Brewers making their best pitch for '13 success
Club hoping to match a solid rotation with projected potent offensive attack
PHOENIX -- You could make the general statement, "they'll go as far as their pitching will take them," about all 30 Major League teams and you wouldn't be incorrect in any specific case.
But there are clubs for which pitching appears to be the big variable heading into the 2013 regular season. The Milwaukee Brewers are definitely in that category.
The Brewers led the National League in runs scored in 2012. While first baseman Corey Hart may miss most of the first two months of the season while recovering from knee surgery, the rest of this offense returns, essentially intact. There is no valid reason to believe that the Brewers' offense will take a giant step backward.
At the top of the rotation, Yovani Gallardo is genuine ace material. The second starter at this moment would be Marco Estrada. Last year, the second starter was Zack Greinke. Estrada is a legitimate starter, who recorded a 4.93 strikeouts-to-walks ratio in 2012. But Greinke was a Cy Young Award winner.
There are four competitors for the other three spots. Lefty Chris Narveson had established himself in the Brewers' rotation, but is coming back from shoulder surgery now.
Narveson threw an encouraging four innings on Friday at Maryvale Baseball Park, giving up two runs in the first, but then throwing three shutout innings in a 4-3 victory over Cleveland. He was effective with all of his pitches, especially the changeup against right-handed hitters. At this point, Narveson gives every indication of a successful return.
"It's a little bit different [this Spring Training] because you're trying to get there physically as well as mentally," Narveson said. "But it's gone well. It's definitely one of those things where you look forward to every fifth day. After one [start] ends, you're excited for the next one."
A trio of starters -- Mike Fiers, Wily Peralta and Mark Rogers -- all pitched well last season in the first Major League experience of any notable length for each of them. But none has the experience of carrying that success over a full season.
Rogers is currently a bit of a riddle to the Brewers. He had a mid-90s fastball last season, but he is throwing in the high 80s now. Manager Ron Roenicke suggested on Friday that the next move for Rogers may be throwing a simulated game.
After that, "we'll kind of reevaluate and see what we're going to do," Roenicke said. "We're trying to get him back to that guy that we saw last year in September."
Roenicke said Rogers might subsequently pitch in a Minor League game or appear in relief in an exhibition game, although another exhibition start has not been ruled out. "The biggest thing is let's get him right," the manager said. "That's what we're trying to do."
The Brewers were greatly encouraged by the emergence of their young starting pitchers last season. It was after Greinke was traded that the Brewers put together a 24-6 run and became, at least for a time, a factor in the race for the second NL Wild Card berth.
So Roenicke believes that there is enough starting pitching talent for his club to succeed.
"The consistency part over an entire season, you never know what's going to happen," he said.
Roenicke cautions that the offense must not be taken for granted.
"I don't want to say it's no issue, because the first half of the  season, we weren't very good offensively," the manager said. "That's always a concern of mine. I don't ever want to be like, 'Well, we do this part of the game well, so let's not worry about it.' I think we need to try to improve that every year.
"I think when we get Corey back healthy, Rickie [Weeks] back healthy, everybody back healthy, I think we've got a chance to do some pretty good things offensively.
"That's usually what I'm not asked about," Roenicke said with a small smile. "The questions are about the starting pitching, which I get. I understand that. When you look at our club we should be good defensively, we should still run the bases well, and hopefully score a lot of runs again.
"And then the bullpen, I'm looking at it being solid again. But I did last year, too, and it didn't work out.
"So that starting staff, I understand, that's the question mark, how the young pitchers are going to perform."
Solid veteran help was added for the bullpen. The Brewers, short on left-handed relief in the recent past, picked up two proven lefties -- Michael Gonzalez and Tom Gorzelanny -- and a reliable right-hander in Burke Badenhop. There should be no repeat of the bullpen struggles that hampered the Brewers' 2012 season.
The unknown here remains the quality of the starting rotation over a long season. It is only one question, but it is the largest one a club can have.
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.