Brewers rotation battle heating up
Yost keeping an open mind with tough choice looming
PHOENIX -- Brewers rotation hopefuls Manny Parra and Dave Bush pitched five innings apiece on Saturday, but the team's pitching picture did not get any clearer."Nobody blinked," manager Ned Yost said. Parra has not blinked all spring. He struck out seven and scattered three hits without allowing an earned run in five innings of an 8-3 Brewers win over the Royals, Parra's third straight game without being charged a run. Bush followed and worked four official innings, allowing two runs on three hits, then worked an extra scoreless frame that didn't count in the box score. The Brewers are Royals agreed ahead of time to play 10 innings. Both teams need all the innings they can get to make their pitching decisions. "I'm literally just keeping my eyes open right now and trying not to form an opinion," Yost said, pointing out that two weeks still remain before decisions must be made. Bush and Parra are battling with Chris Capuano and Carlos Villanueva for a spot in the starting rotation. Claudio Vargas is in that mix as well, but Yost conceded on Saturday that Vargas has a serious leg up because he is the only player of the five with no Minor League options remaining. Vargas has also held his own this spring, posting a 2.40 ERA in four starts, including Friday's win over the Padres. Vargas could slot into the rotation or the bullpen. Ben Sheets and Jeff Suppan are already locks for the rotation, with injured right-hander Yovani Gallardo due back in mid-April. A trade is possible, but equally possible is that two of the other four -- Bush, Capuano, Parra and Villanueva -- would begin the season with Triple-A Nashville. Parra knows that no matter what he does in Spring Training, one of those guys could be him. "I want to make this team very badly," Parra said, "but the only thing I am in control of is how I pitch. I told myself before Spring Training, 'Do not get caught up in feeling this way or that way.' If the time comes that I get sent down, I know that if I pitch well, I'll be back." Yost has a legal pad on the desk in his office with notes about each pitcher's pros and cons. The only knocks on Parra, Yost said, is the fact he is inexperienced and that his durability remains somewhat unproven.
Experience could help Bush and Capuano get the nod, assuming all else is equal."If you have four guys throwing the heck out of the ball," Yost said, "you're going to go with experience." He added a caveat. "But don't read anything into that," Yost said. "I am trying to keep a very, very open mind right now." Parra faced trouble in the fourth inning, when a pair or errors by Brewers infielders allowed an unearned run to score, and he left the bases loaded with one out. Parra halted the rally right there. The most impressive pitch, both to Yost and catcher Mike Rivera, was a 3-and-2 breaking ball to Royals catcher John Buck for a called third strike and out No. 2. Parra then retired Angel Berroa on a flyout to escape further damage. "He saved the game right there," Yost said. "The game was unraveling right there. He had to get five outs. He made sure that it didn't unravel." Said Parra: "I was very happy with some clutch pitches. ... It's really the first time I had to bear down in a situation, and I was happy with the way I responded. It was exciting. You get a lot of adrenaline from that." Parra was dogged by shoulder injuries in 2005 and 2006, but he emerged in 2007 as a healthy option for the Brewers. He posted a 2.68 ERA at Double-A Huntsville, pitched a perfect game in one of his four starts for Triple-A Nashville, then posted a 3.76 ERA in nine games, including two starts, in the big leagues. He would have played a high-profile role for the Brewers in September, but Parra broke his left thumb on a bunt attempt during a game against the Cubs on Aug. 30 and did not pitch again. "You have to get over that [injury] hump, and generally, it takes a full season," Yost said. "He's over it. You can tell by his demeanor on the mound, by the quality and command of his pitches." Bush also impressed Yost on Saturday, mostly because he was confident enough to unveil a slider and a changeup -- two pitches that Bush had in his arsenal but had used sparingly of late. Bush said the slider is a combination of his cut-fastball and his curveball, and it was an effective put-away pitch against the Royals. Asked if he felt he was finding a groove just as the competition heats up, Bush said, "You have to." And no matter how things shake out, Parra is at peace. "I did everything I can do," Parra said. "I just want to continue that and take it into the season, wherever that may be."
Adam McCalvy is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.