Notes: Sheets works on mechanics
Right-hander looks to improve from early struggles
MILWAUKEE -- The way he sees it, Ben Sheets has yet to have a decent outing this season. But going into Friday's start against the Astros at Miller Park, he knows it is way too early to panic.
"I got my [behind] handed to me, two times in a row now," said Brewers ace Sheets, who has lost consecutive starts to the Cardinals and Cubs since a complete-game win over the Dodgers on Opening Day. Even in that gem, Sheets says, he made plenty of mistakes.
"But, whatever," he shrugged. "It's early. I know it's early and I know it's going to come. The sooner the better!
"The thing is, I felt really good in that St. Louis game. I felt OK [the start prior] against Chicago, but really good against St. Louis. It's depressing to have a bad outing like than when you feel so good."
The cold air and the stiff breeze blowing in at Busch Stadium worked against Sheets in Sunday's loss at St. Louis, in which he surrendered seven earned runs and eight hits in five innings. But Sheets remains concerned that in 20 innings this season, he has eight strikeouts. That's 3.6 whiffs per nine innings of work, more than six per game fewer than last season and well below his career mark if 7.71 strikeouts per nine.
"That's like my rookie year, there," Sheets said of this year's rate. "[Strikeouts] are like my double play. When I get a big strikeout it's like another guy getting that big ground ball."
Sheets believes he will have better success if he keeps the ball down, and worked between starts on improving his mechanics to that end. Instead of a regular bullpen session on a mound, Sheets instead threw on flat ground Wednesday in Cincinnati.
"The mound itself will help you get the ball down, so I threw on flat ground so I had to do it myself," Sheets said. "You have to get your arm out there and get it through. I tried to just get it and throw it. Have fun with it."
On the cutting edge: Sheets revealed the unique way in which he controls the vertigo-like condition that has plagued him in recent seasons. Sheets has suffered from vestibular neuritis, an inner-ear condition that throws off his balance and awareness and left him hospitalized in Houston two years ago.
Sheets travels with an inch-by-inch square computer chip that is hooked up to a monitor. When he starts to feel symptoms, Sheets puts the chip in his mouth and it buzzes to help him regulate his balance and equilibrium.
"I don't even know what the call that thing, but I really think it helped me avoid [problems] last year," Sheets said.
Sheets, who tends to develop symptoms when he comes down with a cold, has not had any trouble since last season, but he still has the device. One problem: he says he has a bad gag reflex, and can only keep the chip in his mouth for minutes at a time.
"The doctor in Madison got real mad. He was like, 'You have to keep it in for 20 minutes!'" Sheets said. "My eyes were watering, and I told him that's fine if he wants me to be sick all over his office."
No-no: Brewers infielder Tony Graffanino was with the White Sox from 2000-2003 and saw Mark Buehrle cut his teeth in the big leagues. On Wednesday night, Buehrle pitched the Majors' first no-hitter this season, in a White Sox win over the Rangers.
Was Graffanino surprised to see a finesse guy like Buehrle join the exclusive no-hit club?
"I don't know if you can predict who's going to throw a no-hitter," Graffanino said. "I saw him when he first got there, and he's always been good. Good stuff, worked fast. I was happy because he's a really good guy."
Getting defensive: It was notable on Wednesday night that Brewers manager Ned Yost lifted center fielder Bill Hall for defensive purposes in the ninth inning. Hall, a former infielder, has struggled at times this season as he adapts to the outfield, and was charged with his team-high fourth error earlier in the game.
The Brewers skipper took a different tact with second baseman Rickie Weeks last season. Despite Weeks' early-season offensive struggles, Yost refused to sub him out in the late innings.
"That was a different story," Yost said. "Last year, in my mind, we were still kind of in a development stage. We're not in a development stage, in my mind, right now. We've got a chance to do something.
"I wanted Rickie to go through all of those situations. Billy is going to be fine when he gets more repetition out there, but right now we're not going to take a chance in a close game."
Last call: Yost was happy to get left-hander Brian Shouse a day off Thursday. He had either pitched or warmed up during each of the team's last seven games. ... Look for Tony Gwynn, Jr. to bunt when he's facing a tough left-hander in late-game pinch-hit at-bats. "When we have our right-handed lineup, our whole bench is left-handed," Yost said. "We talked to Tony about taking advantage of the bunt when he can." ... Friday is the last opportunity for fans to take advantage of the "Retro Friday" nine-game ticket offer. For more information, see the ticketing section of Brewers.com. ... Sheets will match-up against Astros right-hander Matt Albers, who will make his 2007 debut.
Adam McCalvy is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.