Brewers have few sure things in rotation
MILWAUKEE — In a season full of twists and turns, moving parts and changing directions, the only thing that has seemed certain in the Milwaukee Brewers' rotation in 2012 has been its uncertainty.
And on Monday, as Brewers manager Ron Roenicke spoke in the Milwaukee dugout about the near future of his rotation, uncertainty seemed to be the prevailing theme of the conversation.
Perhaps the most confident Roenicke was in that discussion, however, was in regard to the remainder of starter Mark Rogers' season, which, according to Roenicke, could be ending sooner rather than later, due to hitting his innings limit. The Brewers manager said that Rogers' injury history — which includes surgery on both of his wrists last year as a result of double carpel tunnel syndrome — could result in him being shut down within his next few scheduled starts. Roenicke even mentioned the slight possibility that Monday's start against the Cubs could be Rogers' last of the season.
"After tonight, we've got to talk about it," Roenicke said. "It's a hard call. Injuries are way different. When you're talking about a guy rebounding, you try to figure out what to do with him, and what's the injury. ... The carpal tunnel is a little different. I don't want to say this is his last one but we're getting close.
But even with Rogers, who's thrown a combined total of 119 innings this season with a 4.94 ERA in four starts heading into Monday, there remains questions.
"Do you put him in the bullpen to limit his innings or do you just shut him down?" Roenicke asked. "I think he's done really well. The thing I like about him most is he's maintained his velocity for even the last few pitches that he throws. That's difficult to do, and it shows you he's a big, strong, physical guy. He can maintain stuff through a game."
Originally, the discussion of innings limits centered on breakout rookie pitcher Mike Fiers, who has been one of baseball's most surprising hurlers. But on Monday, Roenicke seemed to back track a bit on the possibility of Fiers being shut down or limited in the next six weeks before the end of the season, commenting that Rogers was much closer to his innings limit than Fiers was. He had initially explained that the Brewers staff would be watching Fiers closely in the coming weeks to see if they could detect any arm fatigue. Since then, however, it seems Fiers' struggles haven't indicated any need to shut him down just yet.
As for the remainder of the rotation, much of the quandaries Roenicke and the rest of the organization are now faced with begin with the return of Shaun Marcum, who will return soon after two months out of the rotation with elbow tightness. Making his third start for the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers on Monday night, Marcum is expected to return either five or six days following his final rehab start, which would put him in line to start for the Brewers in either Saturday or Sunday's matchup against the Pirates.
And with Marcum back, Roenicke said he and general manager Doug Melvin will discuss how to handle the future of the starting rotation in a meeting on Tuesday. While the likelihood is that someone will be bounced from the rotation, Roenicke did mention the possibility of going to a six-man rotation for the last stretch of the season, allowing young pitchers like Wily Peralta and Tyler Thornburg to filter in with the Brewers already young staff.
That equation could leave out guys like Randy Wolf or Marco Estrada, who could be utilized differently with a youth movement on the way. In Wolf's case, Roenicke said that the plan, as of right now, is to keep him in the rotation — despite the fact that the veteran has had, statistically, the worst season of his career with a 3-10 record and 5.69 ERA. But his future will be a topic of conversation in Roenicke's meeting with Melvin tomorrow.
Estrada, on the other hand, may have a little more flexibility, considering his experience as a long relief man in the bullpen.
"Marco has also been talked about what we do with him to limit his innings some," Roenicke said. "Going to the bullpen could be a possibility. Again, I think we really need to sit down and decide what we need to do with everybody."
Much will remain up in the air until that meeting on Tuesday and perhaps even beyond that. But as Roenicke discussed the prevailing uncertainty of the next six weeks in the rotation, he explained that his handling of this matter could affect Milwaukee's situation come 12 months from now, when, he hopes, the Brewers will be in a playoff race.
"Even though we're doing this this year, we have to figure out next year, what are we doing with these guys?" Roenicke said. "Because if these are the starters we're going to go with, and we do have the type of season we'd like to have next year, we're going to be in the playoff hunt. And if we're in the playoff hunt, are we going to be wanting to shut down some of these starting pitchers? That's where it gets really difficult."
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