Sheets set up to start opener
Righty in line to pitch April 2, but no announcement yet
SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Add the Phillies and Mariners to the list of teams that have ceremoniously named an Opening Day starter. Brett Myers and Felix Hernandez will get the nod, managers Charlie Manuel and Mike Hargrove said Friday.
Over in Brewers camp, manager Ned Yost held fast to his refusal to make a similar declaration. Never mind that Ben Sheets, who started four straight season openers before an injury postponed his 2006 debut, pitched a Minor League game on Friday. Count the days, and it's clear that Sheets is on an every-fifth-day schedule that takes him to April 2 against Derek Lowe and the Dodgers.
"Counting's just counting," Sheets said, whatever that means.
So instead of focusing on who will get the opening nod, Sheets and the Brewers instead focused on his solid outing against the Angels' Triple-A squad. He threw 86 pitches in what amounted to 6 2/3 innings, allowing five hits including a pair of home runs. One of Sheets' innings was so clean, he faced an extra batter.
And for the first time this spring, Sheets' signature curveball felt really good.
"I threw a lot, and they were good," Sheets said. "I just thought it needed to be better. ... I knew what I was going over there for."
The wet air probably helped, he said. Another string of storms passed through the Valley on Friday, and even before they came, the air was more damp than usual. Sheets walked only one batter on Friday and it cost him when Angels prospect Brandon Wood hit a fastball for a two-run homer. In Sheets' sixth inning of work, catcher Jose Molina hit a curveball for a solo shot.
In his previous outings, Sheets struggled to command his curveball. The righty often relies on the pitch as a strikeout weapon when he has hitters in two-strike counts.
"Today was a big step, definitely," Sheets said.
His next turn in the rotation should come Wednesday, at Scottsdale Stadium against the Giants. Unless Yost shakes things up, Sheets would then pitch the season opener.
In his four Opening Day assignments, Sheets is 2-0 with a 3.80 ERA (nine earned runs in 21 1/3 innings) and 19 strikeouts. The Brewers are 3-1 in those games, all of which were on the road against a National League Central opponent.
Should he get the assignment it would be an honor, Sheets said.
"It's nice, you know?" Sheets said. "Especially on this team, because we have a good team. But actually, I'm happy just to be pitching and feeling good. My turn will come."
Adam McCalvy is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.