Left-hander Tom Gorzelanny’s recovery from shoulder surgery is progressing and the veteran is reportedly getting close to going out on a minor-league rehab assignment.
MLB.com reported Tuesday that the 31-year-old, who had his rotator cuff and labrum repaired surgically in December, could be assigned to one of the Brewers farm clubs in the next few days.
Assistant general manager Gord Ash indicated the Gorzelanny would need the full month allowed for rehab assignments, meaning a decision on what to do in the crowded Milwaukee bullpen can wait for a few weeks, anyway.
Gorzelanny’s return would give the Brewers four lefties available in the pen, which could create some roster problems.
Will Smith has pitched extremely well since coming over last winter from the Kansas City Royals in a trade for Nori Aoki. In 17 appearances covering 14.1 innings this season, the 24-year-old Smith has allowed only seven hits and one run (a 0.63 ERA and 1.116 WHIP), striking out 22 batters. Smith also has the only save in the Brewers bullpen not belonging to Francisco Rodriguez.
Zach Duke, meanwhile, has also been solid in his 16 appearances and 14.1 innings. He has an ERA of 1.26 and a 0.907 WHIP, striking out 20 while picking up two victories in relief. Duke, 31, was signed as a minor-league free agent in January and pitched his way onto the 25-man roster in spring training. As a starting pitcher, Duke was an All-Star in 2009 while pitching for the Pirates. He split last season between the Nationals and Reds.
Ordinarily, the odd man out would be 22-year-old Wei-Chung Wang, who made just his fourth appearance of the season in Tuesday night’s loss to the Diamondbacks, pitching a scoreless inning. Wang has given up 10 runs in six innings and struck out three, while also surrendering three home runs. But Wang was selected by the Brewers from Pittsburgh in the Rule 5 draft last December, meaning that if Milwaukee doesn’t keep him on the active roster this season, he would have to be offered back to the Pirates.
Wang, from Taiwan, signed as a free agent with the Pirates in October 2011 and pitched last year at the Rookie level, starting 11 games and making one relief appearance while posting a 3.23 ERA and 0.866 WHIP in 47.1 innings. Those numbers indicate he’s got talent, but it is an incredibly long jump from the Gulf Coast League to the majors.
The longer the Brewers have the look of a team that is going to remain in contention, the more problematic it could be to eat up a spot on the 25-man roster for a pitcher who seldom pitches, and doesn’t pitch particularly well when he does pitch.
Given a choice between a healthy Gorzelanny or the potential of Wang, I’d have to make that decision based on the standings. Ron Roenicke is a manager who has shown he’s not afraid to use all 25 guys on his roster, but the bullpen could use a pitcher like Gorzelanny, who is capable of eating innings in middle relief while also keeping the club in games.
As a reliever last season, Gorzelanny had a 2.70 ERA and 1.091 WHIP in 36.2 innings, striking out 35 in 33 appearances. That compares to his numbers in his 10 starts (4.81 ERA, 1.397 WHIP in 48.2 innings). He’s a valuable, flexible arm to have in the bullpen and if the Brewers continue to contend, Wei-Chung Wang might be a luxury that Milwaukee just can’t afford.