By Gregg Hoffmann Special to Published Jun 10, 2004 at 5:15 AM

{image1}Ben Sheets has pitched lights out all season, yet has received very poor run support by the Brewers. He and closer Dan Kolb have been hurt by the anemic offense.

For example, on Tuesday night, Sheets gave up only one hit -- a single by Vladimir Guerrero on a pitch off his shoe stops -- in a complete nine-inning performance, but did not get a decision because the Brewers also could not score.

Sheets has been plagued by a lack of support his entire career with the Brewers, but this season it is even more evident. He has taken a step up in his development. His fast ball is being clocked at higher speeds than ever. His breaking ball, always his best pitch, has never been better.

He has struck out 18 batters in one game, and on Tuesday threw a masterpiece, completely dominating the Angels. With only moderate run support, Sheets could be leading the league in wins. Instead, he stands at 5-3, with an ERA that is dropping to near 2.00.

Sheets is not the only pitcher hurt by this hitting malaise. Kolb has developed into one of the best closers in baseball, but he can't get a save opportunity unless his team scores enough runs to take a lead into the bottom of the ninth.

It's just a shame that the Brewers have two good bookends, at the beginning and end of the pitching staff, but can't give them more opportunities to earn wins and saves.

Comeback Kolb

Kolb, now 29, underwent Tommy John surgery on his elbow in 2000, strained a muscle in his right forearm in 2001 and tore a rotator cuff in 2002.

"I thought my career was done," admitted Kolb. "They wanted to do more surgery, but I opted for rehab. I felt better in a few months and thought I could pitch again. I knew Doug Melvin had seen me pitch before my injuries and knew what I was capable of."

Melvin, the Brewers' GM, had seen Kolb pitch in the Texas organization when both were with the Rangers. He signed Kolb to a minor league free agent contract on April 3 of last year.

Kolb went on to save 22 games for the Brewers in 2003, post a 1.96 ERA and earn the team's Unsung Hero Award. This season, Kolb has saved 15 games in 16 chances, as of this writing.

"It all came down to being healthy," said the righthander. "Doug Melvin gave me the chance. When D.J. (Mike De Jean) struggled a little, I got an opportunity to move into the closer role.

"For the rest of the season, it was just me and the catcher. I was able to stay very focused last season. I think it was because I didn't have to worry about my health."

The Brewers' played it very cautiously this spring with Kolb, who had a little tenderness in his arm after early throwing in spring training camp. Kolb suffered a slight hamstring injury earlier in the season, but overall has been outstanding, converting a long string of saves before finally blowing one. Again, it's just too bad he can't get more opportunities.


Kudos goes to the Admirals for winning the Calder Cup. Now, let's get that franchise some new owners so Milwaukee fans can watch some good minor league hockey for years to come.

Also give kudos to Waukesha's Paul Hamm, who won his third straight national gymnastics title. It looks like we'll be watching Paul in the Olympics again.

Finally, triple kudos should be sent to Wauwatosa West's Antonio Freeman, who took three firsts at the state track meet.

Hot Tix

The Brewers return home to start a 12-game homestand Friday, with a game against the Houston Astros. Highlights of the long stand include a tribute to Paul Molitor, when Seattle comes to town, and an inter-league series against the Minnesota Twins.

Wave United hosts the Seattle Sounders at 7:05 p.m. Sunday at Uihlein Soccer Park.

The annual Lombardi Classic golf tournament is this weekend at North Hills. You can see former Packers and other celebrities play, and your donations go to the good cause of fighting cancer.

In prep sports, the state baseball tournament will be held at the Fox Cities Stadium in Grand Chute next Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.

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.