Brewers manager Ned Yost was quick to say that the team will not be looking at Thatcher as a potential upgrade over Brian Shouse, the only other lefty reliever in camp. Shouse appeared in 59 games last season after joining the Brewers in a May 13 trade.
And both Yost and assistant general manager Gord Ash insisted that the move was not specifically intended as a wake-up call to any of the club's struggling bullpen arms, though Thursday's combined two-hitter against the Angels was a sign that players may have got the message. Jose Capellan (6.75 ERA entering play Thursday) and Matt Wise (15.43 ERA) finally turned in spotless innings in the 6-1 win. Closer Francisco Cordero continued his solid spring with a scoreless inning of work.
"This is more [in case] some other areas of our 'pen don't straighten out," Yost said of Thatcher's arrival. "We're looking for somebody to get somebody out."
Thatcher might not be the only arm brought in, Yost said.
"I've got no concern that our guys aren't going to be ready to go," Yost said. "But, again, we're going to take the guys who are producing on that mound with us to Milwaukee. If guys are still struggling at that point, we will do what we need to do."
The new guy:
Thatcher posted a 1.37 ERA and 12 saves in 46 total appearances last season with Class A West Virginia, Advanced Class A Brevard County and Double-A Huntsville. He then posted a 0.73 ERA and one save in 14 appearances in Hawaii Winter Baseball.
Thatcher is entering his fourth pro season and has pitched exclusively in relief. In 146 regular-season innings of work, he has struck out 186 batters versus 37 walks.
"Everything he throws has cut on it," said Lou Palmisano, who caught Thatcher two years ago at Brevard County and last year during Huntsville's playoff push. "It's cutter and slider, and everything runs away from a lefty and comes hard in on a righty. That's why he breaks so many bats."
Thatcher pitched four seasons at Indiana State University but went undrafted, so he pitched parts of two seasons for River City in the independent Frontier League. The Brewers signed him on July 19, 2005.
"There are a lot of good players down in independent ball just looking for a shot," Thatcher said. "You have to make the most of it. I was actually really surprised by all of the talent down there."
He participated in the Brewers' invitational mini-camp, so Thatcher has been working out at Maryvale Baseball Park for several weeks. He will wear No. 60 in big-league camp.
Jeff Suppan started on Thursday and was marvelous in five innings, holding the Angels hitless while striking out five batters and walking none. He finished his fifth inning of work before hitting his 65-pitch limit.
"I never look to see how many pitches I have to throw that day," said Suppan, who inked a four-year, $42 million contract during the offseason. "I'm going pitch-by-pitch until they take me out of the game. ... I tend to keep my focus better that way."
Suppan also contributed at the plate, lifting a sacrifice fly in the bottom of the fifth.
The Brewers made a third round of roster cuts Thursday, returning Palmisano and pitchers Tim Dillard, Chris Oxspring and Alec Zumwalt to Minor League camp. The team also optioned left-hander Manny Parra to Double-A Huntsville.
Earlier in the day, Yost singled out Parra as one of the surprises of the spring. The 24-year-old is working back from a shoulder injury and pitched four times this spring without allowing a run. He will get more innings in Minor League camp and will start the year in Huntsville's starting rotation.
"He showed us a lot of good things, but now he needs to go show us that he has durability and that he's healthy," Yost said.
On the positional side, Yost said second baseman Hernan Iribarren was the most pleasant surprise. Iribarren hit an RBI single in Thursday's win and is batting .429 for the spring.
Yost revealed Thursday that Wise, a changeup specialist, is working on a new pitch this spring, a fact Wise was hoping to keep out of the news.
Wise called it a cross between a cut fastball and a slider, and said he used the pitch in Thursday's loss to the Mariners at Peoria Sports Complex. It admittedly needs some work, and on Thursday he stuck to his fastball-changeup combination.
"When it's up [in the strike zone,] it's a cutter, when it's down, it's a slider," Wise said. "When it's hung over the plate, it's hit over the fence in Peoria."
Third base prospect Ryan Braun made his first defensive start since March 2 on Thursday. He homered again, his fourth in seven games this spring, but committed another throwing error, his third.
Brewers officials say they will only consider Braun for the starting third base job if he can show defensive improvement. Just for good measure, Yost was asked Thursday morning whether Braun could just hit his way onto the roster?
Yost waved his index finger in the air. Think the NBA's Dikembe Mutombo or Seinfeld's Babu Bhat.
"No," the skipper said flatly.
Catcher Damian Miller (calf strain) caught bullpens for an hour on Wednesday and took part in batting and baserunning drills on Thursday. He feels "great," according to Yost, and could catch a game as early as this weekend. ... Outfielder Gabe Gross (hamstring strain) expects to serve as the designated hitter on Friday and Saturday, when the Brewers will play American League-style games against the Angels and A's. Gross said he hopes to make his first appearance in the outfield next week. ... The team announced 13 Spanish-language telecasts
on Milwaukee's Telemundo affiliate, marking the fifth season that Francisco Romero and Hector Molina will call weekend action. All 13 games are on Sundays, beginning with the April 8 matchup against the Cubs. ... The Brewers' fundamental work Thursday morning included bunt defense and "slashing," whereby a bunter pulls back and tried to bounce a ball over charging infielders.