PITTSBURGH -- Perhaps 54 is Brewers first baseman Prince Fielder's magic number.Fielder was homerless in 53 at-bats entering Thursday's series finale against the Pirates when he stepped to the plate and launched a solo shot to center field leading off the second inning. The Brewers didn't stop there, hitting three more home runs as part of an historic, 20-0 win that finished a three-game sweep. The win took precedence, but ending the home run drought was a close second on the list of reasons for Fielder to smile on the flight back to Milwaukee. He also waited until his 54th at-bat in 2008, when he ended the power outage with a game-winning homer against the Cardinals. "At least I know I can do it," Fielder said. Fielder ended the 2008 regular season with 34 home runs. He followed in 2009 with 46, one shy of Albert Pujols' Major League-leading total. With No. 1 of 2010 out of the way, Fielder figures he can move on. "Not that results are everything, but when you know the talent that you have, it gets frustrating when you [don't show it]," Fielder said. "You want your talent to be there, no matter what month it is, no matter if it's a pick-up game." Fielder has a history of slow starts beyond his 53-at-bat home run droughts in 2008 and 2010. As a rookie in 2006, Fielder started the year 0-for-11 with seven strikeouts before he hit a bloop, game-winning single to beat the Pirates in the third game of the season. In 2007, he didn't hit his second home run of the season until April 20. Last season, he didn't hit his second homer until April 25. In all of those instances, the home runs eventually started flying out of the ballpark. That's why he tried not to worry this time around. "You know that, but when you're in the game you want what you can do now," he said. "After the game, you have to think about [your past success] so you don't squeeze your head off." Fielder homered Thursday with a sore left hand, though manager Ken Macha insisted that the problem was nothing more than soreness. It had nothing at all to do with the beating Fielder delivered to a bench in the dugout during the team's last homestand -- an incident that was caught on camera by ESPN. Instead, Fielder's hand is sore from the steady stream of up-and-in pitches that opposing pitchers have been pounding him with. The "injury" -- to use that term loosely -- has not kept Fielder out of the lineup. He has started all 15 games this season after starting all 162 games last season, and he played in his 200th consecutive game on Thursday, the longest active streak in the Major Leagues.
Suppan seeks a return to routine
PITTSBURGH -- Jeff Suppan returns from a longer than usual layoff to start against the Cubs at Miller Park on Friday, and he's hoping it marks the beginning of a regular routine.The past month has been anything but routine for Suppan. He was on an every-five-days schedule in Spring Training through March 25, when he threw 4 1/3 innings against the Dodgers. But his next outing was a 100-plus pitch simulated game on March 30 that was followed by the surprising news that Suppan was headed for the 15-day disabled list with neck pain. He remained in Phoenix to throw a morning intrasquad game on April 4. Suppan rejoined the Brewers for Opening Day festivities on April 5, then made the short drive to Appleton, Wis., for a rehabilitation start with Class A Wisconsin on April 9. Then, after one extra day of rest, he was activated from the DL to start against the Cubs on April 15. And now, after two extra days of rest, he's slated to face the Cubs again on Friday. "It will be very welcome to get into a routine," Suppan said. "It's a different challenge that you have to work through when you get off your routine." But how long will that routine last? After Friday, Suppan would start again five days later on April 28 against the Pirates, but five days after that is another off-day on May 3. The Brewers will have to decide at that point whether to push all five starters back or skip Suppan. Suppan threw his between-starts bullpen session on Tuesday at PNC Park. In his first start against the Cubs, he allowed four runs on six hits in five innings and exited with a 5-4 lead.
Could Weeks play all 162?
PITTSBURGH -- The Brewers finished a nine-game road trip on Thursday, were already guaranteed a series win over the Pirates, and played a day game after a night game. It might have been the perfect opportunity to give utility man Joe Inglett his first start of the season."Where would he play?" manager Ken Macha asked. How about second base? Rickie Weeks is off to a terrific start (.327 average, .478 on-base percentage, 12 runs scored and 11 RBIs through Wednesday night) but also has a history of hand and wrist injuries. He has never played more than 133 games in his pro career. "He would be in my office," Macha said. "Rickie doesn't want any days off. Rickie wants to be Prince [Fielder] and play every game." Fielder has played 200 consecutive games, the longest active streak in the Major Leagues. Macha said he could see Weeks being similarly durable because his past injuries have not been the result of wear and tear, but rather singular, violent events. Would Weeks like to play all 162 games? "I know I could do it," Weeks said. Of his outstanding start, Weeks said, "It's only two weeks. So you have to keep it up. I've been seeing the ball well since the start of Spring Training, so that's the big thing."
Hoffman gets long-awaited opportunity
PITTSBURGH -- Remember when the Brewers were worried about closer Trevor Hoffman's early-season performance? By Thursday, the worry was simply getting him into a game.Manager Ken Macha woke up Thursday morning resolved to use Hoffman, save situation or not, and in the end it was decidedly not. Hoffman recorded the final three outs of a 20-0 win over the Pirates that finished a three-game sweep in which the Brewers outscored their division foes, 36-1.
Not exactly conducive to save chances. Before Thursday, Hoffman had been idle a full week, since he notched career save No. 594 at Wrigley Field on April 15."It's unfortunate," Hoffman said of his layoff. "It's great the team is winning, and that the hitters have been doing their thing and the pitchers have been doing well the last few games. I would just like to be a part of it."
Chalk it up to the feast-or-famine nature of being a closer.
"You try to keep it as normal as possible," Hoffman said. "Sometimes I'll throw after a game. I did that on Sunday in Washington, where you go out and throw downhill, throw all of your pitches and stretch out. It might not be what you see normally [in a game], but I get my work in."
PITTSBURGH -- Brewers manager Ken Macha contemplated a significant lineup change on Thursday morning -- flipping No. 2 hitter Carlos Gomez and No. 8 hitter Alcides Escobar. Gomez worked his first walk on Wednesday night and finally owned a higher on-base percentage (.263) than batting average (.243). Escobar entered the series finale batting .293 with four walks and a .354 on-base percentage. "Willie [Randolph, the Brewers' bench coach] made a good point, that Escobar has done very well down there," Macha said. "It's nice to have some good at-bats down there. I can see the impact if Gomez gets on a couple of times." ... Macha is trying to keep his outfielders happy, particularly Gomez, Jim Edmonds and Corey Hart, who have combined to share time in center field and right field. Gomez stepped into the manager's office on Saturday for an explanation of why he wasn't playing more, and Macha said he sought out backup outfielder Jody Gerut to assure the player he hadn't been forgotten. Macha insists that, "the players write the lineup," meaning he will make his decisions based on performance. ... Entering Thursday's finale, the Brewers were 11-for-12 in stolen base tries, including eight straight successful steals.
Adam McCalvy is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.