. My gut says that in 2013 Rogers will not be a part of the rotation from the outset.
Speaking of things we can’t afford – we move on to Randy Wolf. It’s a foregone conclusion that Wolfie’s
days are numbered as a Brewer. After all, the team can either buy him out for $1.5 Million, or give the 35 year-old 3-10 pitcher with a 5.69 ERA a $10 Million option at the end of the season. You don’t need any formal training to see what the best option for the team would be. But what does that mean for the present? I would like to see Wolf spot start from here on out and offer the younger pitchers a chance to get more game experience, but I have a feeling that Wolf will get his swan song and a few more chances to audition for clubs heading into the offseason. It’s not the way that I would like it done, but I suppose he’s earned that much.
Marco Estrada is kind of the wild-card in this situation. He’s always been a man without a country, filling roles both in the rotation and the bullpen as teams have needed him. This season, he did both: plugging his way through 15 starts and six relief appearances to an 0-5 record, even though he has had five quality starts in his last 10 appearances. If anyone is wearing the hard-luck title, it’s him. He doesn’t have any flashy stuff but he prepares well and battles through lineups – this year he has brought his walk rate way down and continues to amass plenty of K’s. I would like to see him settle into a role as a number four or five starter permanently and develop himself into a true starter – whether or not the Brewers have that plan in mind will remain to be seen until September.
In September, the rosters expand and Milwaukee will look to add some more pitching to the ranks. This, according to Milwaukee’s official website, means calling up Wily Peralta and Tyler Thornburg. Both are starting pitchers by nature, and this can further gum up the works. It appears that the plan, as it stands now, is to have these players spot start in later series and it’s a way of shaking out where everyone will sit in 2013. With Fiers, Rogers, and Estrada all being watched closely in terms of workload, the two pitching prospects are most likely going to see a fair amount of time.
For a lot of teams, this type of situation rarely presents itself. But this is a very different year for Milwaukee – and down the stretch it could start to look like a very different team.