Backstop a question mark for 2010

Backstop a question mark for 2010

ST. LOUIS -- Jason Kendall would like to re-sign with the Brewers. Mike Rivera says he's ready for regular duty. Angel Salome should be ready to make the leap from prospect.

So who will be behind the plate for the Brewers next season? At the moment, it's anybody's guess.

"I feel ready for it," said Rivera, who is arbitration-eligible for the first time following this season. He has been handling Dave Bush's starts since Bush returned from the disabled list, so Rivera will probably get the nod at catcher on Wednesday when the Brewers continue their three-game series at Busch Stadium.

For the past two seasons, Rivera has backed up one of baseball's most durable catchers. Kendall led the Majors and set a franchise record by starting 149 games behind the plate in 2008, the most since Gary Carter started 151 games for Montreal in 1982.

All Rivera did was bat .306 in his 21 games, helping him earn more playing time this season. He has appeared in 31 games and started 23, hitting .241 with two homers, 11 RBIs and six doubles in 83 at-bats. Despite his limited duty over the past two years and the fact that he turns 33 next week, Rivera thinks he could handle a starter's load.

"I can do it," he said. "I think I've learned a lot for the past two years even though I haven't been playing full time. I've learned how to prepare myself and how to handle the pitching staff. It's different here than handling a pitching staff in the Minor Leagues. I'm anxious to have the opportunity and hopefully I'll have it next year. I think if I got more at-bats and more playing time, I could increase those [offensive] numbers."

Kendall's strength is handling a pitching staff, but he has been making mechanical adjustments of late that have him driving the baseball much more consistently. Kendall entered the Brewers' brief road trip hitting .247 this year but .410 over his previous 12 games.

He originally signed a one-year contract with the Brewers, but blew past the number of starts he needed to vest an option for 2009. Kendall, a free agent after this season, has made it clear to Brewers officials that he would be interested in negotiating a return.

"This is my first choice and they know that," said Kendall, but Brewers officials in turn have made it clear they will wait for the offseason to make their decisions. "I'm not just saying that. I really, really love it here."

Then there is Salome, 23, who entered the year as Milwaukee's clear-cut top catching prospect but has been dogged by injuries. He missed an opportunity to impress new Brewers manager Ken Macha in Spring Training because of a back strain, and recently went on the disabled list at Triple-A Nashville with a right finger injury.

Salome is batting .286 with six home runs and 44 RBIs in 82 games this season. He earned a September callup last season, but the Brewers are expected to stick with the Kendall-Rivera pairing this year.

Pitching matchup
MIL: RHP Dave Bush (3-5, 5.88 ERA)
In his return from a two-month stay on the disabled list, Bush didn't allow a hit until the fourth inning against the Reds on Thursday and carried a 4-1 lead into the fifth when a two-out, nine-pitch walk to the opposing pitcher signaled his undoing. The Reds went on to rally for five runs in the inning against Bush and reliever Mark DiFelice, four of them charged to Bush, leaving the starter searching for positives afterward. "As frustrating as the results are, I'm trying to focus on the fact that I felt healthy, I felt good, I wasn't tentative," said Bush, who had been sidelined by a triceps injury. "I felt like I went out there and let the ball go without any hesitation, and that was most important for me today. From here on, I'm going to start pitching better."

STL: RHP Chris Carpenter (14-3, 2.20 ERA)
Carpenter worked less than seven innings for the first time in nine starts on Thursday when he allowed two runs in six innings to Houston. The righty called it "a battle at times" as he allowed four-straight baserunners with two outs, including back-to-back walks to the Nos. 8 and 9 hitters, in a two-run second inning. Carpenter left with a 3-2 lead after six innings, but the Cardinals' bullpen gave it up in the eighth. He should benefit from an extra day of rest going into his start against Milwaukee after needing 98 pitches to get just 18 outs.

Tidbits
Macha further tweaked his starting rotation to give Yovani Gallardo two extra days of rest before his next start, meaning Gallardo won't pitch until Saturday against the Giants and will miss each of the Brewers' series against St. Louis this week and next. "This is going to create lost starts for him," Macha said, and that's the idea. The Brewers worry about overworking their young ace, who leads the staff with 169 1/3 innings after missing most of last year with a knee injury. Gallardo has thrown 2,906 pitches, the fourth-highest count in the National League. ... The Brewers are expected to recall third-base prospect Mat Gamel in the coming days, and he was among the topics during a chat Tuesday between Macha and Triple-A Nashville manager Don Money. Gamel was hitting .336 before a midseason promotion to the Brewers, but his average had fallen to .282 entering Tuesday's game. "[Money] said he's getting a hit here and there but not really driving the ball like he was earlier," Macha said. "Don said he thinks a little too much about what's going on instead of just going up there and whacking." ... Felipe Lopez was named the Brewers' player of the month for August and Trevor Hoffman won pitcher of the month honors. Lopez batted a team-best .325 and also led the way with 20 runs scored, 37 hits and 11 doubles. Hoffman converted all six of his save chances with a 1.64 ERA in 11 appearances. ... Casey McGehee has hit all 12 of his home runs in his last 59 games, including a three-run shot on Tuesday. ... Major League Baseball won't make it official until Wednesday, but the Brewers announced that Jeff Suppan was the team's nominee for the Roberto Clemente Award for the third straight season. The award recognizes community service and sportsmanship.

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On the Internet
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On radio
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Up next
• Thursday: Brewers (Manny Parra, 9-10, 6.66) at Cardinals (John Smoltz, 3-5, 6.71), 1:15 p.m. CT
• Friday: Brewers (Jeff Suppan, 6-8, 5.20) vs. Giants (Barry Zito, 9-11, 3.94), 7:05 p.m. CT
• Saturday: Brewers (Yovani Gallardo, 12-10, 3.56) vs. Giants (Matt Cain, 12-4, 2.50), 3:05 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.