MILWAUKEE -- Facing a sudden surplus of starting pitching, the Brewers may opt to promote top prospect Jimmy Nelson for only one start in September, or none at all.
The problem is not Nelson's stuff or performance -- he has a 3.25 ERA in the Minors this season and 139 strikeouts in 135 2/3 innings -- but the currently crowded Major League rotation. Kyle Lohse, Yovani Gallardo and Wily Peralta are entrenched in the rotation and will pitch through the end of the season. The Brewers feel they need to further evaluate right-hander Marco Estrada, who was terrific last season but hittable and injured for much of 2013, and left-hander Tom Gorzelanny, who has intrigued club officials by pitching better as a starter than his track record. They also want another look at another prospect, Johnny Hellweg, who has dominated the Minor Leagues but struggled badly during a brief stint with the Brewers.
"Say we bring up Hellweg, we're going to a six-man rotation." Brewers manager Ron Roenicke said. "If we bring up Nelson, we're going to a seven-man rotation. That doesn't work."
Roenicke was clear that the Brewers "really like" Nelson, and another club official suggested that since the team will have to add Nelson to the 40-man roster after the season to protect him from the Rule 5 Draft, it may give him one September start to get his feet wet. Final decisions about callups will not be made until much closer to Sept. 1.
Yet another prospect, Tyler Thornburg, has already been moved to long relief. He was available for an inning if needed on Saturday, Roenicke said, and would be in long relief in the days to follow.
Roenicke explained why the organization is choosing to see relatively established pitchers like Estrada and Gorzelanny versus a prospect like Thornburg.
"Estrada, we need to see," Roenicke said. "We liked him last year, but for whatever reason, things changed this year, so we don't know what we have in Estrada. … Gorzelanny, I know with history you may look at his starts and say, 'Well, the numbers weren't that great.' But we're seeing a better pitcher than what those numbers were. We don't know if he's matured, if he has better command; I don't know what the case is. If he's going to be part of that rotation next year, we need to see him."
Regarding Thornburg, Roenicke said, "Yeah, it's important to see him, but [it remains to be seen] whether he ends up as a starter because we need a starter or ends up in the bullpen, which, we've liked him out of the bullpen. I know he's started and had some nice games with us, but I don't think you can forget about what he did at Triple-A [where Thornburg was 0-9 with a 5.79 ERA this season]. That's kind of a concern there."
In his three Major League starts, Thornburg allowed only one earned run in 18 innings.
"The numbers have been good," Roenicke said. "You know, we look at a lot more than just numbers. We look at command, we look at what's happening out there on the field. And that is hard to tell with a guy who starts 3-4 times."
Braun reaches out to teammates
MILWAUKEE -- John Axford's cellphone rang at about 1:30 p.m. CT on Friday as he was driving to Miller Park. Suspended Brewers slugger Ryan Braun wanted to explain himself.
Braun placed similar calls on Friday to a number of uniformed and non-uniformed Brewers personnel, the beginning of an apology tour that multiple clubhouse sources said would go public in the very near future.
Axford was satisfied after what he said was a back-and-forth discussion that lasted 10-15 minutes.
"I think he satisfied quite a bit," Axford said. "I'm sure when he's back next year, he's going to be able to put this behind him. Talking to a couple of guys and being forthcoming, calling us and discussing things with us, I think that's going to be good for him and good for all of us. If he wants to continue to discuss or talk about it, we're definitely here for him and here for that."
Braun called manager Ron Roenicke and a number of the team's established players, including catcher Jonathan Lucroy, who had been one of his staunchest supporters both in the wake of Braun's successful appeal during the 2011-12 offseason, and during the time Braun was connected to the Miami wellness clinic Biogenesis. Some of Braun's calls were to players not currently with the team, making it very likely that longtime teammates Corey Hart and Rickie Weeks were on his list.
After only vaguely admitting "mistakes" during a July 22 clubhouse meeting, hours before Major League Baseball announced Braun had accepted a 65-game suspension for the remainder of the 2013 season, Braun provided more details about his wrongdoings during the Friday phone calls.
"He definitely gave us more insight on things that have gone on," Axford said. "I would expect that to be known [publicly] soon, too."
Axford, who is the Brewers' representative to the Players Association in addition to being a teammate of Braun's since 2009, said it was important for Braun to reach out to key players before going public.
Braun is under contract with the Brewers through at least 2020.
"In here we're close, we're friends, we're family, and you have to have faith and trust and belief in your friends and family," Axford said. "Sure, you can be angry at your family, but if you want to make things better and turn things over, you have to be able to forgive and trust once again. I think that's what we're going to be able to do with Ryan."
Axford made a point of calling Braun a "great teammate" and "great in the clubhouse" during his years with the Brewers.
"It's not like he ever walked through this clubhouse with guys looking down at him or hating every moment that they spent with him," Axford said. "He's a great guy to be around, a great teammate. Guys care about him.
"He knows he has my support. It's unfortunate the way things have gone, but at the same time, you can't just ignore somebody because of things that have happened. You can be upset, you can be angry, but at the same time, you have to be able to move past it at some point and still provide your support and friendship."
Gomez improving, may be few days from return
MILWAUKEE -- Center fielder Carlos Gomez reported to the Brewers' athletic training staff that his sprained right knee had improved from Friday to Saturday, according to manager Ron Roenicke, but is still at least a few days away from being able to play.
"Dan [Wright, the Brewers' head athletic trainer] told me today and tomorrow are going to be really important as to if we can go through this thing without [placing Gomez on the disabled list]," Roenicke said. "Maybe he's just out, whatever, four, five, six days. We'll know a lot more today and [Sunday]."
Logan Schafer has been filling in for Gomez, who was injured when he crashed into the wall on a leaping catch in the fourth inning of Thursday's loss to the Reds. An MRI scan on Friday morning confirmed the sprain but showed no significant damage to the knee.
• The Brewers are more than a week away from finalizing assignments to the prospect-rich Arizona Fall League, but outfielder Mitch Haniger is expected to headline their list of participants. Haniger, 22, was a supplemental first-round pick in 2012, and he is batting .267 this season with 11 home runs and 58 RBIs between Class A Wisconsin and advanced Class A Brevard County.
The Brewers expect to name three position players and four pitchers to the AFL.
• Right-hander Michael Olmsted, one of the Brewers' final cuts in Spring Training, was sent from Triple-A Nashville to Double-A Huntsville on Saturday. He had a 6.71 ERA in 49 games at Nashville and, most troublingly, walked 6.9 batters per nine innings, triple his walk rate from last season and nearly double his career mark.
"We're trying to put him in a place where he can have a nice two weeks and finish with some confidence," assistant general manager Gord Ash said.
Ash noted that Olmsted is still reaching 96 mph on occasion and was working hard to fix his command issues -- perhaps too hard. Olmstead has committed to continuing that work in winter ball.