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Mailbag: Suppan an innings-eater

Mailbag: Suppan an innings-eater

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The coaches and media talk about the three starting rotation automatics in Ben Sheets, Yovani Gallardo and Jeff Suppan. Am I missing something, but other than a lofty contract, what does Suppan bring to the table that Chris Capuano and Dave Bush don't? I don't remember "Soup" being dominant at all last year.
-- JT, Wisconsin Dells, Wis.

The Brewers don't pay Suppan to be dominant. They pay him to be a solid No. 2 or 3 starter, an innings-eater who consistently gives the team opportunities to win games and a veteran with postseason experience. He has made 30-plus starts in nine straight seasons, the fourth-longest such streak in the Majors, behind Livan Hernandez (10 straight) and Tom Glavine and Greg Maddux (12 each). Suppan also led the team last year with 206 2/3 innings pitched (the only member of the staff to top the 200-inning plateau) and the team had a winning record (18-16) in his starts.

Was he dominant? No. And he reflected the team's up-and-down season, going 12 starts without a win from June 27-August 28, but then finishing strong with a 4-1 record and a 3.86 ERA in six September starts. Suppan is a grinder who gives up his share of hits, but more often than not (118-113 career record) finds a way to win.

Not every pitcher, even the highly-paid ones, can be Josh Beckett or Johan Santana, the kind of player who can throw a no-hitter at any moment. There is something to be said for having a Suppan or two mixed into the starting rotation, someone who goes to the post every five days and provides a steady presence in the middle of the rotation. Those types of players tend to make everyone else on the staff better.

I don't understand why the Brewers are not giving their young players contracts, especially Prince Fielder. Now we are reading about how unhappy Fielder is that he isn't going to get more money. What are they waiting for? Their stats are just going to get better and they are just going to have to dish out bigger contracts, if they are even willing to come back to a team that so far is not willing to pay its deserving players.
-- Scott S., Ringle, Wis.

Contracts are complicated, especially in baseball, where young players have to bide their time before cashing in. It is tempting to oversimplify. For example, Fielder was more productive last season than Craig Counsell, so Fielder should make a higher salary. Dave Bush had better numbers than Chris Capuano, so Bush should make more. But it does not work that way.

Fielder is, in fact, unhappy, and he does have a case to compare himself to the Phillies' Ryan Howard. But the Brewers, in turn, argue that their pay system is designed to take those subjective comparisons out of the picture and to compensate players based on objective performance. Obviously, the sides disagree here.

Given Fielder's comments, I wouldn't bet on the sides getting anywhere on a multiyear contract extension at this point. There is something to be said for going year-to-year, from both the player's perspective and the team's. Fielder is going to cash in next year, when he's eligible for arbitration for the first time. Whether or not the current animosity affects things when Fielder reaches free agency in the winter of 2011-2012, we'll have to wait and see.

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The Brewers don't need a fifth starter until April 20. They can throw Sheets with his full four days' rest too, because there are off days for the first three loops through the rotation.
-- Martin D., Madison

I don't mean to pick on Martin, who was one of about a dozen fans who wrote to tell me I was wrong about the Brewers needing a fifth starter in the sixth game of the season. This point is tripping up a whole lot of fans, perhaps because they are forgetting that the season begins on March 31.

The Brewers cannot just go with four starters in April, despite some off-days. Here it is, as simply as I can put it:

March 31 - Sheets
April 1 - off
April 2 - No. 2
April 3 - No. 3
April 4 - No. 4
April 5 - Sheets
April 6 - No. 5

You cannot use the No. 2 guy on April 6, because he would only have three days of rest. Manager Ned Yost said it again very clearly this week, he is not willing to bring guys back on short rest in April and he needs a fifth starter in the sixth game.

In relation to Vince L.'s fifth starter question from the Feb. 25 mailbag: Will the Brewers simply go 1-5 every time, thereby giving everyone an extra day between starts until April 15 rolls around? Or will they always pitch Sheets every fifth day and let everyone else fall into place around that?
-- Adam R., Milwaukee

Yost said he and pitching coach Mike Maddux are still making that determination. If you keep Sheets as close as possible to a regular five-day schedule, it means the other four starters have to work more often on one or two extra days of rest. You limit those large gaps if you simply bump everybody back a day when the team is off. It's not just about what's best for Sheets, Yost said, it's about what's best for the staff.

Sounds like Yost and Maddux are leaning toward keeping everyone in order. It means one fewer start for Sheets and one extra start for the fifth guy during the month of April. All of this will come into focus later this month.

Many people here in Fort Worth that know Gallardo are wondering if he will be ready for the start of the season.
-- Juan G., Fort Worth, Texas

Gallardo said he is scheduled to throw off the mound on Thursday, his first action, other than playing catch, since undergoing knee surgery last month. He's questionable for the start of the season, because Yost says a pitcher has to be at the 90-pitch mark, and it takes four or five spring starts to get there. It is probably more likely that Gallardo will join the rotation in mid-April.

Do you think that Steve Bray has a shot of making the Brewers 25-man roster by the start of the season? He was a Triple-A All-Star last year, and seems to have really progressed in the last few years.
-- Mike D., Glastonbury, Conn.

A handful of things would have to happen for Bray to make the big league roster by Opening Day, but I do know that the Brewers were thrilled to get him in the Minor League phase of the Rule 5 Draft a few years ago. A scout told me that his pure stuff grades out as average or below average, but Bray is a perfect example of a guy who has guts and knows how to pitch. He's "an enigma wrapped in a mystery," the scout said. Bray is almost certainly ticketed for Triple-A again.

When will tickets for the Spring Training games at Miller Park on March 28 and 29 go on sale?
-- Paul N., West Bend, Wis.

The team finally got around to announcing this today. They go on sale Tuesday morning at 9 a.m. and will cost $10 apiece. Fans who buy tickets to the March 29 game will get access to the "Brewers On Deck" event earlier in the day.

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

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{"content":["spring_training" ] }
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