Notes: Gross gets good news
GM Melvin says outfielder will be on Opening Day roster
SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Brewers general manager Doug Melvin told Milwaukee radio station WSSP-AM 1250 on Thursday that outfielder Gabe Gross would be on the Opening Day roster. Melvin reiterated that statement Friday.
"Is that news to anyone?" Melvin asked.
Well, it was news to Gross. And it was news to those who wondered about the health of Gross' right hamstring, which he strained running the 60-yard dash on Feb. 28. Gross did not play an inning in the oufield this spring until Thursday, when he manned left for three innings before the Brewers-Rockies game was rained out.
"Unless they call you into the office and tell you you're going somewhere else, you kind of stay the line," Gross said. "I never had any reason to believe I wasn't going to make the team, but it's always good to hear that it's somewhat official."
Depending on whether they begin the season with 11 or 12 pitchers on the roster, Melvin said the Brewers may keep six outfielders. Assuming Bill Hall starts in center field and Corey Hart in right, and that Geoff Jenkins and Kevin Mench share time in left field, Gross and Brady Clark seem like the frontrunners to break camp in the big leagues. Clark has been the subject of trade rumors, but he is set to earn $3.8 million this season.
"I don't know what I'm going to have," manager Ned Yost said. "We haven't set it yet, how many outfielders we're going to have, how many pitchers we're going to have, how many infielders we're going to have."
Gross was tested early on Thursday. Rockies leadoff man Willy Taveras led off with a line drive to left field and Gross came in for a diving catch. He was not in Friday's lineup against Texas, but said he was feeling good.
"I haven't been out there running around yet, but I don't feel like I have any ill-effects," Gross said Friday afternoon.
Up for grabs: The toughest decisions facing Melvin and Yost are in the bullpen, where one or two spots remain unsettled. Among the pitchers vying for the final openings are Grant Balfour, who is out of Minor League options, and Chris Spurling, whose Minor League contract allows an "out" should Spurling not be in the Majors by mid-May.
Prospects Carlos Villanueva and Zach Jackson, candidates for Triple-A Nashville's starting rotation, are also being considered, as is mid-spring callup Joe Thatcher. Jackson and Thatcher are left-handers.
All but one of Jackson's 57 professional appearances have come as a starter, but he said he pitched relief "a couple of times" at the University of Louisville.
"I've been blessed with a flexible arm and that allows me to bounce back quickly," said Jackson, who started Friday night against Texas and surrendered a first-inning grand slam to Sammy Sosa. "You just have to train your arm to be ready every day instead of every five days. Some guys really need those four days in-between. Me, I have the flexibility to come back.
"You pitch to your strengths more. Your job when you go out there is to get three outs, and it doesn't matter if you throw all fastballs to get them."
The team may face difficult decisions in the coming weeks with Balfour and Spurling. Balfour, 29, could opt for free agency should he clear waivers and be assigned to the Minors. But in doing so, he would forfeit his $415,000 salary for 2007. Balfour can earn an additional $135,000 in performance bonuses.
"You try not to think about that stuff, even though it does cross through your mind," Balfour said of the race for roster spots. "You just go out and pitch. The last few outings, I feel like I've gone out and thrown up some zeroes. I feel really focused, like I'm finally locking in."
Balfour missed all of 2005 and most of 2006 recovering from elbow surgery. The Brewers claimed him off waivers from the Reds in October.
Spurling, also 29, has a 3.86 ERA in seven spring outings. He has yet to walk a batter.
"He's kind of quietly had a nice spring," Yost said.
No worries: Brewers pitchers entered Friday's game with a 5.96 ERA, but Melvin pointed out that most teams that train in Arizona struggle to pitch in Spring Training. The 17 best staff ERAs this spring belonged to Grapefruit League clubs on Friday. The Cubs had the top Cactus League staff ERA at 5.21.
Yost isn't worried.
"It settles down during the year," Yost said. "It always does. Once we start the season, there's just something about the regular season."
Last call: First baseman Prince Fielder stayed away from camp on Friday because of the flu. He was scheduled to see a team doctor on Saturday morning. ... Damian Miller made his first "A" game start at first base on Friday. He will serve as Fielder's primary backup as long as Tony Graffanino is being used at third base. ... Matt Wise and Derrick Turnbow were both sharp in a Minor League game earlier Friday. Wise threw 18 total pitches in 1 2/3 innings and Turnbow needed just 12 pitches to get through a scoreless frame. ... Chris Capuano is scheduled to start for the Brewers when the team hosts Jake Peavy and the Padres on Saturday afternoon. Brewers closer Francisco Cordero, who finally allowed a run in his last outing, is also on the list to pitch.
Adam McCalvy is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.