By Drew Olson Special to Published Mar 26, 2008 at 5:22 AM

PHOENIX -- Three days after making the least shocking announcement of spring training -- that Ben Sheets is starting opening day Monday at Wrigley Field -- the Brewers dropped a couple of stunners:

1. Veteran right-hander Claudio Vargas is history in Milwaukee.

2. Left-hander Manny Parra will open the season in the starting rotation.

3. Right-hander Carlos Villanueva will start the home opener April 4 against San Francisco.

By releasing Vargas, who posted an 11-6 record and 5.09 earned run average in 29 games (23 starts) last year, the Brewers will save roughly $2.7 million in salary.

The financial component of the decision, however, was less important than the philosophical implication. In choosing Parra for the No. 5 spot, the Brewers discounted "experience" and "track record" - two common buzzwords at this time of year -- and focused on talent, potential and another buzzword, "upside."

Though he was never dazzling, Vargas is durable and reasonably dependable. Though his outings were often drawn-out and at times painful to watch, manager Ned Yost often credited him for his work last season and theorized that many teams envied the production Milwaukee was getting from the No. 5 spot in the rotation.

Though he pitched well during spring training (3-1, 3.86 ERA), Vargas, 29, seems unlikely to improve upon his 2007 production. That's not the case with Villanueva, 24, who showed poise beyond his years last season, and Parra, 25, whose "stuff" draws raves from scouts.

"We've got to go with the guys who give us the best chance to win," Yost said. "(Minor league) options and things like that weigh into it, but we're looking for the pitchers who give us the best chance to win.'

Parra was impressive through his four exhibition starts, which resulted in a 2-0 record and 0.54 ERA, but struggled in two ensuing outings including a loss Monday against Colorado.

"I was trying too hard," Parra said after the Rockies game. "When I'm going good, I don't think about where my spot is. I just throw it to it. Today, especially, I was trying to hit spots. That's just not the right mindset for me."

Although Yost stressed the importance of production in the competition for roster spots, he also seemed willing to cut Parra some slack.

"I can't swear to this, but I think these kids get close to the end and they get into, 'Boy, I'm really close to making this team and I can't make a mistake,'" he said. "They get away from attacking and try to get a little too careful and a little too fine.

"That's a death sentence for you. Guys that have pitched themselves onto the team all of spring training, in an outing or two pitch themselves off. All of a sudden, instead of continuing to attack and doing what got them to that point, they get cautious."

Yost went on to say that players who know they've made the team often relax and perform better.

Parra may get a chance to test that theory. His next turn to throw could come in an exhibition game against Kansas City Saturday at Miller Park, but the Brewers may juggle the order to get pitchers slotted for their regular-season assignments.

As it stands, the Brewers will go into the season with a rotation of Ben Sheets, Jeff Suppan, David Bush, Villanueva and Parra.

In other news:

  • Shortstop J.J. Hardy, sidelined last week with a bacterial infection, played a minor league game Tuesday and will do so again Wednesday. The Brewers expect him to be ready for the regular season.
  • The Brewers will likely unveil their final roster decision today, when either Mike Rivera or Eric Munson will win backup catching job. The loser in that derby could end up playing for another team because both are out of minor-league options and the Brewers have committed to Vinny Rottino as the No. 1 catcher at Class AAA Nashville.
  • Lefty Chris Capuano will be examined by noted sports orthopedist James Andrews Wednesday in Nashville. Capuano was diagnosed with a torn ulnar collateral ligament, an injury that likely will require season-ending surgery.

Drew Olson Special to

Host of “The Drew Olson Show,” which airs 1-3 p.m. weekdays on The Big 902. Sidekick on “The Mike Heller Show,” airing weekdays on The Big 920 and a statewide network including stations in Madison, Appleton and Wausau. Co-author of Bill Schroeder’s “If These Walls Could Talk: Milwaukee Brewers” on Triumph Books. Co-host of “Big 12 Sports Saturday,” which airs Saturdays during football season on WISN-12. Former senior editor at Former reporter at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.