Adam McCalvy reported yesterday that Jeff Suppan was to pitch in a simulated game due to a stiff neck. Tom Haudricourt's report on it said Suppan has been battling neck soreness since Spring Training began and an MRI finally revealed a cervical disc problem that's leading to periodic sciatic pain. It's said that the pain has been going on for two months, but the source was just recently discovered.
Does this sound familiar, folks? That may be because suddenly discovered, previously unreported injuries have cropped up conveniently at least once a year over the past few years for the Brewers. In fact, this sort of sudden roster move may be a patented Doug Melvin special. Under pressure and with few options, Melvin buys himself more time by sending an unpopular and unproductive player to the DL with the possibility of a minor league rehab stint, thus buying himself more time and ensuring that no decisions or moves have to be made in the immediate future.
At the end of July last season, Suppan was sent to the DL with a strained left oblique suffered while batting. This made room on the roster to bring up Alcides Escobar and was the beginning of the process that sent J.J. Hardy to the minors just 13 days later and eventually led to Hardy's trade to Minnesota.
In early July 2008, when Suppan was struggling and the Brewers had just signed CC Sabathia, Suppan developed "joint irritation" and was place on the 15 day DL.
At the time, Suppan was 5-6 with a 4.71 ERA in 18 starts. In the start the before he was moved to the DL, he lasted just three innings, giving up six runs and five hits to the Pirates.
In late May 2008, shortly after the disastrous series in Boston and the rumors of the imminent firing of Ned Yost, Eric Gagne was put on the 15 day DL with rotator cuff tendonitis. He wasn't removed from the DL for over a month during which time Salomon Torres was a perfect 12-12 as closer. At the time he was placed on the DL, Gagne was 1-2 with a 6.98 ERA. He had blown five of 15 save opportunities and had already been removed from the closers roll once.
At the end of May 2007, Elmer Dessens was 1-1 with a 6.60 ERA and a 1.80 WHIP and the Brewers were getting no offensive output at third base. According to this article, they were "28th among the 30 major-league clubs at that position in slugging percentage (.273), 27th in batting average (.214), tied for 26th in home runs (one) and runs scored (16) and 25th in runs batted in (14)."
They also happened to have Ryan Braun playing third base and excelling at the plate in AAA.
So Dessens was placed on the 15 day DL with a right shoulder strain to make room on the roster for Braun and stayed there for 65 games until he was designated for assignment at the beginning of August and released about a week later.
Though this appears to be accepted practice in baseball, it's difficult to look at the collected moves and not feel as though they're at the least lacking in decency or honor and at worst verging on unethical.
And no matter how you feel about the principles of the situation, this apparent history of avoidance and refusal to deal with difficult situations is unsettling.
In this most current situation, it's hard to imagine that the Suppan problem will be any clearer in two weeks, making this DL move feel like simply a postponement of the inevitable. And while I can appreciate that Melvin is being careful in case of injury, the negative publicity that has come from yesterday's move is far worse than any sort of fan or media reaction to the Brewers needing to scramble to fill a starter's role on short notice.