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Sheets figures to start Opening Day

Sheets figures to start Opening Day

PHOENIX -- Brewers manager Ned Yost has absolutely zero patience for those trying to figure out his pitching rotation. But at least for Opening Day, all you have to do is count the days on the calendar.

Ben Sheets is the easy choice for that assignment, given his experience in that role, and is on pace to start his sixth season opener in the last seven years. He tossed three more scoreless innings in Thursday's loss to the Mariners, and an every-five-day schedule lines him up to pitch on March 31, when the Brewers begin the regular season against the Cubs at Wrigley Field.

If he gets the nod, Sheets would welcome it.

"If it presents itself, that would be a blast," Sheets said. "I like getting out of the gate first. I think the older I get, the more I realize how cool it's been."

Sheets broke into the Majors in 2001 at the back end of the Brewers' rotation, but the following season he started his first season opener, a 9-3 win over the Astros. He's started every opener since except for 2006, when Doug Davis got the nod, because Sheets had a shoulder injury.

Sheets is 3-0 on Opening Day and his best outing may have been his most recent. Facing the Dodgers last April 2 at Miller Park, Sheets faced two batters over the minimum in his 12th career complete game and limited the Dodgers to two hits -- Jeff Kent's solo homer leading off the second inning and Brady Clark's one-out double in the ninth. The Brewers won, 7-1.

But that would be another injury-shortened season for the right-hander, who now enters the final season of a four-year contract and is facing free agency for the first time.

Sheets' contractual situation will surely be a topic of conversation for reporters and fans this season, but not for Sheets.

"To me, that's business and that's totally different than baseball," Sheets said. "I've never worried about it and I'm not going to worry about it. That has no bearing on how I play the game. I can honestly say that's never crossed my mind when I'm on the field, or even during the season. There's plenty of time between seasons for all of that to happen.

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"When you look back at the end of the year, you are who you are. Your numbers are what they are. That's all it is. ... I have the final say because it's my life and my career, but I'll let the people who know what they're talking about, talk about all that. I couldn't care less, really. I'm going to get what's fair. Everybody gets what's fair in this game, really."

He's focused instead on baseball. On Thursday, Sheets struck out three Mariners batters and surrendered two singles in his three scoreless innings of work. He's right on pace, Yost said.

"He's not throwing a lot of breaking balls," Yost said. "He's working on commanding his fastball and working on a changeup and really doing a nice job."

In five innings this spring, Sheets has yet to surrender a run. He was particularly pleased Thursday with the "finish" on his fastball, which he believes results from finding the proper arm slot over the winter.

"I hope it's like that for more than two games," Sheets said. "You want to throw like that in the season, but I need a lot more [work] than just that."

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

{"content":["spring_training" ] }
{"content":["spring_training" ] }