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WISCONSIN SPORTS BRIEFS: Bishop holds no beef against Packers

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ST. PAUL. - Former Green Bay Packers’ linebacker Desmond Bishop said he did not sign with Minnesota to get back at his old team for cutting him. He told the NFL Network this morning that his biggest motivation was to help the Vikings win – and he wants to go up against Packers’ quarterback Aaron Rodgers twice this year so he could “play against the best.”

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Bishop signed a one-year deal with Minnesota, after the Packers cut him in mid-June for salary cap reasons. Four teams also expressed an interest, but Bishop said he knew Minnesota would be a good fit for him, after meeting with Vikings’ coach Leslie Frazier. The 28-year-old Bishop played his first five seasons in Green Bay, and he says he holds nothing against the Packers – unlike some others who made critical comments about the team after leaving Green Bay like Brett Favre and Darren Sharper. Bishop can potentially play at one of two linebacker spots for the Minnesota Vikings. Media reports say he’ll compete for both the middle linebacker job, and the weak side spot in the Vikings’ 4-3 defense. Bishop reportedly agreed to a one-year contract, but the Vikes had not confirmed it by mid-morning. ESPN Radio in the Twin Cities AM1500 said Bishop would get one-and-a-half million dollars, plus another half-million in potential incentives. Bishop joins ex-Packer Greg Jennings as new additions to Minnesota this year. Bishop played his first five NFL seasons with Green Bay before he missed the entire 2012 season due to hamstring surgery. 

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Chicago Cubs’ infielder Starlin Castro has a 10-game hitting streak against the Milwaukee Brewers – and he hopes to make it 11 tonight at Miller Park. The 23-year-old Castro has struggled lately, going just 2-for-25 in his last six games overall. He’s hitting just .228 this year – well below his career average of .294. Meanwhile, the Brewers hope to continue their hot streak against their I-94 rivals to the south. Milwaukee has won 12-of-its-last-14 contests against the North Siders. Both teams are tied for last in the National League Central – and a sweep by either team would provide a little breathing room away from the cellar. Right-hander Kyle Lohse starts for the Crew this evening against veteran Cubs’ right-hander Edwin Jackson.

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With so many players out, the Milwaukee Brewers can hardly afford to be without third baseman Aramis Ramirez – even as he struggles with a shaky left knee. Ramirez sprained the knee while sliding into a base twice since March, and it never fully healed after the second time. Brewer fans have undoubtedly seen Ramirez hustle only during critical situations when he’s running the bases. Now, we’re learning that his power is being affected. Over the last five weeks, Ramirez has only homered once. He did get three singles in Saturday’s 2-nothing home win over Atlanta. Brewers’ manager Ron Roenicke said it was good to see. He rested Ramirez yesterday. And with a day off today, Roenicke hopes to spare as much energy as possible for Ramirez, as the Brewers are about to play a scheduled 20 straight days before the All-Star break. It’s been getting harder for Ramirez to drive the ball, because his left leg is the one that strides forward in the batter’s box. Roenicke says Ramirez is getting a little frustrated – but he’s still a threatening presence for the Brewers at the clean-up spot. The Brewers will open a three-game home series against the Chicago Cubs tomorrow night. 

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The Brewers have a real chance to dig their way out of the division cellar, when they host the Chicago Cubs in a three-game series that begins tonight. The Brewers and Cubbies are tied for last in the National League Central, both at 31-43 – and it’s not like either team has a chance to move up to third any time soon. Third-place Cincinnati is only two-and-a-half games off the pace – while Milwaukee and Chicago are both 15 behind division-leading Saint Louis. Right-hander Kyle Lohse will start for the Crew this evening against veteran Cubs’ right-hander Edwin Jackson. Lohse is 2-6 with a 3.68 ERA. He has given up just one run in each of his last three starts, but he only picked up one victory in that stretch. That’s because the Brewer offense doesn’t give him much help. His run support average of two-point-nine-four is among the worst in the Majors. Jackson is 3-9 with an ERA of just under 5.50. He has won two of his last three decisions, after a 1-8 start.

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It’s back to a full schedule tonight for the Northwoods League. The Madison Mallards will open a home series against Battle Creek, after the Mallards crushed Wisconsin Rapids 13-3 last evening. Luke Staub struck out 10 Rapids hitters in seven scoreless innings, while giving up just two hits. Staub has a solid ERA of .0.725. Wisconsin Rapids plays at Green Bay tonight. Green Bay was among five teams in the Badger State which had Monday night off. The Lakeshore Chinooks return at Eau Claire. The Wisconsin Woodchucks are home in Wausau against La Crosse. Duluth hosts Waterloo. Willmar plays at Alexandria. Rochester is at Saint Cloud. And in the league’s only afternoon contest, Thunder Bay was at Mankato.

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The Class-“A” Midwest League returns to a full schedule tonight. The entire Western Division was off yesterday, while the eight teams in the East all played. The Wisconsin Timber Rattlers will come back from their day of rest to open a series at Clinton Iowa. The Beloit Snappers are in the south Chicago suburbs to play the Kane County Cougars. Beloit, the first-half champion, is 3-and-1 in the second half – a game in back of Quad Cities and Cedar Rapids. Wisconsin has struggled to an 0-and-4 start in the second half. Lake County leads the East at 4-1, a game ahead of four other teams. There are three afternoon games today in the Midwest League. Burlington is at Cedar Rapids. Fort Wayne hosts West Michigan. And Lake County plays at Bowling Green. Tonight, Peoria plays Quad Cities at home. South Bend is at Great Lakes. And Lansing plays at Dayton. 

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Bret Bielema now says he might have stayed at Wisconsin, had he not been asked to sign a letter of commitment to Arkansas while he was flying to Madison to say goodbye to his old players. That’s one new nugget in an article on Grantland.com. writer Jordan Conn asked Bielema what he saw in the Arkansas job that he did not see at the U-W – and he mentioned things that have come out before. He said his assistants would be paid better, and coaching at Arkansas would put him closer to winning a national championship. Conn disputed that point, calling the Razorbacks at “middling SEC program,” compared to a UW squad that’s a “perennial contender for the Rose Bowl.” In his article, Conn described Bielema as quote, “liked but never quite loved by Wisconsin fans … competent but workmanlike … certainly not a genius.” 

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Carroll University of Waukesha has named Stein Rear as its new baseball coach. He has spent the last three years as the head coach at Northland College in Ashland. Rear led the Lumberjacks to a 15-14 record this past spring, after a pair of losing seasons with rosters of just 11 players the first year and 19 the next. Carroll is coming off a 16-20 season this year. Peter Jennings was named as Carroll’s interim coach in mid-April.

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In the NBA, Milwaukee power forward Gustavo Ayon expects to be part of the Bucks’ Summer League team in Las Vegas next month. He said it would be a great opportunity for the coaches to watch him, as the Bucks consider a one-and-a-half million dollar team option for next season. The 28-year-old Ayon, from Mexico, was traded from Orlando in February in the same deal that brought J-J Redick to Milwaukee. He joined a pre-draft workout today. Ayon joined the N-B-A in December of 2011 as a free agent with New Orleans. He was traded to Orlando last July. Ayon averaged almost four-and-a-half points and nine rebounds in 12 games with Milwaukee this past season. 

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