As expected, Corey Hart and Mat Gamel will return to Milwaukee for tonight’s game against John Smoltz and the Cardinals.
While the games don’t mean much anymore (Elimination Number: 10; Projected draft pick: 12), it’s safe to say there’s still a lot riding on how these two will be utilized now that they’re back. Hart’s return hopefully means no repeats of yesterday afternoon’s JV squad outfield of Frank Catalanotto, Corey Patterson, and Jody Gerut. I’m not sure Ken Macha could’ve fielded a worse lineup if he tried, so it’s really no wonder Chris Carpenter carved up the Brewers for a 99-pitch, 29-batter, 1-hit shutout.
Even if Mike Cameron is going to miss a few more games — we’re being told not to expect him back before Friday — an outfield of Braun-Gerut-Hart doesn’t look too bad on paper (and it may be an outfield we’ll get used to seeing next year, if Cameron isn’t brought back). The next few weeks will be crucial in getting Hart’s confidence in the plate back up, and his return to the lineup could simultaneously improve the Brewers’ offensive output and his trade value.
Gamel’s playing time situation is less clear. In a lot of ways, he’s stuck in the same boat as Alcides Escobar — with the team out of playoff contention, both players should be playing every day, getting as many big league ABs as possible this season before ultimately taking over next season. For whatever reason, Macha will likely elect to play veterans over them most of the time — perhaps he has orders from the higher ups to give the likes of J.J. Hardy and Casey McGehee as many starts as possible in order to generate the highest possible return for offseason trades; perhaps he’s just scared for his job and thinks playing veterans will win him more games.
At this point in the season, starting Hardy doesn’t make much sense at all, and a little piece of me gets pretty ticked off every time I see he’s slated to start. Even if you want to hide behind the guise of trying to win more games, Hardy doesn’t make much sense — he didn’t hit well in Nashville, he hasn’t hit well since coming back from the minors, and while Escobar isn’t going to hit .300 himself, he at least has the speed to beat out a few infield grounders.
The McGehee/Gamel situation is a bit trickier. Unlike Hardy, McGehee is still hitting above expectations despite playing with a knee injury that will likely require offseason surgery. Gamel has struggled in both Nashville and Milwaukee in the second half this year, but stands a better chance of being an Opening Day starter next season than Escobar does. If you have eyes on the future, you have to start Gamel. If you’re still trying to win games and finish over .500, you probably need to give McGehee a few starts a week.
The Brewers have an overcrowded infield, and there’s a good chance that two or three players playing there now won’t be in Milwaukee in 2010, so what do you do? How do you get the most out of Gamel and Escobar’s stay in September while also making sure there are enough ABs for McGehee, Felipe Lopez, and Craig Counsell?