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Sheets named Opening Day starter

Sheets named Opening Day starter

PHOENIX -- Brewers manager Ned Yost told the parties involved two weeks ago, and on Tuesday, he finally went public with the worst-kept secret in camp. Ben Sheets will start the season atop Milwaukee's starting rotation.

Sheets is scheduled to make his fifth Opening Day start in the last six years when the Brewers face Derek Lowe and the Dodgers at Miller Park on April 2. Chris Capuano and Jeff Suppan will start the second and third games of the Dodgers series, and Dave Bush will start April 6 against the Cubs.

The fifth starter is Claudio Vargas, who, because of the off-day during the first week, will start the year in the bullpen and will not make his first start until April 10 at Florida. Vargas is scheduled for three starts in April.

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"We feel like we're in good shape," Yost said. "We like how it lines up."

In his four previous Opening Day assignments, Sheets is 2-0 with a 3.80 ERA (nine earned runs in 21 1/3 innings) and 19 strikeouts. The Brewers are 3-1 in those four games, all of which were on the road against a National League Central opponent.

The news did not come as a surprise, but Sheets nonetheless welcomed it. He suffered a major injury in August 2005, tearing a muscle behind his right shoulder, and was limited to 17 starts last season with related ailments.

"It kind of excites me, because I know how I feel, but I guess it looks good on the outside, too," Sheets said Tuesday. "It's an honor. We're all going to get it the same time in the end, though.

"But it's good feedback. It's a confidence boost. I feel good, and I guess they feel I've done good, too."

Yost made his decision early in camp.

"I just needed to see that he was healthy," Yost said.

Capuano is the only left-hander in the rotation, and for a time, Yost considered pitching him in the No. 3 spot with Suppan as No. 2.

"I thought about it, but I couldn't see where it gave us an advantage," Yost said. "What difference does it make if you've got the lefty in the middle or if you've got him second? I went back to what Cappy's done for us over the last couple of years and [put] him in the second spot."

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Vargas has been hot of late, including a brilliant, seven-inning performance against the Diamondbacks -- the team that traded him to Milwaukee in November -- on Monday. Vargas surrendered two runs on three hits in the deepest outing by a Brewers starter this spring. He has surrendered two earned runs or fewer in each of his last five starts and leads the staff with 26 innings pitched and 19 strikeouts.

Does Yost worry about putting a guy on a hot streak on an irregular schedule?

"Somebody's got to do it, and he's veteran enough to be able to do it," Yost said. "I think being the fifth starter is as much mindset as anything else."

Should they lose any of their starters to injury, the top two alternatives will come from the bullpen. Veteran Elmer Dessens, acquired in a trade with the Dodgers on Monday, was expected to join the team Tuesday, and right-hander Carlos Villanueva will start the year pitching middle- to late-inning relief.

Adam McCalvy is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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