COMMENTARY | Entering spring training, the Milwaukee Brewers knew they were going to have a lot to evaluate when it came to player personnel. It was a chance to see what they had in their new bullpen acquisitions and whether or not their young starting pitching corps would be able to rekindle the magic from their late-season run in 2012. It was also an opportunity to give some young prospects a chance to surprise and make the opening day roster.
And of course, there are always the players who have nothing to prove - those like Ryan Braun, Aramis Ramirez and Yovani Gallardo - the guys who have gone through the motions of spring training time and time again. While it's important to shake off the rust and get back in game shape in time for April 1, it's even more important to just get through the month and a half of spring training unscathed.
Unfortunately, Milwaukee has already encountered its fair share of bumps and bruises, and there are still 25 days until the regular season gets underway. The injury bug couldn't have bitten earlier - or harder - when Corey Hart's knee flared up and required surgery in late January that will keep him out for at least a month. Then, right at the start of spring training, Mat Gamel tore his ACL once again on Feb. 18, which will keep him out for the duration of the 2013 season, forcing the Brewers to scramble at first base.
Other players fighting to make the roster, like infielder Bobby Crosby (quad) and relief pitcher Kelvim Escobar (hand), have dealt with injuries that could very well cost them a fair shot at making the roster. Also falling in that category is shortstop Jeff Bianchi, who suffered a groin strain right before he was going to join team Italy for the World Baseball Classic.
No offense to those mentioned in the previous paragraph, but there were some far more notable players to battle injury for the Brewers as well. Aramis Ramirez hurt himself sliding into second base and will miss at least a week with a sprained knee. Then there was Yovani Gallardo (groin) and Ryan Braun (bruised knee) who missed a few days of action, but are apparently healthy enough to participate for team Mexico and team United States respectively in the WBC.
Speaking of which, the World Baseball Classic was originally going to take 15 players from the Milwaukee organization away, but due to withdrawals and injury will now require just a dozen Brewers to leave their base in Maryvale. While we say "just" a dozen, the Brewers happen to have the second-most WBC participants in Major League Baseball behind only the Minnesota Twins.
While injury risk actually decreases when players take part in the Classic, preparing for the regular season and taking precautions takes precedence for many professional baseball players over playing in the WBC, as it did with Carlos Gomez. That risk also concerns manager Ron Roenicke, especially since his ball club has already dealt with so many ill-fated health mishaps.
Losing Hart and Gamel is damaging to the early portion of the Brewers' season no matter who gets plugged in at first for the first few weeks, but Milwaukee has to be thankful that injuries to three of its top five players in Braun, Ramirez and Gallardo turned out to be on the minor side as well as occur before the season began. But injuries to Crosby, Escobar and Bianchi hurt the way Roenicke wants to gauge certain position battles as he figures out who will fill out the bullpen, the bench and the back end of the starting rotation.
Not only has injury taken players out of the mix to earn jobs, but the World Baseball Classic takes away infielder Taylor Green and pitcher Hiram Burgos, two players who aren't exactly guaranteed roster spots. Green has the inside track at being a utility infielder for Milwaukee, but Burgos has a lot of work to do in order to earn a roster spot.
Does the WBC hurt their chances? Actually, it has the potential to help them. In Green's case, he will likely get a chance to start and play more than he would have in Maryvale, and Burgos may get a few innings on an inexperienced Puerto Rico pitching staff while getting the chance to work with Martin Maldonado. How the Brewers' staff views the way their players perform in the tournament compared to in camp is a different story, but playing time is playing time.
The majority of Milwaukee's WBC participants will kick off play on March 7, and there is plenty of time for players to get healthy - or obtain an injury - before the Brewers open up the season on April 1 at home against the Colorado Rockies. The Brewers are desperately hoping for the former.
Dave Radcliffe is a resident of a little known Milwaukee suburb who contains an unhealthy amount of knowledge about Wisconsin sports. He has contributed to JSOnline and as a featured columnist among other sites and publications.
You can follow Dave on Twitter @DaveRadcliffe_ .