Notes: Sheets-Moeller battery still intact
Yost said Miller likely to get 110-120 starts this season
MILWAUKEE -- Brewers manager Ned Yost all but set his Opening Day lineup on Friday when he announced that catcher Chad Moeller would pair with ace Ben Sheets this season.
Partly due to Moeller's offensive struggles in 2004, the team signed free agent Damian Miller to a three-year contract worth at least $8.75 million and dubbed him the No. 1 catcher. But Moeller handled Sheets throughout the right-hander's breakout season, and after consulting with his ace, Yost decided not to break up the battery.
"He worked with Moeller last season and he really had a comfort level," Yost said.
It's a loose pairing; Yost said he wanted both catchers to have experience with the full staff. Yost is aiming to get Miller 110-120 starts this season, leaving 40-50 for Moeller. Sheets has started 34 games in each of the past three seasons including 2004, when he went 12-14 with a 2.70 ERA and obliterated the franchise record with 264 strikeouts.
"I finally get an opportunity to throw to the same guy twice, somebody that knows me already," Sheets said. "I was open to anything, but Moeller put me at such ease last year."
Moeller was quietly thrilled. Miller, told of the decision on Friday, understood.
"Not being able to catch one of the best pitchers in the game is a little disappointing," Miller said. "But I completely understand the situation. They want me to go out there and play a bunch. So that's my one day off, and I can't get in the way of what Sheets and Moeller did last year. There's no animosity there whatsoever."
Miller batted .272 with Oakland last season including .324 with runners in scoring position, an area in which Moeller particularly struggled (.146 with RISP).
Last-minute changes are possible, but Yost's Opening Day batting order looks like this: Center fielder Brady Clark, second baseman Junior Spivey, first baseman Lyle Overbay, left fielder Carlos Lee, right fielder Geoff Jenkins, third baseman Wes Helms, Moeller, shortstop J.J. Hardy and Sheets.
Helms is the likely starter because the Pirates are going with left-hander Oliver Perez. Yost plans to use both Helms and Russell Branyan at third base this season.
Let there be light! It did not take long for the Brewers to notice the most dramatic change at Miller Park for 2005.
After hearing complaints about the lighting at the ballpark and consulting with Major League Baseball, officials decided to replace the lights at Miller Park, which is entering its fifth season as home of the Brewers.
The results are dramatic.
"People that have been here since the beginning tell me that it wasn't even this good when the place opened," assistant general manager Gord Ash said. "That tells us that there was some construction dust."
Said general manager Doug Melvin: "I guess the maid service doesn't get up there."
Fred Buck, a longtime General Electric employee who now supervises ballpark lighting for Major League Baseball, visited Miller Park and set up a series of markers around the field and measured the "foot candle power" at each spot.
"The stadium complied with the requirements, but it was a little uneven," Ash said. "It came up in one of our player committee meetings, and we in turn brought it up with stadium operations and went as far as counting the number of bulbs here compared to other places."
At first, the plan called for cleaning the lenses, replacing those which had burnt out and refocusing some others. In the end, the entire system was overhauled.
But seriously folks, Brewers players were excited about the upgrade.
"I guess when they checked it, it was the lowest in baseball by far," Jenkins said. "As a hitter, especially if it's a hard slider or high heat, that extra split-second of seeing the ball could be huge. Imagine if that changes 50 at-bats for you."
Turf talk: The other noticeable change is around home plate. The grounds crew removed wide swaths of turf between the dugouts and home plate, areas that suffer the worst wear and tear through the season.
"With as many times as we struck out the last couple of years, I don't blame them," Yost quipped.
Good health: Spivey and Branyan, sidelined near the end of Cactus League games, were both in the starting lineup on Friday night. Spivey, who had a swollen lymph node as a result of a nasty collision on March 27, hit a solo home run in the first inning. Branyan, held out because of a case of strep throat, grounded out to end the inning.
No hurry: Expect the Brewers to carry 11 pitchers and 14 position players to Opening Day in Pittsburgh, but don't expect the team to finalize its roster until the last moment.
Why wait? Melvin told a story about his time as the Rangers' GM, when the team was ready to option Craig Worthington, who was out of options, to the minors. Dean Palmer was to be the regular third baseman.
"In Dean Palmer's last at-bat of the last exhibition game, he runs down to first base and pulls a hamstring," Melvin said. "So Worthington stayed on our roster and hit a game-winning homer off Roger Clemens on Opening Day. That's why you just can't jump out and make these moves."
A series of off-days during the first week of the season allowed for the small staff. Yost and Melvin said the Brewers may add a 12th pitcher after the April 8-10 series in Chicago.
"I think we wanted to go with 12, but we didn't have anybody that stepped up at the end," Yost said.
Melvin admitted that the bullpen is an "area of concern." He and Yost identified Wes Obermueller and Matt Wise as the only relievers who stood out in Spring Training games.
On deck: Victor Santos will get one more chance to make a statement when the Brewers face the White Sox in the final exhibition game of the spring on Saturday. Yost is trying to decide between Santos, who has had a tough spring, and Chris Capuano, who had a great spring, for the No. 3 starter's spot. Whomever Yost chooses for that slot will start the Wrigley Field opener against the Cubs on April 8.
Adam McCalvy is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.