PHOENIX (AP) Matt Garza is wearing a Milwaukee uniform for the first time. Francisco Rodriguez is back with the Brewers after a trade last year.
The addition of Garza and return of Rodriguez are two reasons why manager Ron Roenicke feels his pitching staff is vastly improved.
”Bullpen, starters, I think we’ve got a nice mix with the veterans and some young guys with real good potential,” Roenicke said Saturday as Milwaukee’s pitchers and catchers reported to spring training.
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Garza agreed to a $50 million, four-year contract with Milwaukee in late January, giving the Brewers another experienced arm for their rotation. The deal includes an option and performance bonuses that could make it worth up to $67 million over five years.
Garza should combine with Yovani Gallardo and Kyle Lohse for a formidable front three for Milwaukee.
”Last year going into the season we had five starters that we liked, but there was some question marks on some of them,” said Roenicke, who is entering his fourth year as Brewers manager. ”And this takes question marks off. We know what Garza is, when he’s right and healthy. We know what he can do, we know what Yo can do, we know what Lohse can do.”
Garza pitched for the Chicago Cubs and the Texas Rangers last year, going 10-6 with a 3.82 ERA in 24 starts and 155 1-3 innings. He had 136 strikeouts and 42 walks.
”What he brings when he’s healthy is really good. He can stop a good offense. We like that he’s a competitor,” Roenicke said. ”We like that he prepares himself well. We like that he’s got a little edge about him, about winning. And all those things when you’re looking at free agents . the whole package is what we liked.”
Garza was unavailable for comment on Saturday.
Rodriguez signed a $3.25 million, one-year contract on Feb. 7. The Brewers first acquired Rodriguez in a 2011 trade with the New York Mets, and shipped the veteran reliever to Baltimore last July.
The 32-year-old Rodriguez went 3-2 last year with 10 saves in 10 chances and a 2.70 ERA. The right-hander has 304 career saves.
”(He) allows you to have options late in the game when your winning games through six, seven innings, I want to finish those games and win them,” Roenicke said. ”Frankie can do whatever we need him to do, whether it’s closing, whether it’s strictly pitching the eighth, whatever that can be, he allows us to put people in different positions.”
Catcher Jonathan Lucroy said he was ”really excited” when the Brewers brought Rodriguez back to the club.
”Very experienced guy, obviously. He competes, plays the game the right way on and off the field and that sets a good example for a lot of the younger guys here,” Lucroy said. ”A guy like that holds people accountable and it rubs off on others. I love catching him. There’s a lot going on. I hated facing him, but I love catching him. He’s got good stuff, he competes and he doesn’t make excuses. I love that.”
Lucroy already managed to work in a bullpen session with Garza, and the fifth-year catcher said he was impressed.
”You can tell even in his bullpens that he’s very aggressive, which you know that facing him,” he said. ”He’s very intense and bought into every pitch. He’s very competitive. I’m looking forward to seeing what he can do. I think he’s going to bring an intensity, a fire.”
Two lefties trying to make Milwaukee’s bullpen were on hand early in the clubhouse in starter-turned-reliever Zach Duke and Rule 5 draft pick Wei-Chung Wang.
Wang is trying to make the jump from rookie ball with Pittsburgh to the big leagues.
”I didn’t know anything about the Rule 5 draft,” Wang said through an interpreter. ”The first couple of days I couldn’t believe it. I was in shock.”
By rule, Wang must make the Brewers’ 25-man roster for opening day and stay the entire year, or be offered back to the Pirates. Milwaukee hasn’t kept a Rule 5 pick since reliever Jeff Bennett in 2004.
Duke is a non-roster invitee. He got off to a rough start last season with Washington and had an 8.71 ERA in 12 appearances when he was released in June. He made 14 relief appearances for Cincinnati at the end of the season, allowing an earned run in 10 2-3 innings.
”It didn’t go very well for me in Washington. I figured out that long relief is not really my role, for whatever reason. My mental make-up doesn’t work for that,” Duke said. ”I kind of got the feeling that starting opportunities weren’t there for me anymore at the major league level, and I want to be a major leaguer, so at this time, the bullpen is where it’s at for me.”