Suppan has earned respect of front office

Suppan has earned respect of front office

MILWAUKEE -- It was a strange question amid the fanfare of the Brewers' home opener: whether Jeff Suppan has been a disappointment over the first two years (plus one start) of his four-year Brewers contract. But it offered general manager Doug Melvin an opportunity to defend his most veteran starter.

"When we signed Jeff, the things that highlighted us about him were that he was never on the disabled list, he was a durable guy," Melvin said on Friday. "He'll go out there and win you double figures, like he always does.

"He's great in the clubhouse. He's a veteran guy that players respect. We didn't expect an 18-game winner, a 20-game winner. Jeff has never been that."

Suppan will aim for win No. 1 of 2009 when he makes his second start of the season on Sunday night. This time he faces the Cubs, against whom he owns a 6-6 career record and 3.60 ERA.

He has gone 12-12 with a 4.62 ERA and 10-10 with a 4.96 ERA in his two full Brewers seasons. He was the losing pitcher on Opening Day, allowing six runs on six hits in four innings of a 10-6 loss in San Francisco that was more reminiscent of last September, when he was 0-3 with an 8.44 ERA. In August 2008, he was 5-0 with a 3.00 ERA.

"He does have moments, like some pitchers do when they're in slumps," Melvin said. "They'll have good games and bad games. It's almost similar to what hitters go through, when hitters have streaks. But when you're a pitcher, it seems to stand out more, and people notice it more.

"But I know without Dave Bush and Jeff Suppan going 9-0 in the month of August last year, we probably wouldn't have the postseason appearance, and [Suppan] gives you a great effort every time. Jeff has given us what we hoped for, what we expected. If he went out there and won 16, 17 games, that would be a little bit more than we expected."

Suppan might have a few new faces behind him on Sunday. Because Cubs starter Ryan Dempster went 4-0 against the Brewers in five starts last season, manager Ken Macha is considering starting some bench players in the series finale.

"Dempster, from what I've heard, pretty much had his way with this club last year," Macha said. "There might be a couple of lineup changes. Try something different."

A glance at Dempster's career numbers against some Brewers provides some clues. Macha will certainly be tempted to start Chris Duffy (2-for-4 against Dempster while with the Pirates) in center field and give Mike Cameron (3-for-18) a break.

The other positions are up for grabs. Perhaps Macha will be tempted to start rookie Brad Nelson, who has never faced Dempster, over left fielder Ryan Braun (2-for-18) or right fielder Corey Hart (1-for-14). Casey McGehee is a former Cub, and perhaps he'll man third in place of Bill Hall (3-for-18). Backup infielder Craig Counsell is just 3-for-15 against Dempster, but that's a bit better than shortstop J.J. Hardy, who is 2-for-18 and a right-handed hitter. Left-handed hitters batted .243 against Dempster last season; righties hit just .213.

Pitching matchup
MIL: RHP Jeff Suppan (0-1, 13.50 ERA)
After his outing in San Francisco, Suppan dropped to 0-2 in his four Opening Day starts, with an 8.55 ERA, and including Aaron Rowand's blast on Tuesday, he has surrendered 10 home runs in those games. He started three straight season openers for the Royals from 2000-02. He is 6-6 with a 3.60 ERA in his career against the Cubs, including 1-1 last season, when he surrendered 11 runs in 15 innings.

CHC: RHP Ryan Dempster (0-0, 3.00 ERA)
Dempster did not get a decision in his first start, on Tuesday in Houston. He notched a quality start, giving up two runs on six hits over six innings, striking out five and walking three, but the Astros won in extras. His defense definitely helped, as Alfonso Soriano robbed Michael Bourn of extra bases with a running catch and also threw out Hunter Pence, who was trying to advance on a long single. Dempster was 4-0 with a 2.40 ERA in five starts against the Brewers last year.

Tidbits
The series finale marks the first of two Sunday-night ESPN games for the Brewers during the first half of the season. The other is on May 24, at Minnesota. ... The Brewers might have hosted the largest crowd in Miller Park history for Friday's home opener. The paid attendance was 45,455, second to the 46,218 for a Brewers-Cubs game in September 2003, but there were only about 700 no-shows on Friday. That's an incredibly low number, according to a front-office official. ... With 242 career home runs and 292 stolen bases, Cameron is eight homers shy of the 250-250 club. Only 18 players are members, but that group could grow this season to include Cameron, Soriano (who needs one stolen base) and the Angels' Bobby Abreu (who needs nine homers).

Tickets
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On the Internet
 MLB.TV
 Gameday Audio
•  Gameday
•  Official game notes

On television
• ESPN, Telemundo (Español)

On radio
• WTMJ 620

Up next
• Monday: Brewers (Yovani Gallardo, 1-0, 2.70) vs. Reds (Edinson Volquez, 0-1, 8.31), 7:05 p.m. CT
• Tuesday: Brewers (Manny Parra, 0-1, 10.38) vs. Reds (Bronson Arroyo, 1-0, 7.50), 7:05 p.m. CT
• Wednesday: Brewers (Braden Looper, 0-0, 1.80) vs. Reds (Micah Owings, 0-0, -.--), 7:05 p.m. CT

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