(Photo: Jeff Hanisch / USA TODAY Sports)
No player on the Milwaukee Brewers’ roster does a better job of keeping his chin up and looking at the bright side than Stephen Vogt, one of the most upbeat players you ever could meet.
But the veteran catcher fought back tears Tuesday after receiving devastating news about his throwing shoulder that could prevent him from playing again. An MRI revealed he did damage to the rotator cuff, labrum and capsule making a throw to third base while on minor-league rehab assignment Saturday with Class AA Biloxi.
“This is a big blow,” said Vogt, who got choked up talking about the injury. “The biggest emotion is sadness. It’s hard. I’m upset. I worked really hard my whole life and career to help win games. When you can’t help your teammates win games on the field, it’s really hard.
“Obviously, there are big implications here with a second shoulder injury like this that I don’t like to think about but I am thinking about. I felt everything go wrong that could go wrong with a shoulder. I had labrum surgery nine years ago, so there’s a lot of unknowns. I know what that means going forward. It’s definitely weighing on me.”
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Vogt was moved from the 10-day disabled list to the 60-day DL while he awaits a second opinion on his shoulder. The Brewers also optioned slump-ridden utility infielder Eric Sogard to Class AAA Colorado and replaced him with utility player Nick Franklin, summoned from Biloxi. Another move was pending on closer Corey Knebel, who reported back from his rehab assignment.
The Brewers announced more tough news on the injury front. Infield prospect Mauricio Dubon, who had put together a 23-game hitting streak at Colorado Springs, suffered a torn ACL in his left knee during a rundown Saturday night and will have season-ending surgery.
Vogt, 33, was getting close to rejoining the Brewers after a lengthy rehab period necessitated by a shoulder strain early in spring training. That made the news of the injury even tougher to take for both player and club.
“It’s tough; it’s not good news,” manager Craig Counsell said. “He’ll seek a second opinion and make sure he has all the information that he needs. But he’s looking at something pretty serious, probably.
“Look, it’s been a frustrating run in general, ever since the start of spring training for him, injured just a couple days in. You do all your work to get back and you try to be patient, but you try to push it and so there’s that fine line where that’s what coming back from an injury is for these guys. Obviously, it had felt good and the (upcoming) road trip was probably his target date to be activated.
"Stephen was a guy coming back who could have provided some of that (left-handed-hitting) balance. We miss that part of him. He’s also exceptional in the clubhouse. He just flat out is a leader. He did a tremendous job of that last year, even with a new team."
The Brewers kept Vogt at the end of spring training despite the injury, guaranteeing his $3.065 million salary, because they valued his left-handed bat, leadership skills and veteran presence. He had worked hard over the winter on strengthening his shoulder to improve his biggest flaw, throwing to bases, which made the injury even tougher to absorb.
“It’s a meaningful and significant setback,” general manager David Stearns said. “We were looking forward to having Stephen back. Stephen was a big part of this team through the second half of last year. To have this happen when he was right around the corner from returning to us, he was feeling good, he was ready to go.”
Vogt will stay with the team for a few days, including the upcoming trip to Colorado, before going to Los Angeles to see shoulder specialist Neal ElAttrache.
"I’m happy to be back in Milwaukee with my teammates; it’s making it a lot better," Vogt said.
The Brewers had gotten very little offense out of the catching tandem of Manny Piña and Jett Bandy, who were batting a combined .190 with four homers and seven RBI. In light of the Vogt news, Stearns was asked if he’d look for outside help at the position.
“I don’t think we’ve been shy about saying it’s an area where we need better production,” Steans said. “We have two guys here we feel are capable of providing that production. We’ve seen it in spurts this year but we haven’t seen it consistently. So, it’s something we’re going to continue to discuss and observe.
“I still have confidence in Manny and Jett that they can get it done. If we get to the point where we need to consider outside options, we will.”
Time to reboot: Stearns said there was a mutual agreement for Sogard to accept an option to Colorado Springs to get regular playing time and try to break loose at the plate. He had gone hitless in his last 27 at-bats to drop his batting average to .100 (6 for 60) for the season.
“Eric consented to this optional assignment,” Stearns said. “The goal here is for Eric to get some consistent playing time, for us to get him back to where he was last year, which was a significant contributor to this team. And get him back here.
“Eric wasn’t getting consistent ABs here. He understood why that was happening. He’s looking forward to getting going at Colorado Springs and getting back here.”
Franklin, who played in 53 games (.576 OPS) last year for the Brewers before being sold to the Angels, signed a minor-league deal at the outset of spring camp. He agreed to an assignment to Biloxi with the idea of trying to become more versatile by catching but early injuries derailed that project.
Franklin, 27, continued to play other positions, however, and was contributing on offense with a .288 batting average, .394 OBP, two homers and eight RBI in 20 games.
“He’s here for a left-handed bat as we face a string of righties,” Stearns said. “Nick has experience in the major leagues. We saw him swing the bat very well in spring training. He was swinging the bat well in Double-A despite taking on the challenge of a new position, despite getting banged up a little bit there. I think he earned this opportunity.”