Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Brewers Claim Suppan Has A 'Stiff Neck,' Will Throw Simulated Game

The Milwaukee Brewers found a way to tease their fans without playing a game Monday. Manager Ken Macha dropped some hints in cryptic comments about veteran pitcher Jeff Suppan.

In the end, Macha's remarks led some to believe that the Brewers might be on the verge of cutting the very expensive cord on Suppan, who has done virtually nothing in a Milwaukee uniform to justify his $42 million contract.

Unfortunately for those made hopeful by that news, the Brewers don't appear to be ready to make that move, one that would require them to pay Suppan $14 million to go away ($12 million this year and then a $2 million buyout on his 2011 team option).

Reports began to surface on Twitter that Suppan was simply going to throw a simulated game in Arizona Tuesday. Tom Haudricourt has all the skinny.

Apparently Suppan has been dealing with a neck issue most of the spring. I saw him today walking around the training room with a big ice pack strapped to the back of his neck, but this is the first we’ve heard of him being in any kind of discomfort.

The sim game will be about 90 pitches for Suppan, and the Brewers are going to see if he comes out of that healthy. If he does, he’ll still be in the mix for the fifth starter spot – Dave Bush was just named the fourth starter – but if he comes out unhealthy, he could be headed for the disabled list to start the season.

“There’s a chance of that, too,” Macha said.

So as of right now, there is no roster move to report for Suppan, and Macha, knowing he was being somewhat vague and veiled with reporters, said that was as clear as he could be on the situation right now.

It's not a stiff neck. He has whiplash from snapping his head back to watch baseballs fly into the stratosphere. At one point during his pitching meltdown, former Braves pitcher Mark Wohlers was placed on the disabled list, and the stated reason was an "inability to pitch."

The Brewers could always try this. After all, Suppan hasn't been able to pitch consistently at a major-league level since the 2006 playoffs.

So, what is a simulated game? Let's ask the folks at Slate, who sat in on a Mark Prior simulated game when he was injured for the Cubs.

It's an informal scrimmage that allows an injured pitcher to test his arm. Simulated games take place at the stadium, with two or three hitters taking turns in live at-bats against a pair of pitchers. (It may happen that both pitchers are recovering from injuries, but most of the time a healthy teammate or coach is recruited for the exercise.) There are rarely any players out in the field, and there's no umpire behind home plate. Either the bullpen catcher or the pitching coach will call balls and strikes and determine what "happens" when one of the hitters puts the ball in play. If it's a hard line drive, they might say it's a "hit"; a weak grounder would be deemed an "out."

When Prior gave up a hit in one of his simulated starts, he had to pitch to the next hitter as if there were someone on base—from the stretch, perhaps. He'd continue to face the same few batters until three "outs" were recorded. At the end of a simulated half-inning, Prior would head to the dugout and wait until the other pitcher recorded three outs.

Simulated games rarely last for more than three or four innings. Sometimes stats are kept on the simulated runs and hits, but the more important figure is how many pitches were thrown. An injured player who makes a good showing in a simulated game and demonstrates that his arm has recovered might then be sent to the minor leagues for a tuneup start, or he might return to the team right away.

Some pitching coaches and trainers use recorded stadium sounds to make the simulated games more realistic. For a recent simulated start, Cleveland's Kevin Millwood faced fellow Indians in the replica jerseys of an opposing team—the hitters even imitated the batting stances of the players whose names they wore.

So instead of getting whipped around the diamond in a real game, Suppan will just be giving up simulated home runs and gappers.

That has to be considered better than the real thing.

1 comment:

Joe Dufek said...

If he costs that much, they might as well bite the bullet and keep him. Its a shame he's been the biggest bust in Wisconsin since, dare i say Tony Mandrich.