Sheets tabbed as Opening Day starter

Sheets tabbed Opening Day starter

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Stop the presses. The Brewers just named Ben Sheets their Opening Day starter.

Manager Ned Yost made it official on Saturday morning, though there was little doubt that Sheets would draw the assignment for the sixth time in the last seven years. The right-hander has been lined up all spring to follow an every-five-day schedule to March 31, when the Brewers -- Old Man Winter permitting -- face the Cubs at Wrigley Field.

Sheets, who turns 30 in July, is 3-0 in his Opening Day assignments including his favorite, a 7-1 win over the Dodgers last season at Miller Park in which Sheets tossed a complete-game two-hitter.

He called the Opening Day assignment, "a rush. Believe it." Does it ever get even a little bit old hat?

"Old hat's being the sixth starter every year," said Sheets, perhaps a reference to his time on the disabled list over the last three seasons.

Sheets missed time last year with finger and hamstring injuries, but still made his third National League All-Star team and tied for the team lead in wins. Sheets finished 12-5 with a 3.82 ERA in 24 starts and 141 1/3 innings.

Since making 34 starts and pitching at least 200 innings in three straight seasons from 2002-2004, Sheets has not topped 24 big league starts or 156 2/3 innings in the last three years. He's entering the final season of a four-year contract and will be a free agent at year's end.

Sheets' most recent outing came Friday in a Minor League intrasquad game. He threw 91 pitches in six sharp innings, including a number of quality changeups as Sheets continues to refine that pitch.

"He looked dynamite," Yost said. "I wish [Friday] was Opening Day."

Yost also said right-hander Jeff Suppan would pitch the second game of the season, April 2 against the Cubs. After that, it's still up for grabs.

"After that, I can't tell you anything," Yost said. "I don't have answers."

He hopes to have answers before the Brewers leave Arizona on Thursday. Four pitchers are vying for the other three spots -- Dave Bush, Manny Parra, Claudio Vargas and Carlos Villanueva -- and Bush and Vargas appear to have the inside track on two of them.

Spring Training
News and features:
• Hardy talks about his recovery  400K
• Weeks on signing autographs  400K
• Gallardo continues his recovery  400K
• Yost on working with Melvin  400K
• Melvin breaks down Brewers  400K
• Gross on spring results  400K
Spring Training info: coverage  |  Schedule  |  Ballpark  |  Tickets

Part of the task facing Yost and pitching coach Mike Maddux is to select a starter for the fourth game of the year, the April 4 home opener against the Giants at Miller Park.

Yost called that game, "monster, mega Opening Day in Milwaukee." He would tend to assign a more veteran pitcher to that game, but left the door open for Parra or Villanueva.

"It depends on his makeup," Yost said.

The Brewers' pitching picture came into focus earlier this week, when left-hander Chris Capuano went down with an elbow injury. Capuano underwent an MRI scan on Thursday but the Brewers will not reveal any results until head team physician William Raasch examines Capuano in person. The huge snowstorm in Milwaukee delayed Raasch's departure on Friday, and he was still stuck there on Saturday morning.

Another candidate at the start of camp, right-hander Yovani Gallardo, continues to work back from knee surgery. Gallardo pitched in a Minor League game on Saturday, but then was placed on the 15-day DL. He needs 4 or 5 more outings to build his pitch count to the point of making a regular-season start, meaning he will be out at least until the third full week in April.

Even with the slimmer field, Yost has not finalized decisions.

"I have no idea what we're going to do yet," the manager said. "I really don't. Do I have a way that I'm leaning? I don't even know if I have a way that I'm leaning right now."

Yost hates to put too much stock in Spring Training games, but it's unavoidable that performances over the next week will play a role in the decision-making process.

"You're looking, at this point, for any excuse to make or not make a cut," Yost said. "We need to pick up, results-wise, from what we did last year as a staff. You can't go out and have a 5.00 ERA as a staff, or [have] individuals with a low-five ERA. That's not productive enough."

While the battle for the back end of the rotation plays out, Sheets will pitch Wednesday in his final tuneup for the regular season.

"I'm right where I want to be," said Sheets. "I ain't where I want to be for Opening Day, but I'm where I want to be right now."

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