Brewers expect pitchers to fuel title run

Brewers expect pitchers to fuel title run

PHOENIX -- Mother Nature provided just enough of a window on Monday morning for the Brewers to get down to business at Maryvale Baseball Park.

The team's pitchers, catchers and early-reporting position players took to the rain-soaked fields in Phoenix for the first official workout of the team's 40th-anniversary season in Milwaukee. The rest of the position players will formally join the fold on Saturday, and Spring Training will be officially under way.

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"You always feel like it's going to be a long time, but then all of a sudden the offseason is over and it's time for Spring Training," said righty Yovani Gallardo, who threw a 40-pitch session along with about a dozen other pitchers on a covered bullpen mound. "It's always fun to have an opportunity to come back, step on that mound and throw to your catcher. I'm feeling really excited about this upcoming year."

Manager Ken Macha gathered his coaches and players for the first time at 10:15 a.m. CT for some opening remarks. Fifteen minutes later, everybody was out on the field to stretch in a routine that will repeat itself daily in the six weeks leading to the team's April 5 season opener.

The wet conditions did force Macha to alter slightly his Day 1 agenda, but a number of pitchers including starters Gallardo, Doug Davis, Dave Bush and Manny Parra were able to throw bullpen sessions under the watchful gaze of new pitching coach Rick Peterson, and hitting coach Dale Sveum led the hitters to covered batting cages for some work.

"I'm excited about our pitching staff because we've really made some upgrades," Macha said. "But, that said, if you look at it, we've still got a pretty young ballclub, so there's still a lot of work to do. The only guy with some grey hairs is the catcher.

"On the other hand, we've got great talent. I've got a lot of confidence that we're going to be able to get it done."

All of the team's pitchers and catchers were present and accounted for on Monday including closer Trevor Hoffman, who was reserving his enthusiasm for Saturday's full-squad debut.

"It's exciting, but until you get the whole team together, it doesn't feel quite right," Hoffman said. "In these first few days you find coaches saying, 'When everybody is here we'll address this or that.' So I'm going to wait until everybody is here before I get too excited."

As usual, will have it all covered on, the "Brew Beat" blog and on Twitter. There will be plenty to keep us occupied, like the arrival of left-hander Randy Wolf, the Brewers' top free-agent acquisition, who will try to solidify a starting rotation that caused so much trouble last season. He'll be joined by lefty Davis, who spent three seasons with the Brewers from 2004-06 before a trade to the D-backs. The presence of Wolf and Davis will spark a stiff competition at the back end of the rotation that is sure to be a topic of coverage all spring.

Speaking of pitching pickups, the start of camp means the beginning of Peterson's tenure as pitching coach. He is reunited with Macha and third-base coach Brad Fischer, colleagues from their days together in Oakland.

Wolf, Davis and Peterson aren't the only newcomers. Among the key arrivals are reliever LaTroy Hawkins, who recently signed a two-year deal, Gregg Zaun, a new face behind the plate, and Carlos Gomez, who begins his tenure as the Brewers' center fielder. Gomez in particular will be interesting to watch, as he tries to make the leap from prospect to steady performer.

Zaun is the frontrunner in an interesting catching competition. Gone is Jason Kendall and longtime backup Mike Rivera, leaving prospects Angel Salome and Jonathan Lucroy to contend with George Kottaras and non-roster newcomer Matt Treanor for the backup spot. Since Zaun is 38 years old, that role is more important than ever.

Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder will be trying to top spectacular 2009 seasons. The homegrown duo combined for 255 RBIs last season, tops of any pair of Major League teammates. Fielder will probably be in the headlines over the course of the season, as he and the Brewers discuss whether a contract extension makes sense. Braun will probably be in the headlines because, well, he almost always has something interesting to say.

The Brewers will find strength in numbers. As of the start of this week, the team has 57 players on the camp roster, including 17 non-roster invitees. Some of those 17 are veterans who will fight for a job -- outfielder Jim Edmonds and pitcher Scott Schoeneweis, among them -- and others are prospects fighting to make an impression -- pitchers Eric Arnett, Zach Braddock and Kyle Heckathorn come to mind.

Other storylines will surely emerge along the way, just like they do every spring. Last year, for example, who could have seen Casey McGehee making a run for the National League Rookie of the Year Award? At the start of Spring Training, he wasn't even expected to make the team.

Here's a rundown of some key dates between now and the start of the season:

Feb. 27: First full-squad workout.
March 2: Start of a 10-day window during which teams can renew contracts of unsigned players.
March 17: Deadline, at 1 p.m. CT, for clubs to request release waivers on players and owe only 30 days' termination pay. But remember that players on multiyear contracts are guaranteed their salaries.
March 19: Last date to assign certain injured players to Minor League clubs. To qualify, players must have less than three years of Major League service time and have not appeared in the Majors the previous season.
March 26: Earliest date a club may backdate a placement on the 15-day disabled list.
March 31: Last date to request release waivers on players and owe only 45 days' termination pay. After 1 p.m. CT on this date, contracts become guaranteed. This could potentially come into play for someone like Bush, who is vying for a spot in the rotation. His $4.215 million salary doesn't become guaranteed until Opening Day, so it's possible the Brewers could cut him loose to restore some payroll flexibility.
April 4: Clubs must submit 25-man rosters.
April 5: Opening Day at Miller Park against the Rockies.

Let the season begin.

"The first days are fun," outfielder Corey Hart said. "You wake up all winter to go work out, but this is different because you're with the guys again. You feel like a team again, and you get that feeling back.

"I like what we've done. Obviously, there are some guys who aren't here anymore, but our offense is still going to be pretty good. I think it's going to be a good year."

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