MILWAUKEE When Milwaukee Brewers pitcher Shaun Marcum was scratched from a start against his former team on June 19, the belief was that Marcum wouldn't be out more than a start or two with elbow tightness. Brewers manager Ron Roenicke and Marcum himself both said that they expected the Brewers No. 3 pitcher to be back after the All-Star break.
But on Sunday, a few days after that initial deadline, Roenicke admitted that Marcum's recovery is taking much longer than expected.
"He's still, if everything goes right, a few days away from getting on the mound," Roenicke said. "Once he gets on the mound, then he needs two to three sessions there, then a simulated game or live BP or something like that."
When asked if Marcum's recovery would push into August, costing him at least two more starts, Roenicke sounded as if a return before then would be unrealistic.
"I don't know," Roenicke said. "To be ready earlier than that, I don't know if that's in the plans where (athletic trainer) Dan Wright wants him. If he comes along great and all of a sudden there's absolutely nothing, maybe that's a possibility . . . but I don't see how he could do that."
Marcum was scheduled to throw from 120 feet today off of flat ground, and Roenicke said that, despite the setbacks, Marcum is encouraged by how things are going now. The irritation in his elbow, he said, is nearly gone.
"For a while there, I was concerned because I didn't know what was happening," Roenicke said. "Now, when he goes out and plays catch, he's encouraged by it."
Before his injury, Marcum was one of the team's most effective pitchers, going 5-3 with a 3.39 ERA. He hadn't lost in the entire month prior to being put on the disabled list.
And losing that kind of consistent production, especially during the team's important nine-game stretch against NL Central opponents, can still sting a bit.
"It definitely affects what we do," Roenicke said. "It's fortunate that we have a couple of guys throwing the ball well in (Michael) Fiers and (Marco) Estrada. But when you're looking at what Marcum can do for us and what he was doing for us, it's hard to replace that."
Bianchi's debut: Since shortstop Alex Gonzalez was lost for the year with a torn ACL, the Brewers have rotated quite a few moving parts through the vacated position.
And on Sunday, rookie Jeff Bianchi became the fifth different player the team has used at the position in 2012. His debut didn't exactly set the world on fire -- he went 0-for-3 in four plate appearances -- but with the lack of an everyday guy at the position, there's no doubting the fact that Bianchi will get a chance to establish himself as a potential starter for the rest of the season.
Roenicke praised a laundry list of things when talking about Bianchi, including his footwork, hands, and versatility.
"I think he deserves the chance to be in there," Roenicke said. "Cody (Ransom) and Izzy (Cesar Izturis), they're not like Alex was when Alex was our everyday shortstop."
But Bianchi's playing time, Roenicke said, isn't a slight to Izturis or Ransom.
"I think when you have the personnel that you feel are utility men or backups, I think they've done a real nice job," Roenicke said. "Cody has got some big hits for us. He's played very good defense. Izzy, same thing -- he's solid defensively, at all the spots, but at shortstop, he does a nice job there. . . . They're not Alex. Alex we expected big things from."
Bullpen confidence: The struggles of the Brewers' bullpen have been well-documented this year, as normally consistent relief assets like Francisco Rodriguez and John Axford have had their share of down performances.
But those games haven't kept the Milwaukee relievers down off the field. Roenicke said on Sunday that he hasn't noticed a lack in confidence in the clubhouse from those who have struggled.
"I haven't," Roenicke said. "When you talk to them they're the same guys. I don't think that they're beat up mentally. I think when they go out there, they're trying to be perfect. . . . You have to go out there and be relaxed."
Command in the bullpen has shown signs of improvement, but Roenicke knows that the team's relievers are still off from the pace they set last season. And still, Roenicke isn't quite sure what to do about it.
"If we knew what was wrong, we would've fixed it," Roenicke said. "It comes down to command. That's the whole issue in our bullpen. We do not command the baseball."
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