Why Play Carlos Villanueva and Not Mat Gamel?

Kyle HulsebusContributor IIJuly 29, 2009

MILWAUKEE - MAY 10: Manager Ken Macha #40 of the Milwaukee Brewers is pictured before a game against the Chicago Cubs on May 10, 2009 at Miller Park in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The Cubs defeated the Brewers 4-2. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

The Brewers are hurting. We haven’t won a series since the end of June (against the Mets!) and are 4-8 since the All-Star Break.

Given how tough our schedule was during the first half, no one complained that we were 45-43. However, since we’ve been getting beat up by the likes of the Pirates, who keep trading away any hope they have for this season (or likely the next two), and the Nationals, who have all of 32 wins this year, there’s little reason to be optimistic about the playoffs.

First off, I am very cautiously optimistic about Dave Bush coming back in a couple weeks. Many times when a starter comes off the DL, even after working in AAA, the first start is rocky (Manny Parra is the exception that proves the rule). Also, Bush was only our third or fourth starter when he was healthy. However, we do need some consistency from our starting five, and he just might be able to provide that. He can’t be any worse than the relievers we keep bringing in.

Which raises a great point—unless you’ve prepared a reliever to go extended innings, you can’t expect him to go through the line-up more than once. This means he’s going to be giving you at most three innings. Sure, we all thought someone like Seth McClung or Carlos Villanueva could go five innings, and they did. However, the last few innings each of those guys was nowhere near what you need from a starter, even a spot starter.

Since we’re on the subject of starting pitching, I’ll reiterate something I’ve been saying for a year now: Jeff Suppan is not cutting it anymore. As a die-hard fan, I’d like to see us cut our losses with him, regardless of what we’d owe him. There are plenty of teams that are selling right now who would love a starter to mentor the young talent they are bringing up to get ready for next year. However, the Brewers need to win now, and he just isn’t helping us do that anymore.

Maybe Suppan will be able to rehab his oblique strain and get back to the pitcher he was in 2006. Maybe.

Personally, I think the Brewers should have gone with Dillard last night. As a starter in the minors, he could probably pitch five or six major league innings, and he’s used to making changes as the line-up turns over the second and third times. I know both Villanueva and McClung have started in the past, but that translates very little from one year to the next. Better to have a bullpen stocked with fresh arms in case someone like Dillard can’t make it through the fourth inning than to blow a reliever like that.

Lastly, what has Villanueva done this year to warrant a start? Sure, he was great at the beginning of the season, but we need him to straighten out his issues if the Crew is to make a run late into October. However, giving him a chance to shoot us in the foot right out of the gates is not the way to do that.

I would’ve rather they’d sent Villanueva to Nashville for a week or so to work with the outstanding pitching coaches down there. After all, they fixed Manny’s head case!

I think we need to permanently call up Mat Gamel. Since Bill Hall isn’t playing regularly anyways, send him down to Nashville to get his issues worked out, and get one of the top prospects some meaningful at-bats so he’s not shell-shocked in a couple years when he’s playing up here for real. The learning he’s going to do in the middle of a pennant race will help him leaps and bounds in the long-term, and who knows—he just may help us win a few of these close games.

My last thought is that Ken Macha needs to watch out. Fans were calling for Yost’s job for two years and finally got it. There are already grumblings about Macha, and with good reason.

This is the skipper who brought in the back-up catcher as a pinch hitter in the bottom of the ninth during a tie game. While the move worked, others of his have not. In fact, they’ve backfired loudly and the team has suffered for it. Personally, I still stand behind him, but can see he’s walking on an incredibly thin line.

If a veteran like Hoffman has confidence in our chances at the playoffs, then I do too. After all, there are 61 games left after today, and we’re only 4.5 games out of first. In all honesty, we are closer to the Cubs than we are to the Wildcard leading Rockies (five games out).

If we’re going to make any deals in the next three days, I’d say we’d have to go for a second or third starter, and perhaps give up some minor league arms to do it. Or maybe we package Hall and Suppan (I think I’ve said that before?). Either way, I’ll never give up on the crew, but the time to right this ship is now.