CHICAGO -- The Brewers might be without Ben Sheets for the second straight September, right when they need him most. The right-hander was forced out of his start against the Cubs on Wednesday after two innings with what the club described as tightness in his right forearm. Sheets painted a much bleaker picture after the Brewers' bullpen helped preserve a 6-2 win at Wrigley Field. He revealed that he's been feeling pain in his right elbow since an Aug. 26 win at St. Louis. He has received a variety of treatments since then, including a cortisone shot, and underwent an MRI scan at some point in the past two weeks that did not show any structural damage.
Sheets was able to make his next four starts as scheduled, including his 30th of the year on Wednesday, when he felt a "cutting" sensation in his elbow during a first-inning at-bat against Derrek Lee. Sheets worked through the end of the second inning before pulling the plug. "We've been fighting it off for a while," Sheets said. "Today, I couldn't get the ball where I needed it." How did he feel? "I'm bummed out," Sheets said. "I'm not feeling good, obviously." Something appeared wrong with Sheets as he warmed up in the bottom of the second inning. After his allotment of warmup pitches, he stepped behind the mound, squatted for a moment and then threw twice over to third baseman Craig Counsell. Sheets' first pitch to Aramis Ramirez in the second was lined for a solo home run, but he worked through the rest of the frame without further damage. As the Brewers batted in the top of the third inning, Mark DiFelice warmed up and then replaced Sheets. The injury casts doubt on Sheets' final two scheduled starts of 2008 and comes at a terrible time for the Brewers, who are a half-game behind the Mets in the race for the National League Wild Card and have only 10 games left to play. "You don't want that to happen," first baseman Prince Fielder said when asked if he's worried for Sheets. "But you can't afford to have any emotions like that right now. You don't want anything to be wrong, but we still have to go out there and play good baseball."
It prompted the question of whether Sheets has thrown his final pitch for the Brewers, who made him their top Draft pick in 1999 and called him to the big leagues for good in 2001. Sheets has represented the Brewers at four All-Star Games including the 2008 Midsummer Classic, in which he started for the National League and tossed two scoreless innings.
Sheets is a free agent for the first time after the season. He is nearing the end of a four-year, $38.5 million contract that was the biggest in club history when he signed it.
He was not ready to say Wednesday whether the injury would prevent him from pitching again this season. To the contrary, he insisted it was "very possible" that he would make his next start.
"It's been so up and down that I would think it's very possible," Sheets said. "There's been really good days, there's been really bad days. There's been days that it's hard to move it because it's stiff, and then the next day it's great. We'll see."
The ailment comes as a surprise, because Sheets has been pitching well. Including the start at St. Louis and his two innings Wednesday against the Cubs, he is 2-1 in his past five starts while allowing five runs -- all in his Sept. 11 loss at Philadelphia -- over 28 innings.
Sheets also suffered a strained groin during that stretch, but returned after a shortened Sept. 1 start against the Mets to deliver a five-hit shutout against the Padres on Sept. 6. The Brewers won that game, 1-0.
The Brewers were hopeful that Sheets was in the clear.
"If one of your best pitchers is sore and can't get loose, it's human nature, sure you worry about it," Sveum said. "He was fine in his bullpen but something tightened it up. He does throw a power curveball so you run into that sometimes, I guess."
Sheets has a long list of injuries and has been on the disabled list six times in his career, starting with a bout of rotator cuff tendinitis in his rookie season. The most severe injury came in August 2005, when he tore two muscles behind his right shoulder and continued to experience related shoulder trouble into '06.
Last season, the Brewers led in the NL Central by as many as 8 1/2 games in June, then swooned in July and August while Sheets was on the disabled list with a sprained middle finger. He returned for the Brewers' September push, but did not pitch after experiencing tightness in his left hamstring on Sept. 18 in Houston.
The Brewers finished two games behind the Cubs. They have little hope of catching Chicago in the division this season, but they are still in the middle of the Wild Card hunt.
"We'll evaluate it day-to-day," Sheets said "It's up and down and it definitely hurts, but I've hurt before and felt great two days later."
|"It's up and down and it definitely hurts, but I've hurt before and felt great two days later."|
-- Ben Sheets,|
on his tight right elbow
Adam McCalvy is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.