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NEW-LOOK BULLPEN AWAITS HOFFMAN


NEW-LOOK BULLPEN AWAITS HOFFMAN
No wonder sorting out his bullpen was on Ken Macha's mind before his Miller Park debut as manager of the Milwaukee Brewers .

The relief corps the first-year manager inherited was without its four most-heavily used members from last season.

His new closer didn't make it out of spring training before taking a detour to the disabled list, leaving him with a relatively inexperienced group to start the season.

"Half of the pitching staff from last year is gone," Macha said. "So here I sit, talking about getting our bullpen some order. Four bullpen pitchers are gone from last year. You've got seven guys out in your bullpen and more than half of them are gone. ... You're rebuilding the bullpen, basically, so it's going to take some time to get, like I said before, some order out there."

Of course, the Brewers aren't alone in that respect.

Most teams go through relievers like a Hummer does gasoline. But Milwaukee did lose the bulk of the back end of last season's bullpen. Salomon Torres, who emerged as the club's closer - saving 28 games and making a team-high 71 appearances - after Eric Gagne struggled, unexpectedly retired in November.

Brian Shouse, the Brewers' top left-handed relief option over the past three seasons, signed with the Tampa Bay Rays in the offseason.

Gagne, who had a 5.44 ERA last season but still appeared in 50 games, is without a club and recovering from a shoulder injury after signing a minor league deal to return to the Brewers - only to be released in March.

Guillermo Mota, who made 58 appearances with a 4.11 ERA last season, signed with the Los Angeles Dodgers.

"Bullpens turn over quite a bit," Milwaukee general manager Doug Melvin said. "... When you become a contending club, too, your concerns are having someone that in the eighth inning and the ninth inning that can win games for you because you hate to lose games late. Every general manager has that unless you've got a guy like (Mariano) Rivera. The Yankees haven't had to worry about it. But guys do move around."

Plenty of new faces

Of the seven relievers on the Brewers' active roster, five - all but Seth McClung and Carlos Villanueva - weren't with the club last year on Opening Day.

Mitch Stetter, who's taken over Shouse's role as the team's top left-handed option, finished the last two seasons in Milwaukee after being summoned from the minors. Mark DiFelice, a righty who also can start, is a former independent leaguer whom the Brewers twice brought up from Class AAA Nashville last season.

Milwaukee claimed Todd Coffey, the team's most effective and consistent reliever thus far, off waivers from the Reds last September. Jorge Julio was an inexpensive free agent signee over the winter, while lefty R.J. Swindle, another offseason addition, was called up from Nashville on Thursday to take the place of David Riske (tight right elbow).

And, of course, another new face, former Padres closer Trevor Hoffman, will anchor the bullpen once he returns from the DL. An oblique strain has kept Hoffman - Baseball's all-time leader in saves with 554 - out since mid-March, but he could return next weekend.

Hoffman, 41, threw 37 pitches in his second bullpen session of the week Saturday, and Macha said the pitcher experienced no discomfort. The plan is for Hoffman to make at least two rehabilitation appearances, the first for Nashville on Tuesday, before rejoining the Brewers .

"It's been kind of rough with Trevor being hurt right now," McClung said. "We're really excited about getting him back."

Up and down

Actually, Macha lauded the bullpen for its performance during the team's first homestand of the season, a six-game stretch in which Brewers starters failed to last six innings on three occasions.

Coffey, who throws a tremendous sinker, has been outstanding and hasn't allowed a run since the Brewers signed him. DiFelice has been almost as good - his ERA stood at 1.29 entering Saturday's game in New York against the Mets.

Stetter's numbers looked better before he surrendered a homer to Gary Sheffield in the seventh inning Friday night.

By contrast, McClung - who had an outstanding September last season - has struggled, and Julio has had shaky moments. Villanueva has allowed six earned runs in his past four innings.

"You usually have five or six guys in the pen and most times you'll have three guys that are going good and you'll have three guys that are struggling," Melvin said. "Every team will have the same thing. If you've got a bullpen where all six guys are clicking, then you're probably winning a whole lot of ballgames.

"But that usually doesn't happen because usually a couple of those guys aren't pitching much. ... As long as you've got two or three guys. If you have all five or six of them all struggling, then your team's probably struggling."

Starts at the end

Hoffman's return should ease some of the problems.

Macha said he doesn't like to assign roles to his bullpen; instead, relievers who are effective will be used more frequently.

McClung talked about roles not being defined, but he wasn't taking a dig at Macha. In his mind, it's simply a matter of waiting for them to shake out - and having Hoffman in the ninth could be the start of that process.

"A manager doesn't have to tell you when you're going to pitch to figure out when you're going to pitch," McClung said. "During the course of the season, you will figure it out. And that's where we are right now - figuring out when we're supposed to do what. Because we all know how to do it. Everybody knows how to do every role. It's just getting in position to succeed."

Added Coffey: "When Trevor comes back, it's definitely going to give a quicker flow to the game because you know what you're going to get."


Author:Fox Sports
Author's Website:http://www.foxsports.com
Added: April 21, 2009

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