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Milwaukee Brewers need sharper Jim Henderson by opening day

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By Tom Haudricourt
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
March 19, 2014

PHOENIX--Milwaukee Brewers manager Ron Roenicke said Tuesday one of his goals between now and opening day is getting closer Jim Henderson on top of his game.

Henderson has posted a 10.80 ERA in five exhibition appearances covering five innings (eight hits, three walks, six runs). He has dabbled with a changeup this spring to add to his fastball and slider, but Roenicke said it's time to clean things up and get ready for the regular season.

“He's not where he needs to be,” Roenicke said. “We're trying to figure that out. It's different. It's location and stuff.

“He's a very deceptive guy in the way he throws but you still see 95-96 (mph) and hitters say it looks like 100 because of the deception he has. So, he's trying to figure it out and we're trying to figure it out.”

Henderson had an impressive rookie year in 2013, emerging as the closer and converting 28 of 32 save opportunities with 2.70 ERA. In 60 innings, he amassed 75 strikeouts.

Henderson doesn't stands alone among the Brewers' pitchers in struggling to find a groove. The Brewers emerged from a 9-3 victory over Texas on Tuesday with a 5.42 team ERA.

The conditions in Arizona can be hitter friendly with the glaring sun, rock-hard infields and occasional high winds, but Roenicke refused to blame any of that for his pitchers' struggles.

“I don't think the environment is that ridiculous,” said Roenicke. “When these guys are throwing strikes and are throwing down where they want to, they all succeed. So, it's not like it's anything different.”

Right-hander Marco Estrada has had no trouble throwing strikes, going six innings against the Rangers without a walk. Estrada stretched his scoreless streak to 12 innings this spring.

“The good ones, when they make their pitches, they get people out,” said Roenicke. “If I see progress, that's good for me. If I look at numbers (overall), I'm not going to be pleased.”

Roenicke noted that he has pleased with certain things he has seen from pitchers such as Yovani Gallardo, Kyle Lohse, Wily Peralta and Will Smith.

“Will Smith, you see what happens when he throws the ball down. His breaking ball doesn't seem to be affected by the supposed light air. He's punching out everybody (11 strikeouts in 9 1/3 innings).

“Some of these games, we've made a lot of mistakes but some of the pitches don't look so bad and they go down and hammer it. It's baffling at times.

“We're not making good pitches. If you make good pitches here, you're going to get people out.”

Glancing at Gomez

After getting long looks at Jean Segura and Rickie Weeks in the leadoff spot this spring, Roenicke is giving Carlos Gomez a shot at the top of the lineup.

Gomez led off against the Rangers—the second consecutive game he hit first and third time this spring—as the Brewers try to settle on the best replacement for Norichika Aoki.

“If he hits the way he hit last year, he fits that spot,” Roenicke said of Gomez.

Because of all the injuries the Brewers experienced in 2013, Gomez started at least one game in spots 1-8 in the lineup. He spent the most time hitting fifth, 48 games, and had the most success hitting sixth, with a .348 average. Gomez led off once.

He posted career highs across the board with a .284 average, 24 home runs and 73 runs batted in. His .338 on-base percentage and 40 stolen bases would seem to make him a good fit up top.

What could be a concern is if Gomez gets out of whack trying to fit that role. As the cleanup man in 19 games last season, Gomez hit .197 with three homers and nine RBI.

“As much as you tell guys, 'Be yourself. We're moving you in the order but don't change anything,' there's still something about that leadoff spot where they change,” Roenicke said.

“If Carlos can go out and be the guy that he was in the sixth spot, then he fits that.”

Gomez went 2 for 3 with a double, a three-run homer and two runs scored against the Rangers.

Ramirez feeling it

Third baseman Aramis Ramirez was behind at the outset of camp after having a polyp surgically removed from his colon in January but appears to be getting his timing at the plate.

Ramirez, 1 for 2 against the Rangers, is batting .500 (9 for 18) with three doubles, a triple and five runs batted in.

“So far, so good,” said Ramirez. “I missed a lot of time, basically missed the whole month of January, couldn't do anything, so I'm pleased where I am right now.

“Especially right-center, when I drive the ball that way with authority, good things are going to happen. I feel pretty good right now.”

Ramirez has been having more issues with his throwing after fielding grounders.

“He's thrown off line a few times, which is unusual for him,” said Roenicke. “He's not happy with the footwork and rhythm of that, but he's coming along fine.

“He practices his throws across probably more than anybody we have. I don't know if that's part of the reason he's so accurate (normally). But to do all that work and all of a sudden throw balls off line, that's not something he's used to doing.”

Despite easing into camp after his surgery, Ramirez has two weeks to fine-tune his game, offensively and defensively, before opening day.

“Perfect timing,” he said. “I'm playing back-to-back games for the second time, and we'll go from there. I feel pretty good.”



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