Brewers release Wolf on his 36th birthday

MILWAUKEE — After almost three seasons with the Brewers — two of which established him as one of the better end-of-the-rotation left-handers in baseball — pitcher Randy Wolf was released Wednesday on his 36th birthday.

Signs had been pointing to some kind of significant move involving the Brewers’ rotation, as starter Shaun Marcum is set to return from a lengthy absence Saturday against the Pittsburgh Pirates. And on Wednesday, the Brewers indicated they would take a more youthful approach to the rotation for the remainder of the season. With Wolf the odd man out — he will be a free agent after the season with a club option that likely would’ve been declined — Milwaukee chose to cut one of its most veteran clubhouse presences.
“I really like Randy,” Brewers manager Ron Roenicke said. “I like him as a player, and I like him as a person. He prepares himself as well as anybody. He’s a great teammate. He helps out the young guys. Things didn’t go well for him this year. He feels as bad about it as anybody — worse about it. He worked as hard as he possibly could work to get things turned around, and he couldn’t turn it around.”
The 2012 season has been the worst of Wolf’s 14-year career, as he’s tallied a career-worst 5.69 ERA and led all of baseball in hits allowed (179). And through those struggles, Wolf’s frustration with himself and his pitching had been nearly impossible for him to hide.
The downturn in his productivity came as a surprise to the player and the organization after Wolf had proved himself to be clutch in the 2011 postseason, where he delivered one of the team’s best pitching performances against the Cardinals in the NL Championship Series. But without his usual consistency with his command in 2012, Wolf struggled all year to understand the nature of his pitching woes.
“I was talking to (Brewers general manger) Doug (Melvin) this morning, and he said, ‘Sometimes this game just doesn’t make sense,’ ” Wolf said after his release. “You see guys that have a good year one year, the next year they have a really bad year, then the next year, they have a really good year. Obviously, things were brutal this year, and it’s been really tough because I have felt good. I haven’t seen any decline. If I was throwing 84-85 mph and felt like I had no clue out there, I’d have a good idea what was going on. It’s something that I need to just get better somehow and figure it out.”
Wolf spent much of his final conversation with the Milwaukee media thanking the Brewers for what they had done for him in his time with the team — a 92-game span in which he finished 29-32 with a 4.37 ERA. Wolf, who won 13 games in each of the 2010 and’ 11 seasons, reiterated he had no hard feelings — even if the release came on his birthday.

“My birthday has been just another day,” Wolf said. “Other than Aug. 23, when I turned 21 and I didn’t feel very good the next day . . . I think that time was more of a physical punishment, and this is emotional punishment.”
In order for Wolf to sign with another team before Sept. 1 — which would allow him to be on a playoff roster — the pitcher, his agent and the organization had determined that a release now would be the best possible scenario for the veteran pitcher. Roenicke said the team had also discussed moving him to the bullpen.
But in the end, this decision was about giving more opportunities to the organization’s younger pitchers in hopes the Brewers can gain a better understanding of who’s capable of joining a rotation that will be in flux in 2013.
“We had these young guys that we need to see, and unfortunately we’re in a position where we need to start thinking about next year,” Roenicke said. “With those guys having to come into the rotation, Randy — whether we’d bump him back to the bullpen for a while or whatever we ended up doing — everybody felt that this was a better way to go about it.”
Even through his labors this season with his command, perhaps Wolf’s greatest contribution to the Brewers was in the clubhouse, where Milwaukee now sorely lacks a veteran leadership presence. That presence was especially valuable in the rotation, where an influx of young pitchers have learned plenty from Wolf.
“It definitely blindsided me,” rookie starter Mike Fiers said. “For him to be released, it’s sad, man, especially for me. Having a veteran guy like that around the clubhouse with the experience that he brought, I’ve learned a lot from him and how he takes the game. . . . It’s definitely a loss.”
Things had been working against Wolf for a while. Even his best performances usually resulted in unlucky no-decisions. Since April, Wolf had picked up just one win. Still, his 14 years of relative consistency — he leaves Milwaukee with a 130-117 career record and 4.19 ERA – will likely draw the attention of another team soon.
“I think he needs a new atmosphere to be in,” Roenicke said. “Randy still is not done pitching. I think next year, he’s going to have a good year for somebody. When you get to a point where things happen so negatively every time you go out and pitch, you can’t just wipe it out. . . . It’s unfortunate, but as strong as you are mentally about your game, that is always there. Any time something would go bad . . . you could kind of read it in Randy. . . . I kept thinking it was going to turn around for him, for us, and it didn’t seem to.”

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