By Gregg Hoffmann Special to Published Mar 13, 2008 at 5:15 AM

PHOENIX -- With a little more than two weeks left before the regular season, the competition for at least two starting spots and some bullpen roles remains intense on the Brewers.

Manager Ned Yost is not naming his starters after No. 3. Ben Sheets is a lock on No. 1 and Jeff Suppan No. 2.

If he is healthy, Yovani Gallardo is solid at No. 3. Gallardo looks to be on target, despite undergoing arthroscopic surgery on his knee earlier in camp.

"He's making good progress," Yost said of Gallardo. "He's a young pitcher who is well-advanced. He has a veteran pitcher's mindset. You can't teach it. They have to have it inside. It literally is one in a million who do."

Two other young pitchers, Carlos Villanueva and Manny Parra, are competing with veterans Claudio Vargas, Chris Capuano and Dave Bush for the last two spots in the rotation in a battle that could go to the final days of camp.

"Both of the young guys show a lot of poise; not much bothers them," Yost said after Parra threw four shutout innings Monday against the Cubs. "Manny is charging hard, making huge strides. But, he has to do it over the long haul. He‘s in the midst of a big fight right now, and shows no signs of that."

Vargas, who seemed like the odd man out at the start of camp, pitched five no-hit innings last weekend and cannot be counted out. Bush gave up three runs in the first inning against the Cubs, but then settled down to pitch three scoreless innings. Capuano has an 18.00 ERA after his first two appearances, in which he gave up 10 hits.

Yost says he has to weight past performances as heavily, or more, than how pitchers throw in spring training.

"It won't be easy to dismiss Capuano and Bush out right out of the chute," Yost said. "You hate to hang too much on results in spring training, but you can't ignore them either. It's fair and unfair. What might be fair to the group might be unfair to the individual."

Yost added, "It could make for some difficult decisions the last week of spring training. There will be some good debates among our coaching staff and myself. What you try to go is get everybody's opinions and then make a decision."

If the young pitchers fill out the rotation, you could see a veteran traded. Bush and Capuano also could be used in the bullpen as long relievers and swingmen. Vargas doesn't fit that role as neatly.

Bullpen nearly set: The Brewers' bullpen looks more settled than the rotation, although some of the relievers' stats this spring are not that impressive. Eric Gagne, who will start as the closer, had a 9.00 ERA in three appearances.

"He's been throwing just fine," Yost said of Gagne, who was slowed early in camp by the flu. "He threw nothing but fast balls in one of his outings. Why show teams what you have when it doesn't count? He knows how to get ready for the season."

David Riske, who could serve in a setup role, has a 4.91 ERA in three outings and had looked good in his last couple times out. "We have experience and versatility in the bullpen," said Riske, who signed with the Brewers as a free agent. "I can pitch anywhere from (the sixth to the ninth inning), and so can others."

Guillermo Mota, acquired from the Mets, did not allow a run in four appearances. Salomon Torres, acquired from Pittsburgh, was getting closer to throwing in a game, after taking a slow approach because of previous arm soreness. "He's on pace to get six appearances, which is enough," Yost said of Torres.

Derrick Turnbow, one of two returnees in the pen, has looked good, with a 4.50 ERA inflated because of one bad outing in which he gave up two runs. He has pitched two perfect innings in two of his appearances.

"I've been throwing the ball pretty well," Turnbow said. "This is the deepest and most experienced pen we've had since I've been here."

Brian Shouse returns as the left-handed specialist. Whether the Brewers carry another lefty or not could be determined by what happens with the starting rotation.

To get more work for his bullpen, Yost was using some of his relievers in "B" games, in the minor league camp and in simulated games.

"Most of the guys in the bullpen have experience and know how to get ready," he said. "We want to get them enough work to get sharp."

Veteran support: Some veteran position players also are indicating they can back up the young core of regulars. Craig Counsell was hitting .450 in limited spring action and likely will provide infield backup. Gabe Kapler was hitting .333, including two hits against the Cubs on Monday, and could end up providing outfield help.

Some of the veteran backup could even extend to Class AAA Nashville. Abraham Nunez has been working out in the big league camp, but signed a minor league contract. Joe Dillon, Eric Munson and others could bounce back and forth between the minors and majors during the course of the season.

Please the Prince: Principal owner Mark Attanasio was at Maryvale Baseball Park with other members of the ownership group and sponsors last weekend. He emphasized that the Brewers will make every effort to keep first baseman Prince Fielder happy with an extended contract.

"I think Prince is sophisticated and he's got very good representation, and he's going to do what's right for him," Attanasio told the media. "Whatever we're paying him this year doesn't mean we're going to keep him there. We're going to do everything we can. We're still very interested in signing Prince to a long-term deal."

Fielder expressed discontent at the renewal of his contract at a reported $670,000, without an extended contract. He is represented by Scott Boras, an agent who has a reputation as a tough negotiator.

Gregg Hoffmann Special to
Gregg Hoffmann is a veteran journalist, author and publisher of Midwest Diamond Report and Old School Collectibles Web sites. Hoffmann, a retired senior lecturer in journalism at UWM, writes The State Sports Buzz and Beyond Milwaukee on a monthly basis for OMC.