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Estrada makes pitch for No. 5 spot

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Michael Hunt
March 23, 2011
— The competition for the temporary No. 5 spot in the Milwaukee Brewers rotation isn’t over, but right-hander Marco Estrada emphatically put himself in the conversation Tuesday.

Estrada, who made one emergency start for the Brewers last season, was impressive in his start against the San Diego Padres. In 4 1/3 innings, Estrada struck out four, allowed three hits, walked one and did not give up a run.


Reporters had to catch up with him afterward in the minor-league clubhouse because Estrada, 27, didn’t get a big-league invite after being sent to Class AAA Nashville at the end of last season.


“It felt great just to be able to start over there (in a big-league) game,” Estrada said. “That’s what I love to do. I felt confident. I went out there and I threw strikes.”


The Brewers are looking for a fifth starter to go April 6 against the Atlanta Braves at Miller Park because No. 1 Zack Greinke is on the shelf with cracked ribs. The Brewers also will need someone to start about 10 days later.


Before Estrada’s performance, the Brewers had narrowed the field to Wily Peralta and several others. But Estrada is now in the picture.


Manager Ron Roenicke said pitching coach Rick Kranitz was happy with Estrada’s work.


“He liked the way he pitched,” Roenicke said. “His changeup was good. He had movement on his fastball. He threw some breaking balls that were pretty nice, too. We knew he threw strikes from last year.


“He’s definitely a possibility.”


Estrada, who was picked up on waivers last year from Washington, was sent down after pitching well at Minnesota at a time when the Brewers had depleted their staff. But because Estrada complained of arm fatigue, the Brewers had to put him on the disabled list before they sent him down at the end of the season.


As for the competition to be the No. 5, Estrada said, “I’m trying not to do too much. I’m just trying to stay in shape, keep my head down and work hard. If it happens, great, I’ll be the happiest guy in the world. If it doesn’t, I’ll keep busting my butt and get out there eventually.”


Roenicke said Estrada likely earned another spring opportunity, but any decision on a No. 5 is far from being made.


Gamel sent down

It was hardly a surprise Tuesday when the Brewers sent reserve infielder Mat Gamel down to Nashville.


The one-time top prospect has not been able to get over his injury/defensive problems enough to justify his left-handed bat. When he finally got a chance to play the field last week, he made two throwing errors at third.


What’s interesting, though, is that general manager Doug Melvin said Gamel will go to Nashville to learn how to play first base.


You could take that as one contingency plan for Prince Fielder’s eventual departure.


Melvin doesn’t want Gamel to play right field in Nashville, which likely means Corey Hart won’t be a future candidate to play first.


The Brewers seem to like utility players Erick Almonte and Luis Cruz as possibilities to make the club as one of their backup infielders


Arms search

Melvin said he’s watching the waiver wire for possible pitching help.


“Is somebody’s No. 13 better than one of our guys? That’s what we’re looking at,” Melvin said.


But with Greinke out until at least mid-April and Shaun Marcum battling shoulder tightness (he’s supposed to start Saturday), Melvin said he is definitely not considering older castoff pitchers such as Oliver Perez, Doug Davis and Kevin Millwood.


Melvin would rather have a younger pitcher who could move from the bullpen to the rotation and back in the first month or so of the season. They might even find that guy among their own, he said.


The bullpen is in flux with Manny Parra’s back injury and the uncertainty of LaTroy Hawkins (shoulder) to be ready for the season.


Injury update

Fielder came down with a sinus infection Monday and remained home Tuesday.


Left-hander Zach Braddock, who has been working on recovering the velocity from his rookie season, also stayed home with an illness.


At least the Brewers have today off for them to recover.


Roenicke reversed his field on catcher Jonathan Lucroy, who had the pin removed from his broken right pinkie Monday. The manager had planned on letting Lucroy catch, but not hit, in some minor-league games this week.


“The doctor doesn’t want to take that chance,” Roenicke said.


Lucroy will go back to the doctor Thursday and have an X-ray to determine whether the area around the pin has filled in. His ability to grip a bat will determine whether Lucroy will start the season March 31 at Cincinnati. If not, the Brewers would temporarily keep George Kottaras and Wil Nieves on the roster.


Roenicke also said the team has gone into roster-trimming mode the last couple of days. They used Monday’s rainout to meet extensively about who stays and who goes, who has options and who does not.


If Hart (oblique) starts the season on the DL as expected, the Brewers would temporarily keep two reserve outfielders from the following three: Brandon Boggs, Chris Dickerson and Jeremy Reed. Veteran Mark Kotsay is the primary backup.



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