Capuano injury shrinks competition
Manager concedes Opening Day chances dwindling for lefty
SURPRISE, Ariz. -- The Brewers may not reveal more about left-hander Chris Capuano's elbow injury until the weekend, but this much appeared clear Thursday: The eight-man race for the starting rotation is down to six.
More precisely, since Ben Sheets and Jeff Suppan are assured their places, it's down to four pitchers for three spots.
Capuano underwent an MRI scan of his left elbow on Thursday morning and manager Ned Yost conceded that the setback makes it all but impossible for the 2006 All-Star to win a spot on the Opening Day roster. The same is true for Yovani Gallardo, who is working back from left knee surgery and will pitch in a game for the first time on Friday.
The four remaining candidates are right-handers Dave Bush, Claudio Vargas and Carlos Villanueva and left-hander Manny Parra. Vargas has a decisive edge because he is out of Minor League options (and has pitched well this spring), and Bush has experience on his side (plus he has led the team with 12 wins in each of the last two seasons).
If Bush and Vargas both make the cut, it would leave Parra and Villanueva vying for one final spot. Parra took a 0.64 Cactus League ERA into Thursday's start against the Royals, when he was tagged for eight runs, 10 hits and four walks in 3 2/3 innings, boosting his spring ERA to 4.58. Villanueva has a 2.57 ERA in four Cactus League appearances and will follow Bush in Friday's game against the Padres.
Sheets and Gallardo were on the list to pitch in Minor League camp on Friday. Yost and pitching coach Mike Maddux spent part of Thursday drawing up a variety of scenarios for their starting staff.
"We might have to make another final, little adjustment, but we're closer than where we were," Yost said.
"I have to have Plan A and Plan B and Plan C," Yost said, when pressed about his plan for the rotation. "I have to try to set it up, so if one of them or both of them [presumably Parra and Villanueva], makes the team, at least they've got a spot to pitch in."
Brewers officials took part in a long meeting on Thursday afternoon to discuss roster decisions. Yost said another round of camp cuts was coming soon.
Capuano, who exited a Monday start against the Mariners complaining of soreness in his surgically-repaired left elbow, is scheduled to see head team physician William Raasch on Saturday for an examination of the MRI scan. At that time, the team likely will offer a diagnosis.
But even if Raasch clears Capuano to resume throwing, he probably would not have time to prepare for the start of the regular season. The Brewers open the season on March 31 against the Cubs in Chicago.
"Obviously. Of course," Yost said when asked if the calendar is working against Capuano. "I'll wait and see what the MRI says. I won't make a final decision without knowing all the facts. We'll see where we're at and we'll go from there, but we're running out of time, for sure."
Capuano has a Minor League option remaining, so the Brewers could send him to Triple-A Nashville once he's healthy again.
He said he has not had elbow problems since 2004, his first season with Milwaukee. Capuano underwent Tommy John ligament reconstruction surgery in 2002, when he pitched in Arizona's organization.
Adam McCalvy is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.