Notes: Sarfate ahead of schedule
Brewers reliever feels sharp after pitching winter ball
PHOENIX -- Brewers right-hander Dennis Sarfate hit the ground running this spring after stints in the Arizona Fall League and the Mexican Winter League, and his manager appreciates the effort.
Sarfate, who converted from a starter to a reliever last summer and made his Major League debut late in the season, never really had an offseason. He played in the AFL, then traveled to San Diego for teammate Tony Gwynn Jr.'s wedding. After the wedding, Sarfate stopped back in Phoenix for a day, then headed south to Mexico for the start of winter ball.
"It's been harder and harder to get our young guys to go to winter ball, and they're crazy not to," Brewers manager Ned Yost said. "It gives them a huge boost. Dennis walks in with a foot in the door with us because of what he did. ... If it comes down, really, between two guys who are right there, who do you think is going to get the chance to make the team?"
Sarfate's Hermosillo club was league champion and represented Mexico in the Caribbean Series, which ended Feb. 7.
"It's definitely an advantage, because a week ago I was facing guys like [the Orioles' Miguel] Tejada in a game, going 100 percent," Sarfate said. "I feel ready to come in here and compete and I'm going to leave it all on the field. I'm going in here thinking I'm making this team."
He has competition in that area. One or maybe two bullpen spots are up for grabs, and Sarfate has one Minor League option remaining.
Sarfate said he used the time in Mexico, where he pitched with Brewers non-roster invitee Luther Hackman and worked under the watch of Triple-A pitching coach Stan Kyles, to refine his tools, especially a slider that has become more important in his new relief role. Sarfate also throws a mid-90s fastball and a curveball, and he's trying to shed a habit of walking too many batters.
Said Hackman: "I think he'll be in the big leagues a long time."
For much of his winter tour, Sarfate pitched as a setup man to Braves reliever Oscar Villareal. By the end, Villareal had taken himself out of the role and Sarfate was the closer.
"I loved it," Sarfate said. "The energy and excitement of the last inning, coming in and closing the door, that adrenaline rush is unbelievable. The pressure there is awesome because there are 10,000 fans in the stands and this is what they live for.
"I would recommend that everyone goes to winter ball. If I ran a Minor League camp, I would get all of my guys down there at least once."
Growing group: Gabe Gross and Geoff Jenkins reported to camp Monday morning, completing the group of outfielders expected to compete for roster spots. But before Jenkins can battle for playing time, he is battling a cold, and was sent back home with some medication.
Gross, though, participated in the full workout. His 2006 season ended in frustration while he was sidelined by a strained hamstring.
"At the end there, in Chicago and St. Louis, I feel like if they needed me to play, I could have," Gross said. "But if I had played and blown out, I probably wouldn't be sitting here right now ready to go."
So instead, he took an extended break after the season and began a weightlifting routine in November. By January, he was running at full strength, and Gross said he does not anticipate any spring setbacks.
"It hasn't bothered me at all," he said.
First shot: New Brewers catcher Johnny Estrada does not read the newspapers, and on Monday that was probably a good thing. Diamondbacks manager Bob Melvin, who reportedly clashed with Estrada last year in Arizona, offered a bit of a jab in Monday's edition of the East Valley Tribune. The story's headline was "D-Backs hope for better pitcher-catcher rapport."
"I'm not going to talk about Johnny, but some catchers have their own ideas," Melvin, a former Brewers bench coach, was quoted as saying.
"Some guys are a little more apt to want to work with their pitchers as opposed to get frustrated with them. I think that both of these kids [Chris Snyder and Miguel Montero] have the ability to take the game plan that we think is the proper game plan for that day and go out and execute it."
Snyder, who replaced Estrada as the everyday catcher near the end of 2006, added: "You either get along with them or get tired of them. If you get tired of them, you have problems. I think there were some issues with that last year. It's something this year we want to work a lot on. We have a great staff, and we [catchers] are both easy to get along with. We're not hard-headed. We don't get down on guys.
"To a catcher, offense is a secondary thing. Your main job is to catch. You have to run the game. You have to run the staff. That's the main focus. It's trusting the catcher. Me trusting my pitcher. At times we lost that last year."
Estrada said he hadn't seen the story. He declined to go into detail about his relationship with Melvin.
"I don't want to go there. I've kind of turned the page on that," Estrada said. "My thing was, if you can't communicate with the manager or the pitching coach, how are you going to communicate with the pitching staff? I've already voiced my frustration."
Estrada said his relationship with Yost is off to a good start. Both men spend their offseasons in the Atlanta area, and Yost drove down for lunch with Estrada about a week after the November trade that brought Estrada and pitchers Greg Aquino and Claudio Vargas to Milwaukee. Estrada laid out his troubles in Arizona.
"[Yost] deserved to know what happened down there," Estrada said. "It's not going to be an issue here."
Isn't this the desert? A steady rain forced Yost & Co. to alter their plans on Monday, but the team still participated in a full workout.
"I didn't want to do our bunting stuff on a wet field," Yost said. "But the outfielders got all of their defensive work in and hit in the cage. The infielders got all of their defensive work in and hit in the cage. Pitchers did all of their [fielding practice] and they threw in the cage. We didn't lose anything."
Before the start of 2006 Spring Training, the batting cages were enclosed. That structure came in handy Monday.
Adam McCalvy is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.