Slumping Brewers make sweeping changes

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Last night’s loss left the Brewers at 13-22 since July 1, dropping them two games below .500 and 6.5 games behind the Cardinals in the NL Central. This afternoon general manager Doug Melvin made sweeping changes to both the roster and coaching staff, demoting starting shortstop J.J. Hardy to Triple-A while calling up prospect Alcides Escobar to replace him, designating longtime regular Bill Hall for assignment, and firing pitching coach Bill Castro.
Hardy was an All-Star in 2007 and was even better last season while hitting .283/.343/.478 with 24 homers, but fell to .229/.300/.367 in 102 games this year and has hit just .218/.281/.338 over his last 250 plate appearances dating back to late May. Despite his struggles Hardy is still just 27 years old and there are plenty of teams that would love to take a chance on him with some arbitration eligibility remaining before he becomes a free agent.
Escobar was always expected to replace Hardy at shortstop and the slick-fielding 22-year-old hit .298/.353/.409 with 42 steals in 109 games at Triple-A to convince the Brewers that his bat is somewhat ready, but this isn’t quite how the switch was supposed to work. Much like 20-year-old Elvis Andrus in Texas, Escobar figures to be an impact defender immediately and has a ton of speed, but doesn’t project as much of a hitter right now and may only develop into adequate with the bat long term.
Hardy still has plenty of trade value, but Hall is a much different story. He signed a four-year, $24 million extension after hitting .270/.345/.553 with 35 homers in 2006, but dropped to .254/.315/.425 the next year and has produced a measly .217/.283/.377 line over the past two seasons while being relegated to a part-time role. Hall has certainly earned his walking papers, but the Brewers still owe him $8.4 million next season and will have to spend another $500,000 buying out his $9.25 million option for 2011.
Castro spent nearly two decades as the Brewers’ bullpen coach before getting a promotion this offseason, but the staff ranks second-worst in the NL with a 4.84 ERA and has served up the most homers in baseball. “A move like this is never easy to make, especially given Bill’s longevity with the organization and considering how hard he worked to reach this position,” said Melvin, who named Triple-A pitching coach and former big-league starter Chris Bosio to replace him on an interim basis.
While today’s shakeup likely comes too late for the Brewers’ dwindling playoff hopes, turning the page on Hall and perhaps Hardy while letting Escobar get his feet wet makes plenty of sense. If nothing else Melvin continues to show that he’s willing to make extremely bold moves whether that means dealing for CC Sabathia and firing Ned Yost with a dozen games remaining last season or cutting some expensive dead weight while turning shortstop over to a 22-year-old now.

Video: Angels use eight pitchers in spring training no-hitter

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Who says no-hitters can’t be just as fun when they happen during spring training?

Angels’ right-hander Bud Norris delivered two perfect innings on Friday night, paving the way for an eight-pitcher no-hitter against the Mariners at Tempe Diablo Stadium. Jose Alvarez, Cam Bedrosian, Andrew Bailey, Austin Adams, Drew Gagnon and Justin Anderson each filed a hitless inning of their own, leaving right-hander Abel De Los Santos to close out the ninth inning with just three pitches — and three game-saving plays by the defense.

Of course, it didn’t hurt that the Angels were facing a bevy of Mariners’ backups, rather than their starting lineup. In fact, Seattle’s lineup featured just two starting players — outfielder Leonys Martin and shortstop Jean Segura — while the majority of their everyday position players took on the Royals in a 4-3 win elsewhere in the Cactus League. The Mariners managed to reach base twice, first on catcher interference in the fourth inning, then on a four-pitch walk in the sixth, spoiling the Angels’ chances of turning their combined no-hitter into a combined perfect game.

Still, whether it’s executed in spring training or the regular season, against an All-Star lineup or one comprised of minor leaguers, a no-hitter is a no-hitter. The team’s eight-pitcher effort marked the first spring training no-no the Angels had completed since 1996, when they took on the Giants in a 15-0 showdown. Unfortunately for the 1996 squad, their regular season ended with a 70-91 record, good for last place in the AL West. Perhaps this no-hitter will prove a better omen for the coming season.

Tanner Scheppers leaves Cactus League game with lower core injury

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Rangers’ bullpen candidate Tanner Scheppers left Friday’s Cactus League game with pain in his “lower half,” according to reports by Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News. The specifics of the right-hander’s injury have yet to be determined, but he was accompanied by the athletic trainer when he exited the game and is scheduled to undergo an MRI on Saturday.

Scheppers, 30, has a long history of elbow and knee injuries. He missed all but 8 2/3 innings of the 2016 season after undergoing a procedure to repair torn articular cartilage in his left knee. While he appeared healthy enough through his first seven appearances this spring, he failed to impress with three runs, five walks and six strikeouts over 7 2/3 innings with the club.

Should Scheppers find himself on the disabled list for another lengthy stay, MLB.com’s T.R. Sullivan speculates that his absence could clear some room in the bullpen for Rule 5 draft pick and fellow righty Mike Hauschild. Hauschild, 27, has dealt seven runs, five walks and 15 strikeouts through 17 1/3 innings in camp.