Braun to be busy as spring games begin
Hoffman, Macha to make their unofficial Crew debuts in opener
PHOENIX -- It's opening day of the Cactus League on Wednesday, and that means Ryan Braun's workdays are about to get longer.The slugging left fielder is the only member of the Brewers playing for the United States in the upcoming World Baseball Classic, and he figures to play much deeper into early Cactus League games than many of the other team's regulars. Milwaukee manager Ken Macha wants to be sure Braun gets in plenty of at-bats before Team USA's March 7 tournament opener.
That plan will go into action at Maryvale Baseball Park when starting pitcher Jeff Suppan and the Brewers host the Athletics on Wednesday at 2 p.m. CT. It's the traditional "Opening Day" matchup between the two Cactus League teams that play home games within Phoenix city limits."Instead of two at-bats and get him out of there, [Braun] may play a whole game or get three or four at-bats," Macha said on one of the first days of camp. "I want to make sure he's comfortable so he can get out there and perform. Don't be shocked to see him play a little more than some of the other guys.
"He's pretty focused," Macha added. "He wants to make sure he's ready for this Baseball Classic, and he's already told me that three or four [at-bats] a day would be fine. I'd like him to play a complete game before he leaves here."Braun was all for that idea. "It's motivating for me, to make sure I get in game shape as soon as possible," Braun said. "I want to be used to playing nine [innings] right away, to see as many different pitches and pitchers as possible, to hit in different counts and different situations. I want some at-bats when I'm tired [to] get used to those third and fourth at-bats in a game when you're a little fatigued." With 36 games on the Cactus League docket this year, a schedule extended by about a week by the Classic, plus two "B" games, Macha is likely to ease other players into game shape. But even though the early portion of camp was compressed by a day or two this year, players were eager to trade fundamental work on the side fields for games in Maryvale's main stadium. "One thing you can be sure of this year," right fielder Corey Hart said, "is that no one will have trouble getting ready for the season. We've got 36 games, and that's a lot." Suppan drew the assignment for the opener and is scheduled to throw 30 pitches, with another starter, Dave Bush, to follow with one inning or 20 pitches in preparation for his first Cactus League start on Sunday. Closer Trevor Hoffman, also scheduled for a one-inning, 20-pitch outing, will make his unofficial Brewers debut after Bush exits. Also listed to pitch are Eddie Morlan, Lindsay Gulin, Nick Green, Todd Coffey and Jorge Julio. The regular starting position players will be at their spots, with the exception of third baseman Bill Hall, who cautiously is working back from a partially torn calf muscle. Macha originally planned to start Mike Lamb in Hall's place, but with left-hander Josh Outman starting for the A's, he's now leaning toward right-handed-hitting Casey McGehee. Macha also will make his unofficial debut as Brewers manager, and fittingly he will face his former team. He managed the A's to a 368-280 regular-season record from 2003-06 and made a pair of playoff appearances. Macha was let go two days after Oakland was swept by Detroit in the 2006 American League Championship Series, and he concedes that his relationship with Oakland general manager Billy Beane was a bit icy. The story still has enough tread that a Bay Area reporter stopped by Brewers camp on Monday to ask Macha about facing his former team, and another called Monday night. "Let's turn the page, OK?" Macha said with a smile. But he does have a sense of humor about the matchup, which Macha showed off when asked about the starters' workload for their first turn through the Spring Training rotation. "I think they've got 30 pitches," Macha said. "So I'm hoping they get to two innings. I don't know. We're playing Oakland [in the opener], so they may stand there and take every pitch." That was a nice little dig on Oakland's focus on on-base percentage. Macha declined a request from A's skipper Bob Geren to utilize the designated hitter, so Wednesday's game will operate under National League rules. Macha hasn't been with an NL club since he was on Montreal's coaching staff in 1991, and he was asked if he was looking forward to the fun of managing in that league, which generally offers skippers more opportunities to impact the game. "It depends on what you think is fun," Macha cracked. "We had some games my last year managing [in] San Diego and with the [San Francisco] Giants, and because of the tightness of the games and saving your bullpen and utilizing your guys on the bench, you're not really used to that. When you're done, you have a headache. You're thinking all the time." Get the man some aspirin, because game time is approaching.
Adam McCalvy is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.