Sheets sidelined four to six weeks

Sheets sidelined four to six weeks

MILWAUKEE -- Ben Sheets and the Brewers got what the right-hander qualified as "bad news" on Tuesday, that Sheets will be sidelined 4-6 weeks by his injured middle finger.

A second test confirmed that Sheets has a slight tear to tissue surrounding the tendon that controls the finger's motion. That was the news the Brewers had been hoping for, believing that would cause Sheets to miss only two weeks.

But according to assistant general manager Gord Ash, head team physician William Raasch conferred with a number of specialists on Tuesday who recommended a complete shutdown for the next 10-14 days before a course of rehab is considered. That wait will significantly slow Sheets' return to a first-place Brewers team desperately trying to hold off the Chicago Cubs.

"I want to be a part of it. I've been waiting for seven years to be on this [type of] team," Sheets said before the Brewers-Diamondbacks game at Miller Park. "We're in the middle of a pretty intense time right now, and I don't want to be on the sidelines."

Sheets, who turns 29 on Wednesday, is 10-4 with a 3.39 ERA. He is coming off his third career All-Star appearance.

His loss comes at a tough time for the Brewers, who entered play Tuesday with three straight wins but holding just a 3 1/2-game lead over the Cubs in the National League Central. Sheets had been by far the most successful member of the staff, though Jeff Suppan and Dave Bush each turned in quality starts on Sunday and Monday.

General manager Doug Melvin said the team would be on the lookout for pitching help before the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline. But with few quality arms available, the Brewers may have to rely on in-house options including 21-year-old right-hander Yovani Gallardo, who will replace Sheets in the rotation beginning on Thursday.

Melvin and his staff perused a list of pitchers who will be free agents following this season, making them potentially available via trade, and was uninspired.

"We just have to be on top of things in case there's another injury," Melvin said. "I've been on top of things the last few weeks, trying to upgrade, but if I don't think we can upgrade I'm not going to do anything. I'm not going to make a deal just to make a deal. You have to say to yourself, 'Am I getting somebody better than Yovani Gallardo?' They're just not available."

Should they need to reach deeper on the depth chart, the Brewers could turn to right-hander Carlos Villanueva or left-hander Manny Parra as options, though Villanueva has been pitching in relief all season and Parra made just four starts above Double-A before his promotion to the Majors on Monday.

"When you lose your premium guy, it's not a good thing," Ash said. "But we're comfortable with where we are from a depth standpoint. We're very comfortable with what we think Yovani Gallardo can do, and the other starters. These are not desperate times."

Sheets suffered the injury in the middle of the fourth inning of a start against the Rockies on Saturday. He was replaced by Gallardo, who worked 4 2/3 scoreless innings and impressed Colorado manager Clint Hurdle.

"He's the best 21-year-old pitcher I've ever seen," said Hurdle, who later qualified that comment and said that Dwight Gooden was better. "[Gallardo] was dripping with poise. No walks, four punchouts, four innings, one hit. Curveball at will, fastball in and out, changeup. Very impressive."

That was little consolation to Sheets, who was visibly disappointed by Tuesday's developments.

What will he do during his down time?

"I don't know. Pout?" he said. "Show up and root. That's all I can do. I've gotten pretty good at that over the last couple years."

Sheets was one of the NL's most durable pitchers from 2002-2004 and was in the middle of a hot streak in August 2005 when he tore a muscle in his upper back that ended his season. Sheets suffered through a number of setbacks in 2006, believed related to that original injury.

His strikeout numbers were down but Sheets was otherwise pitching well in 2007. Six of his 10 wins came in a game after Brewers losses.

He said he will make sure he is 100 percent healthy before attempting a comeback this time.

"You've got 25 other guys relying on you," he said. "It's not like tennis, where you suck it up, go out there and if you lose, oh well."

The good news, Ash said, is that the tendon is intact and no surgery is required. Sheets' injury is different from the one suffered earlier this season by Tigers reliever Joel Zumaya, who tore the tendon in his finger and continues to rehab. It is more similar to the one suffered by then-Braves pitcher Horatio Ramirez, who suffered a more significant tear last season and needed about 12 weeks to recover.

The area of focus for Sheets is the "A-4 pulley," located near the tip of his right middle finger. Sheets said his mindset was that he will miss the full six weeks, so if he returns before that it's a bonus.

"It's up to Ben and his healing process," Ash said. "[There are] no definitive answers. We'll just have to be patient and monitor it. We have a lot of faith in our medical staff. They have been right in the past and we will continue to take their assessments."

Sheets will do arm exercises that do not involve putting pressure on his finger to keep his elbow and shoulder strong. He will remain in uniform with the team.

"That's important for the club," Melvin said.

Adam McCalvy is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.