MILWAUKEE -- Two weeks from this writing, Brewers pitchers and catchers will be on the fields at Maryvale Baseball Park for the team's first official workout. Precisely six weeks after that, the full squad will be on the field at Miller Park for Opening Day.
Yes, baseball is back, so it's time to clean the cobwebs out of my mailbox:
Who will be the opening day starter? Yo?
-- Daniel L. via Twitter
I love annoying the manager with this question at the start of Spring Training, so I'm thrilled that Daniel is asking before we even arrive in Phoenix. I don't know who will get the opener, other than to say it will be Yovani Gallardo, Matt Garza or Kyle Lohse. Ron Roenicke always pushes this announcement deep into Spring Training to avoid ruffling feathers.
Roenicke also argues that, symbolism aside, the order of your five starting pitchers does not much matter in April, when there are typically a number of days off that jumble the rotation. That line of thinking is bolstered this year by the fact there are so many prime assignments available in the first two weeks of the regular season. The Brewers will play three "Opening Days:" The true opener at Miller Park against the Braves on March 31, then Boston's home opener April 4 and Philadelphia's home opener April 7, before an important homecoming April 11 at Miller Park against the Pirates, a defending playoff team. Because of two scheduled days off in that span, there are myriad different ways Roenicke and pitching coach Rick Kranitz could line up the starters.
The simplest is to just keep them in order and give them extra rest when the team has a break in its schedule, a strategy the Brewers have tended to employ in recent years. In that event, the No. 1 pitcher would start Opening Day (duh), No. 4 would start the opener in Boston against the World Series champion Red Sox, No. 2 would start the opener in Philadelphia, and No. 5 would start the April 11 game against the Pirates.
So there are plenty of of "big games" to go around this year. I'm sure Roenicke will remind us of that when the topic comes up in his first press briefing at Maryvale Baseball Park.
P.S. I would give Opening Day to Lohse based on his Major League tenure and what he did for the Brewers last season, but I don't get a vote.
Is Garza expected to be the staff ace ahead of Gallardo ... and can he handle it?
-- Matt F. via Twitter
This is another question that fills up the mailbag but doesn't matter much to the manager. And that's a good thing, because Roenicke probably does not have an "ace" -- though Garza is close when healthy. What the Brewers have is some depth, led by three experienced pitchers at the top of the rotation who can pitch like an ace in stretches. Then they have Marco Estrada, whose numbers speak for themselves (again, when he is healthy), Wily Peralta, who should be more consistent in his second full season, and a slew of unproven backups like Tyler Thornburg and Jimmy Nelson and Johnny Hellweg and even Will Smith, the left-hander acquired from Kansas City who will probably begin the season in the bullpen. Only Gallardo is entering a contract year (the Brewers have a club option on him for 2015), so if any of those younger pitchers "hit," then Milwaukee is in decent shape -- even if they do not have a Clayton Kershaw.
That will depend on Reynolds' production and Ramirez's health, but I can tell you that "versatility" continues to be a buzzword around Miller Park, and while Reynolds is being viewed primarily as an option for first base, his ability to back up Ramirez at third helped lead him to the Brewers. It also gives the Brewers a legitimate option to fill that position if they opt to listen to trade offers for Ramirez as July 31 approaches.
Has Matt Lepay called baseball games before?
-- Justin H. via Twitter
He has, but only briefly. That's according to Mike Lucas' terrific story on UWBadgers.com last week about Lepay, the University of Wisconsin play-by-play man who is joining the Brewers' broadcast team in 2014. Lepay will fill in on television when Brian Anderson is away calling national games for TBS.
Lepay told Lucas that, after graduating from Ohio State, he called some American Legion games for a small radio station in Piqua, Ohio. In Madison, he later called one game for the now-defunct Muskies as a favor to the general manager. The Muskies were a Class A affiliate of the Oakland A's.
"I was very up front about this with the Brewers," Lepay told UWBadgers.com. "My baseball experience is minimal."
But baseball is also his "first love," Lepay said. He grew up a Reds fan, attending some games with his dad and listening to others called by Cincinnati broadcasters Al Michaels and Marty Brennaman.
When Lepay auditioned for the Brewers' gig, he and other candidates re-created the end of a thriller Aug. 17. Jonathan Lucroy hit a game-winning home run in the bottom of the ninth inning that night.
The opponent? Aroldis Chapman and the Reds.
"My heart and soul is with the University of Wisconsin," Lepay told Lucas, "but this is a golden opportunity that is too good to pass up and I'm very grateful to have it."