Far from the spotlight of a pennant race, Milwaukee Brewers general Doug Melvin, manager Ron Roenicke and pitching coach Rick Kranitz are facing the same concerns as their division-leading counterparts in Washington and on the South Side of Chicago – what do with the mounting innings of young pitchers.
While the Nationals and the White Sox have Cy Young candidates in Stephen Strasburg and Chris Sale that have elicited national debate about their usage and potential shut down dates, the Brewers have the luxury of not having to ride their young starters to the postseason.
The team could, if it so chooses, shut down Michael Fiers, Marco Estrada, Mark Rogers and even Tyler Thornburg and Wily Peralta in a week without affecting the Brewers' place in the division.
On the other hand, the team doesn’t want to find itself in a similar bind as the Nationals and White Sox a year from now, in which pitchers might need to be monitored – or shut down – during a potential World Series run.
"That’s something that I brought up just thinking about what Washington is doing," Roenicke said. "I don’t want to be in a spot next year where we’re contending, like I hope we’re going to be, and in September talking about shutting people down. I think it is important what we do the rest of the time (this year) and how we go about the plans for next year."
So for now, the Brewers are going to extend their young pitchers a bit in an effort to prepare them for a longer season in 2013.
Heading into this week, Rogers and Fiers have pitched more innings in 2012 than they ever have as professionals.
Estrada tossed 143 2/3 innings in the Washington organization between Class AAA and the Nationals in 2009 but hasn't approached that number since. Both Peralta and Thornburg are nearing their totals from 2011, but should be able to go a bit further.
The number of pitchers on the disabled list across baseball has left teams scrambling to find a solution. The natural response has been to decrease the workload of younger pitchers, even if their only input is telling the team how they feel.
"I know that everybody just wants to keep pitching," Estrada said. "There’s no one that wants to stop. It doesn’t matter how the season is going – you’ve got to keep pitching. Me, as a competitor, I want to keeping going, I want the ball every fifth day. If I’m at 300 innings, if I throw good, I want to be out there. But I know there’s limits and what not. It’s up to them. You’ve just to keep doing what you’re doing. I’m not sure what’s going to happen. You’ve got to focus on yourself and keep working hard."
Of the five pitchers the Brewers are watching, Rogers will be under the most powerful microscope. The fifth pick of the 2004 draft has had four arm surgeries that caused him to miss the entire 2007 and 2008 seasons.
"I’m just being honest with them (about) how I feel because, especially after everything I’ve been through, the last thing I want to do is get hurt again," Rogers said.
"So I totally understand where they’re coming from with the innings limit. That being said, I feel great right now. I feel strong. As far as what I can control, it’s keeping myself ready to pitch every five days. I try to just keep that out of my head. They’ll tell me when I’m done, so I want to keep preparing myself as much as possible for every start. This is a great opportunity for me."
Innings limits are a subject none of them really wants to spend too much time pondering, however.
"You can’t think about it and I haven’t thought about it," Estrada said. "Every time they tell me, 'hey, you’ve got this next start,' that’s all I’m looking forward to. I don’t think about what’s going to happen the next day. Regardless, I still have to do my job. If I have to go back to the bullpen, I have to back, and I’m not going to complain about it. I’ll work as hard as I’ve been and do my job. Obviously I want to keep starting and outings like (Thursday) are going to help to the future. All I want is for them to keep giving me the opportunity."
Added Rogers: "I haven’t been in this situation before so I’m taking it day by day. Like Ron told me, just keep it out of your brain as much as possible. So that’s what I’ve been trying to do. I’m just enjoying my time here and trying to get as much experience as I can. Ultimately it’s going to happen. I don’t know when. But all I know is I’m still getting to pitch so I don’t even want to think about that."
The players may not know quite what to expect over the next few weeks, but they are prepared for the fact that their season may likely end before the final day of the regular season on Oct. 3. For what it’s worth, their manager is in the same boat.
"I’ve never had to deal with this before," Roenicke admitted. "I’ve never, ever been with a team where you’re talking about shutting somebody down. I’m trying to figure out things. It’s difficult when you’re looking at things this way and then trying to figure out for next year how you go about it, especially with all these young starters that we’re looking at that may be on our staff next year"
As it stands, the only veteran starter coming back healthy for 2013 is ace Yovani Gallardo. Chris Narveson, who is on track to return from rotator cuff surgery, is arbitration eligible. Shaun Marcum, who has missed significant time again this season, is a free agent.
That leaves the group of Fiers, Estrada, Rogers, Thornburg and Peralta as group heading into the offseason competing for several rotation spots.
"I don’t think, when you’re looking at a season and where you want to be at the end of the season, you think about shutting down pitchers," Roenicke said. "I just don’t think that’s where any organization wants to be and if we want to be where we hope we are next year, I don’t want to be thinking about shutting down pitchers. I want to be thinking about how we get these guys to the playoffs."
Jim Owczarski is an award-winning sports journalist and comes to Milwaukee by way of the Chicago Sun-Times Media Network.
A three-year Wisconsin resident who has considered Milwaukee a second home for the better part of seven years, he brings to the market experience covering nearly all major and college sports.
To this point in his career, he has been awarded six national Associated Press Sports Editors awards for investigative reporting, feature writing, breaking news and projects. He is also a four-time nominee for the prestigious Peter J. Lisagor Awards for Exemplary Journalism, presented by the Chicago Headline Club, and is a two-time winner for Best Sports Story. He has also won numerous other Illinois Press Association, Illinois Associated Press and Northern Illinois Newspaper Association awards.
Jim's career started in earnest as a North Central College (Naperville, Ill.) senior in 2002 when he received a Richter Fellowship to cover the Chicago White Sox in spring training. He was hired by the Naperville Sun in 2003 and moved on to the Aurora Beacon News in 2007 before joining OnMilwaukee.com.
In that time, he has covered the events, news and personalities that make up the PGA Tour, LPGA Tour, Major League Baseball, the National Football League, the National Hockey League, NCAA football, baseball and men's and women's basketball as well as boxing, mixed martial arts and various U.S. Olympic teams.
Golf aficionados who venture into Illinois have also read Jim in GOLF Chicago Magazine as well as the Chicago District Golfer and Illinois Golfer magazines.