Looks good so far. Here's a detailed report:
http://milwaukee.brewers.mlb.com/NASApp ... p&c_id=mil
OMAHA, Neb. -- Ben Sheets may be ready to return to the Milwaukee Brewers starting rotation.
He made a strong case Wednesday night, allowing only one run on three hits in 6 1/3 strong innings in helping the Triple-A Nashville Sounds beat the Omaha Royals, 3-1.
However, he left the game when he thought he felt a blister was developing on his middle finger after throwing 87 pitches, 54 for strikes.
"There wasn't a blister," Nashville manager Frank Kremblas said. "It was just a precaution because he felt really good."
"There was one big one [a blister] not too far behind," Sheets said, adding that it probably was caused by the 103-degree heat, humidity and bigger seams on the ball.
Sheets, not particularly impressive in his two previous tests while attempting to rebound from tendinitis in his right shoulder, was throwing 96-mph fastballs and effectively mixing in curves, cutters and a few changeups.
"He was a little shaky in the first couple of innings," Kremblas said. "His velocity was up, which is good, and his breaking ball was sharper than the last time out."
Both Kremblas and veteran catcher Chad Moeller, who caught many games for Sheets in the Major Leagues, agreed that Sheets is ready to pitch for the Brewers.
"I think so," Kremblas said. "We'll see how he feels tomorrow, which will be a big indicator."
Moeller said, "He's ready. His stuff's there. His command isn't quite where he wants it to be be, but it's there. He's ready."
Sheets certainly is eager to get back to the Milwaukee rotation. But he admitted he would take a cautious approach.
"We'll see," he said. "I felt good ... it took a little while to get going, but without a doubt, everything was good."
He amended that a tad.
"Today was good, but I'm going to say it was 100 [percent]. It's still not where I want it to be."
The only run he gave up was on a ground ball that easily could have been an inning-ending double play. He got the victory in a pitcher's duel with Ryan Baerlocher when Brent Abernathy hit a two-run homer in the third and the Sounds added an insurance run in the seventh.
Kremblas said prior to the game that Sheets, a former National League All-Star, would be limited to no more than 100 pitches.
He seemed to get stronger after throwing 19 pitches in each of the first two innings. He struck out four and walked two, facing the minimum 15 batters over his final five innings. The only runner during that stretch came on a walk, and he was erased trying to steal.
The Royals managed two singles in the first inning without scoring and added a third single in the second when they scored their run.
Sheets is generally considered the ace of the Milwaukee staff when healthy. That lofty status comes despite a career record of 56-65, which when considered along with his respectable 3.89 career ERA, mirrors the team's minimal success.
Yet Sheets would be welcomed back to the rotation this season as the Brewers fight to get above .500 and possibly contend for the Wild Card.
"We're doing our best to get realigned," Brewers pitching coach Mike Maddux said prior to Milwaukee's afternoon game Wednesday in San Francisco. "You plan for the worst but hope for the best. I think the best is right upon us."
That would be helped by the return of Sheets from the disabled list and a strong resugence from recently activated Tomo Ohka. Still, Milwaukee manager Ned Yost knows it will take more than that for the Brewers to contend.
"We're looking forward to having Nomo and [Sheets] back, but we can't rely on that too much, either," said Yost in San Francisco. "We're sitting back, waiting for those guys to cure all our ills; it's not going to happen.
"We need to pick up in all phases of the game."
Getting Sheets back to top form -- he struck out 18 in a game against Atlanta in the 2004 season -- would be a good start.
"It's not hard to get back to that level," Kremblas said. "But that was one of those special games and I don't think Ben goes out thinking he's going to strike out 18 every game."
So how important was his performance against Omaha?
"I'm sure tonight's outing will be the determining factor of what happens next," Kremblas said, "and I'm not sure what that is."
Having Sheets start didn't create any problems for the Sounds, who lead the Northern Division of the Pacific Coast League's American Conference with a 54-43 record. It's just part of being the top farm club of a big-league team.
"That's understood," Kremblas said, "and I'm sure the guys were excited to be playing behind Ben."
Sheets pitched last Friday in front of Yost and Maddux in the Arizona Instructional League. He was touched for five hits and five runs in 4 1/3 innings, but was victimized by some shoddy defense.
In his last start for Nashville on July 9, Sheets allowed three hits and three runs in three innings. He was throwing between 92 and 95 mph.
"That's fast enough," Kremblas said, adding, "When he's good, he'll get to 96-98 [mph].
"And when he's good, has all his pitches working, it's his fastball command that sets him apart from a lot of the other pitchers."
Sheets is the first Brewer since 1983 to win 10 or more games in five straight seasons. It would take a minor miracle to win 10 this season.
After all, he's only made four starts and has a 1-3 record with a 6.64 ERA.
But he showed a glimpse of his old form Wednesday and those numbers figure to get better.
"It's long for me, on a personal note," Sheets said of the current season. "It's not for the team because we've got a pretty good team."
Which figures to get even better if Sheets pitches like he did in Omaha.