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NOTES &t 2009-05-16

NOTES &t 2009-05-16
St. Louis - We'll never know whom Brewers manager Ken Macha was going to use as his closer Friday night.

All Macha would say before game time was that he had no intention of using closer Trevor Hoffman for a fourth consecutive day as the Brewers prepared for their series opener against St. Louis at Busch Stadium. That matter became moot when a major rainstorm postponed the game in the bottom of the second inning.

The game was rescheduled for 7:15 p.m. Monday.

Because Hoffman missed most of spring training as well as the first 18 games of the season with a strained right oblique, Macha drew the line after three appearances without a day off. Hoffman saved all three games of the Brewers' sweep of Florida at Miller Park, making him 8 for 8 for the season.

As for giving Hofmann a night off, Macha said, "That's how valuable this guy is. If I get him hurt, see that sign up there? I'll be taking a lot of those."

Macha referred to the Tums sign atop a building across from Busch Stadium where the antacid tablets are made. And, about that same time, Hoffman took what appeared to be a nasty spill over a cart of batting-practice baseballs as the Brewers stretched on the field.

With teammates and medical personnel rushing toward him and Macha's eyes widening, Hoffman jumped up and started laughing. He had successfully "punked" the rest of the team, the first real example of how he built a reputation as a prankster.

"That was a good one," Hoffman said. "The ball cart was in the perfect place."

As for what Hoffman has meant to the club since being activated, Macha smiled and said, "When the season is over, I don't think he'll have a 0.00 ERA. Somebody's going to score on him.

"But you take a look at what we did the first 18 games (8-10) and what we've done since (13-4) and you'll see what he has meant to the team. He's been throwing strikes. Every one of his outings has been less than 15 pitches except one. That's incredible."

Though it has seemed at times that Hoffman has thrown his fastball more than his vaunted changeup, the future Hall of Famer said he hadn't reinvented himself.

"I've always tried to establish the strike zone with fastballs," Hoffman said. "Jason (Kendall) has been very helpful in persuading me in using some pitches in certain situations. A lot of it is just execution."

Central casting: Entering Friday, the Brewers and Cardinals were tied for first in the NL Central with 21-14 records, followed by Cincinnati and Chicago, tied at 20-14.

The season hasn't reached the quarter pole yet but with those four clubs off to strong starts, the division appears much stronger than forecast by most prognosticators.

"Back when we started the season, I don't think a lot of people in Baseball thought there would be four teams in the division doing what they're doing right now," Macha said.

"I don't know which of those four teams they thought would be playing well. That's why we're holding the season. It doesn't mean anything right now. I know we've been playing good ball for the last three weeks. That's the most important thing."

Nelson bolts: Outfielder Brad Nelson opted to exercise his free agency rather than accept an outright assignment to Class AAA Nashville.

Because it was his second outright assignment, Nelson had that option and decided to look for work in another organization. He was sent out Wednesday night to make room on the roster for prospect Mat Gamel after going 0 for 21 for the season.

Nelson forfeited his $67,500 minor-league salary by declaring free agency but already had covered that sum by playing six weeks with a $400,000 minimum salary in the majors. He had been in the organization since being drafted in the fourth round of the 2001 draft.

"We thought he'd probably do this," general manager Doug Melvin said. "It's probably a wise decision on his part, with the outfielders we have here and Prince (Fielder) at first base."

Nelson was popular in the Brewers' clubhouse and was particularly close to shortstop J.J. Hardy, who was selected in the second round of the 2001 draft.

"If this gives him a chance for a better opportunity, it's what he has to do," Hardy said. "We're all thinking he'll be fine. I thing he'll be back in the big leagues at some point."

Copyright 2009, Journal Sentinel Inc. All rights reserved. (Note: This notice does not apply to those news items already copyrighted and received through wire services or other media.)

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Added: May 16, 2009

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