PITTSBURGH -- For about an hour Thursday, Trevor Hoffman worked with pitching coach Rick Peterson before the Brewers' game against the Pirates, trying to find answers to the all-time saves leader's early season struggles.
Hoffman, who was not available to pitch for the two-game series here, called the session productive but remains unsure of his status for Milwaukee's three-game series at Minnesota, which starts Friday.
"The last thing I want to do is go into a game that is important again and not have all your bullets," Hoffman said. "We'll worry about tomorrow when we get there. Maybe [Peterson] has got a plan and we're going to do this a couple times. We didn't discuss that the other day. We discussed what we're going to do today."
The owner of 596 career saves, Hoffman has been unable to close the door five times in 10 opportunities this season, culminating in Tuesday's appearance in Cincinnati, when he failed to retire any of the five batters he faced. Hoffman's ERA stands at 13.15.
"I feel like I'm letting my ballclub down," Hoffman said. "Not being available yesterday and today is putting a strain on the bullpen. As much as you want to look at getting some things done, my concern is that I'm putting more of a workload on the bullpen.
"I'm almost more embarrassed by it, to be honest with you. [I] just want to get back on track."
Strained shoulder to send Zaun to DL
PITTSBURGH -- Injuries keep biting Brewers veterans. The latest to go down is catcher Gregg Zaun, who suffered a strained right shoulder in Thursday's win over the Pirates and will be placed on the 15-day disabled list Friday.Zaun is expected to be replaced before an Interleague series against the Twins by Triple-A Nashville's Jonathan Lucroy, a 23-year-old considered Milwaukee's top catching prospect in lieu of Angel Salome's recent personal problems. Unlike Salome, Lucroy is not on the Brewers' full 40-man roster, so a corresponding move will be necessary to free him a spot. Zaun, meanwhile, will travel back to Milwaukee to see Brewers doctors. "They're going to send me home to have it looked at and we'll figure out what's what when we get there," Zaun said. Zaun's shoulder has not been right since a home-plate collision with Washington's Ian Desmond in mid-April. He developed what he described as a "knot" in the joint which led to some embarrassing throwing problems in an April 26 game against the Pirates, but had overcome the injury with regular treatment. He tweaked the shoulder on a swinging strike in the second inning on Thursday, a few pitches before Zaun was struck on the left hand by a pitch that also struck the handle of his bat. A few pitches after that, Zaun managed to hit a run-scoring groundout that brought the team to within a run of the Pirates at 3-2 in an eventual 4-3 win. Zaun was replaced the next half-inning by George Kottaras, who figures to see regular duty behind the plate in Zaun's absence. Adding Lucroy to the 40-man roster could complicate the other addition being mulled by Brewers officials, who were poised Thursday to add left-handed relief prospect Zach Braddock to a big league bullpen undergoing a facelift in recent days. Braddock is also not on the 40-man roster. The Brewers will likely make the moves official by midday Friday.
Braun, Fielder ask to switch spots
PITTSBURGH -- Perhaps a lineup shuffle could help shake the Brewers out of their longest losing streak in four seasons. Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder figured it couldn't hurt.
Milwaukee's middle of the order sluggers approached manager Ken Macha on Wednesday night and asked to switch spots in the batting order for Thursday's game against Pittsburgh left-hander Paul Maholm. So Braun dropped to the cleanup hole and Fielder batted third, the first time he hasn't hit fourth since April 12, 2008.
Fielder had started 350 of the Brewers' 353 games since then, and had started in the cleanup spot every time. Until Thursday.
"With a lefty pitching, we'll try something," Braun said. "Baseball is a crazy game. Sometimes you change something small, and it can change the momentum for the entire team. It can't get any worse, so what's the worst that could happen?"
With right-handed pitchers set to start all three games of an Interleague series in Minnesota this weekend, it could simply be a one-day experiment.
"I know we're doing it today," said Fielder.
Fielder entered Thursday's start with three hits in 37 career at-bats against Maholm, but a day off was out of the question because the Brewers were so short on the bench. They were already playing a man down when outfielder Jody Gerut had to leave the team Thursday morning for the birth of his child.
Fielder said the switch had nothing to do with situations like the one that occurred in the ninth inning Wednesday, when he struck out swinging at an eye-level pitch when Braun broke for second base.
"I'm just trying to do something different," Fielder said.
Said Macha: "If Prince can maintain strike-zone discipline, I think it could be good."
Gerut, Zaun absences thin bench
PITTSBURGH -- Jody Gerut returned home to Chicago on Thursday morning for the birth of his child, leaving the Brewers' short bench even shorter. And that was before catcher Gregg Zaun left the team's game against the Pirates in the second inning with a strained right shoulder that will send him to the 15-day disabled list.Zaun's diagnosis came as a surprise considering he appeared to hurt his left hand in the top of the second inning when a Paul Maholm pitch struck both his hand and the handle of his bat. Zaun complained earlier this season of a knot behind his right shoulder that led to some throwing issues. George Kottaras replaced Zaun, leaving only two healthy position players on the Brewers' bench: infielder Craig Counsell and utility man Joe Inglett. The team had already been playing short one position player since last week, when a decision was made to go to a 13-man pitching staff to help the struggling bullpen. But that bullpen was short, too, with closer Trevor Hoffman unavailable while he works out some mechanical issues. Help should arrive Friday from center fielder Carlos Gomez, who is on track to be activated from the 15-day disabled list. He has not played since May 5 because of an injured left shoulder and would be a welcome right-handed bat on the roster. Macha said Thursday that teams have taken advantage lately of the Brewers' left-handedness off the bench. The Brewers also were considering a promotion for left-hander Zach Braddock, who could help against Minnesota's tough left-handed hitters, including former American League MVPs Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau. Braddock, though, is not on the 40-man roster, so a move must be made ahead of Friday's series opener at Target Field. The 22-year-old Braddock has worked 10 scoreless outings for Triple-A Nashville this season plus one poor outing in which he surrendered eight runs in two-thirds of an inning.
Twins shortstop J.J. Hardy, sidelined by a wrist injury, probably will not be ready to come off the disabled list this weekend for the Brewers-Twins Interleague series. He remained in Minnesota this week while the rest of the team traveled to New York, Toronto and Boston. "I'm not going to throw it totally out of the window because I want to play," Hardy said. "I've played catch, I've taken grounders with no problem. Swinging the bat still hurts. So, I don't know. I'm kind of shooting to get back this weekend, but realistically I don't know if it's going to happen." ... The Brewers are set to host the franchise's annual Negro Leagues Tribute at Miller Park on Saturday, May 29 and will wear reproductions of uniforms worn by the Milwaukee Bears, the city's 1923 representative in the Negro National League. The team played only one season before disbanding but featured some of the game's most influential players, including Hall of Fame player/manager Preston "Pete" Hill. The Mets will join in by donning uniforms that honor the New York Cubans, who played in the Negro Leagues from 1935-36 and 1939-50. ... A panel of 125 Hall of Famers, award-winners and other baseball experts polled by Sporting News named the Top 50 current Major Leaguers -- Prince Fielder ranked 21st on the list and Ryan Braun 22nd. The Cardinals' Albert Pujols finished first for the second straight year.
Adam McCalvy is a reporter for MLB.com. Matt Fortuna , an associate reporter for MLB.com, contributed to this report. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.