WISCONSIN SPORTS ROUND-UP: Brewers open big weekend series in Cincinnati tonight
CINNCINATI - Two possible All-Star candidates will face each other tonight, when the Milwaukee Brewers open a key weekend series at Cincinnati.
Brewers' veteran right-hander Kyle Lohse is 9-2, two wins away from his total from all of last season. He'll face Reds' right-hander Alfredo Simon, a converted reliever who's 10-3 after replacing then-injured Mat Latos at Spring Training. Both starters have some of the National League's stingiest ratios of walks and hits per inning pitched. Simon's "WHIP" is 1.05. Lohse is not far behind at 1.08. There's at least some talk that both Lohse and Simon have a shot at making the NL All-Star team for the July 15th game at Minneapolis. We'll find out Sunday night, when the rosters are announced. The Brewers, meanwhile, have some more urgent business to tend to. They've lost three straight. And if they don't turn things around, the Reds could jump up the standings this weekend, and get as close as four games of the first-place Crew in the NL Central Division. Saint Louis gained another half-game on the idle Brewers yesterday, with a 7-2 win over San Francisco. The second-place Cardinals are now five games behind Milwaukee.
The Major League trading deadline is four weeks from today -- and nobody seems to know what the Milwaukee Brewers will do, if anything. There appears to be no glaring needs as the division-leading Crew gears up for a pennant run after the All-Star break. Starting and relief pitching have been mentioned as possibilities -- but the Brewers have their own fresh arms in both departments. Tom Gorzelanny has just returned to the Milwaukee bullpen. Tyler Thornburg and Jim Henderson are expected to join him, but it's now known when. For a starter, the Brewers could look to their top prospect Jimmy Nelson. He won an emergency Major League start at Miami a few weeks ago, and he's 10-2 at Triple-"A" Nashville with a 1.56 ERA in 16 games. Nelson currently has a scoreless streak of 14 innings, and he won his third straight start last night -- 5-0 over Memphis. He leads the Pacific Coast League in strikeouts with 110, and he's tied for the league lead in wins, ERA, and walks-and-hits per inning at 0.92.
The Brewers have agreed to a contract with 16-year-old shortstop Gilbert Lara from the Dominican Republic. The team's Web site said Lara will get a signing bonus of $3.1 million dollars -- by far the most ever offered by the Brewers for an international amateur. A year ago, 16-year-old Dominicans Nicolas Pierre and Franly Mallen each signed for 800-thousand dollars. Lara is ranked fourth on MLB.com list of the Top-30 international prospects for the big leagues. He's from San Cristobal in the Dominican Republic. Brewers.com says Lara is a good hitter with raw power, but he can appear out of control at times -- and he could end up playing at third base or right field. Lara has starred in multiple prospect leagues in his home territory. Yesterday was the first day that international players could sign with Major League clubs. The New York Yankees reportedly snatched ten players for a total cost of $14-million dollars.
Wisconsin's two teams in the Class-"A" Midwest League are both hitting the road on this Fourth-of-July. The Wisconsin Timber Rattlers open a series at Quad Cities tonight, after the Rattlers topped Cedar Rapids at home last evening 5-3. The Beloit Snappers are at Cedar Rapids late this afternoon, on the heels of a 6-3 home loss to Quad Cities. Wisconsin enters the weekend in a tie for third in the Western Division at 8-6 for the second half. The Rattlers are two-and-a-half games West leader Kane County. Beloit is at the bottom of the division at 2-11, already eight games off the pace.
The Northwoods League is entering its first weekend of the season's second half. Four afternoon contests are slated on this Independence Day. The Madison Mallards will host Battle Creek in a double-header. Green Bay is at home against Saint Cloud. And the expansion Kenosha Kingfish play at Wisconsin Rapids. This evening, Eau Claire hosts Mankato. The Lakeshore Chinooks of Mequon travel to Kalamazoo. And the Wisconsin Woodchucks are at home in Wausau against La Crosse. Only four of the 18 Northwoods teams are 2-0 for the second half. Madison, Kenosha, and Wisconsin all lead the South Division with that mark. Mankato is the only unbeaten team in the North.
Giannis Antetokounmpo and Jabari Parker will lead the Milwaukee Bucks' Summer League team in Las Vegas this month. Former Wisconsin Badger guards Ben Brust and Jordan Taylor will also get exposure on the Milwaukee squad. The Summer League highlights first-and-second-year NBA players. The Bucks will play five games in that circuit, beginning a week from today against the Cleveland Cavaliers. Antetokounmpo has been spending time in his home country of Greece, but he's due back in Milwaukee today. He told reporters in Greece that he didn't know very much until recently about Parker, the Duke forward who was Milwaukee's first-round draft pick. Antetokounmpo said he met Parker during a pre-draft workout -- and he called him a great shooter and a "great kid." Antetokounmpo also said he was surprised that the Bucks fired coach Larry Drew and brought in Jason Kidd. Giannis said it saddened him at first, but he's excited about learning under Kidd this season.
When coaches get fired in pro sports, they often have the chance to hold a news conference to give their side of the story. But ousted Milwaukee Bucks' coach Larry Drew either rejected the opportunity, or it was never given to him. Today, Drew issued a statement thanking former Herb Kohl, GM John Hammond, and Bucks fans for the chance to coach last season. He said it would be "forever memorable," even though it was only for a year. The Bucks went 15-and-67 in Drew's season, as injuries hit the team hard. Drew said his firing on Monday came as a surprise, but he accepts the decision from new owners Wesley Edens and Marc Lasry -- and he wishes Milwaukee and the Bucks nothing but success. Drew will get paid for the two years remaining on his contract.
One of Jason Kidd's former assistants in Brooklyn will coach the Milwaukee Bucks' Summer League team in Las Vegas later this month. Sean Sweeney was a video coordinator for the Nets, and was on Kidd's coaching staff a year ago. He also indicated that Sweeney and former Nets assistant Eric Hughes would join him on the Bucks' bench this season. Meanwhile, the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel says Kidd will keep Josh Oppenheimer, who served as a player development coach under Larry Drew in Milwaukee last season.
Steve Stricker of Madison is tied for tenth going into today's second round of the PGA's Greenbrier Classic. The world's 18th-ranked player shot a four-under-par 66 yesterday at the Old White TPC course in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia. It's Stricker's first tournament since last month's U.S. Open. Pewaukee native Mark Wilson is tied for 31st, after shooting a two-under-68. Jonas Blixt is the first-round leader at six-under-64. Eight players are tied for second.
Wisconsin's NASCAR drivers are at Daytona for pair of races on this Fourth-of-July weekend. The Sprint Cup Series is gearing up for the Coke Zero-400 tomorrow night. Matt Kenseth of Cambridge and Paul Menard of Eau Claire hope to remain in the driver's seat for the berths they now hold in the season-ending Chase for the Sprint Cup. Kenseth is fifth in the point standings, 63 points behind first-place Jeff Gordon. Menard is 11th. Beloit-born Danica Patrick is also entered. The Nationwide Series has the Subway Firecracker-250 tonight at Daytona. Camping World Truck Series' leader Johnny Sauter of Necedah is entered for this event. The truck circuit is off until next weekend.
Pro beach volleyball returns to Wisconsin this weekend, when the AVP Tour makes a weekend stop at Milwaukee's Bradford Beach. Qualifying begins today, and the tournament runs through Sunday. Muskego native and former Wisconsin Badger Sheila Shaw is teamed up with Kathryn Piening. They're seeded ninth among 16 teams on the Tour, and they hope to win their first title in Shaw's home area. They're among ten teams and two wild cards to play in the tournament's main draw tomorrow. Three-time Olympic champion Kerri Walsh Jennings is also part of the Milwaukee competition. She's now teamed up with April Ross. Jennings would tie for the most domestic victories all-time if she wins this weekend.