Pitching competition to begin in earnest

Pitching competition to begin in earnest

PHOENIX -- With what figures to be a spirited competition for spots at the back end of the Brewers' starting rotation set to officially begin on Monday, general manager Doug Melvin reasserted that performance, and not finances, will drive the team's decisions.

That's a key point as Milwaukee's pitchers and catchers get ready for the first official Spring Training workout at Maryvale Baseball Park. Club officials figure to spend a lot of their time over the next six weeks deciding how to line up five starters from a field that includes favorites Yovani Gallardo, Randy Wolf and Doug Davis, and hopefuls Dave Bush, Chris Narveson, Manny Parra and Jeff Suppan.

While 38 Brewers players underwent off-site physical exams on Sunday, Melvin and assistant GM Gord Ash met for breakfast with the team's beat writers on Sunday morning and discussed a wide range of topics. Up first was how they will decide on five starting pitchers.

"We'll probably wait right to the end to determine that," Melvin said.

Brewers manager Ken Macha said earlier this week that new pitching coach Rick Peterson already has a spring rotation mapped out through March 24, the team's only Spring Training off-day. Club officials will meet that day to make their decisions and line pitchers up for the April 5 season-opener.

The fact that there are an uneven number of teams in the Cactus League beginning this year -- the Reds have joined the Indians in Goodyear, Ariz. -- actually helps the Brewers with their pitching surplus. Major League Baseball had to schedule more split-squad games than usual, and the Brewers will take advantage of those double-duty days on March 6, 11 and 13 to make sure their starters get extra work. At least one "B" game has also been scheduled, and Ash said more are likely to come.

In all, the Brewers have 32 pitchers on the camp roster including 10 non-roster invitees. All have been cleared for full participation other than reliever David Riske, who underwent Tommy John surgery last June and will be on a limited throwing program at the start.

"You almost work from the back end; you know the pitchers who aren't going to have a chance to make your club. We have a number of young pitchers in camp -- [like Eric] Arnett and [Kyle] Heckathorn and [Alex] Periard. So you can't look at 32 pitchers in camp and think that we have an excess number of pitchers who are competing for a job."

What factors will be measured in that competition?

"You do have to look at their track record [along with] what they did in the spring," Melvin said. "You have to be careful you don't get fooled by Spring Training, so you look at their overall stuff. And, health issues."

Then there are the off-field issues. Left-handers Narveson and Parra are both out of options, so the Brewers would have to expose either player to waivers to get them to the Minors, and Parra in particular would almost certainly be claimed. Suppan, meanwhile, is guaranteed $12.5 million in the final season of his four-year contract, while Bush's $4.215 million salary won't be on the books until just before Opening Day because arbitration contracts aren't guaranteed. That means the Brewers could, if they choose, release Bush by March 17 and owe him only 30 days' termination pay, or one-sixth of his salary, or by March 31 and owe 45 days' termination pay, or a quarter of his salary.

Melvin, though, has been saying in recent weeks that the financial considerations will not be the primary factor in the team's decision. That means he and principal owner Mark Attanasio are comfortable with beginning the season with a payroll well over $80 million.

"We're going to go with the best people we have," Melvin said. "We're not in danger of saying we're going to lose money if we keep a pitcher making $4 million."

On the flip side, Suppan's significant salary might not offer any guarantees. His 2009 season was marred by a fluke rib-cage injury suffered while swinging the bat, but it continued a trend in the wrong direction. In his three Brewers seasons, his ERA has climbed from 4.62 to 4.96 to 5.29 and his WHIP has also ballooned from 1.505 to 1.542 to 1.695.

The veteran isn't used to having to win a job in Spring Training, when he follows a time-tested routine that works for him but doesn't always lead to pretty pitching lines. Melvin was asked whether this time Suppan would have to "show something" in Cactus League games.

"I think they know we're more competitive and there's extra people in camp," Melvin said. "I'm not pinpointing any one individual.

"We've had this problem before with extra pitchers," Melvin added. "It will have a way of working itself out without any preconceived notions of who is in your rotation at this early stage."

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