Braun to debut Friday; Gennett still out

Ryan Braun is scheduled to make his Cactus League debut on Friday, but Scooter Gennett’s return to active duty for the Brewers will have to wait a few more days.

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Braun is set to start in left field and take “a couple” of at-bats in the Brewers’ split-squad home game against the White Sox, manager Craig Counsell said. Braun’s delayed entry to the Cactus League was by design. He has long felt he needs only limited Spring Training at-bats to get his swing and his batting eye ready for Opening Day.

“We’re in good shape with him,” Counsell said. “He’ll be ready for the season and cheap jerseys. I’m confident we’ve given him enough time. More than enough time, really.”

Gennett, meanwhile, remains sidelined since March 2 with what the Brewers have characterized as a minor right wrist injury. The team is targeting Sunday at the Reds or Monday against the Mariners for Gennett’s return.

The delayed return to game action was not indicative of a setback, Counsell said.

The three others are all rehabbing from 2016 surgeries: Pitchers Adrian Houser (elbow) and Yhonathan Barrios (shoulder) and outfielder and 2016 first-round Draft pick Corey Ray (knee). Houser is on the 40-man roster, so the Brewers used the second of three Minor League options to send him down.

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Nottingham, No. 14 on the list of the top 30 Brewers prospects, was limited to three hitless Cactus League at-bats before discomfort in his upper right arm prompted a shutdown.

Brewers #4 Paul Molitor White Flexbase Authentic Collection Stitched MLB Jersey“I’m bummed of course, but what can you do besides try to get healthy?” he said.

Nottingham expects to resume throwing on Saturday.

Twenty-year-old Brewers infield prospect Isan Diaz is getting a taste of the World Baseball Classic. Ranked fifth on Brewers prospect list, Diaz was loaned to Team Puerto Rico for exhibition games in Scottsdale on Wednesday and Thursday.

The World Baseball Classic runs through March 22. In the U.S., games air live exclusively in English on MLB Network and on an authenticated basis via MLBNetwork.com/watch, while ESPN Deportes and WatchESPN provide the exclusive Spanish-language coverage. MLB.TV Premium subscribers in the U.S. have access to watch every tournament game live on any of the streaming service’s 400-plus supported devices. The tournament is being distributed internationally across all forms of television, internet, mobile and radio in territories excluding the U.S., Puerto Rico and Japan. Get tickets for games at Marlins Park, Tokyo Dome, Estadio Charros de Jalisco in Mexico, Petco Park jersey, as well as the Championship Round at Dodger Stadium, while complete coverage — including schedules, video, stats and gear.

Diaz will return to Brewers camp when Team Puerto Rico travels later this week to Jalisco for Pool D with Italy, Mexico and Venezuela.

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Brewers manager Craig Counsell — a 16-year big leaguer who played more than 375 games at second, third and shortstop each — has consistently placed premium on defensive versatility, which is why De Jesus has made a compelling case this spring to earn a 40-man roster spot. He has big league experience at all four infield positions and left field. Counsell said he likes De Jesus most at third base but would be comfortable playing him across the infield.

At the Major League level, De Jesus been hamstrung by his bat — a career .242/.303/.327 with 130 strikeouts and 41 walks in 495 at-bats — but this spring he’s hitting .405 with a 1.014 OPS, a home run, eight runs scored, six RBIs and six walks to go with three strikeouts in 42 at-bats, including a 6-for-13 stretch his past three games entering Saturday.

Also appealing, Counsell said, is the MLB experience De Jesus brings, which was a factor in signing him and utility infielder Eric Sogard, who also inked a Minor League deal in December. De Jesus jersey, 29, has played in 228 games in parts of four seasons with the Dodgers, Red Sox, and most recently, Reds, with whom he spent the last two seasons.

“I think that’s certainly the case. I think his experience, really him and Sogard, their experience has kind of shined through a little bit in this camp,” Counsell said. “I think as we’ve gotten going here, it sticks out in a camp that’s not very experienced. … You understand why they’ve been big leaguers.”

The Brewers remain mum on the bulk of their Opening Day roster plans, and one significant decision remains whether they want to carry seven or eight relievers, which would either open or eliminate an extra bench position.

Better chance Bills keep Tyrod Taylor than release him

The Buffalo Bills‘ decision on Tyrod Taylor’s future sits less than three weeks away. The Bills brass will have to choose whether to pick up the $27 million option bonus by March 11 or cut ties with the quarterback.

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NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reported Tuesday that it appears there is a better chance the Bills keep the quarterback than release him.

While there are faults in Taylor’s play — i.e. some coaching frustrations with the QB’s inability to consistently target the entire field, particularly over the middle — the lack of other options could keep him in Buffalo. Tony Romo likely wouldn’t want to play for a rebuilding team, Jay Cutler is a coach killer, Nick Foles is painful to watch, the draft is roundly criticized for its lack of first-round talent at the position, and the Bills have no credible in-house candidate to take over this year.

Rapoport previously reported that the Bills and Taylor could re-do his contract to smooth out some of the salary-cap issues without the QB taking a pay cut.

One point of interest in Taylor’s timeline is his recovery from groin surgery last month. If the team were to decide to move on, he’d have to pass a physical.

Taylor’s recovery is going as expected and he’s healthy, a source informed of the situation told Rapoport. In addition, a Bills team source told ESPN that the quarterback has been “medically cleared.” The citation that it’s from a team source, (as opposed to a representative of Taylor) is notable in this case. When Taylor underwent surgery, the team sent out a statement saying the quarterback “elected to have surgery.” Now the team appears to be claiming he’s healthy, which could set up a battle if Buffalo decides to move on.

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“Sean McDermott is an excellent football coach and we feel he is the perfect leader for this team,” general manager Doug Whaley said in a statement. “Sean’s intelligence, leadership qualities and vision for our team impressed us throughout the interview process.”

The 42-year-old, who had a second interview with Bills ownership Wednesday, also interviewed with the Chargers and 49ers this offseason.

The move seems to be both practical and symbolic for an organization looking to move on from the hastily discarded Rex Ryan era. McDermott, a longtime defensive coordinator like Ryan, runs a different system (a base 4-3 instead of Ryan’s 3-4) and has more of a reputation as an elastic play-caller. The players create the system, not the other way around.

With many Bills players mentioning a lack of discipline following Ryan’s ouster, it’s also no surprise that McDermott, known for his tough demeanor in the likeness of mentor Jim Johnson, rose to the top of the candidate pool. The Bills are heavily invested in a slew of defensive talent, most of which has underperformed in recent years. Buffalo finished 16th in points surrendered and 19th in yards surrendered this season. In 2015, they were 15th and 19th, respectively.

As the architect behind Carolina’s highly regarded defense, McDermott’s units finished in the top 10 in takeaways each season since 2013. He twice finished in the top 10 in points allowed (second in 2013 and sixth in 2015) since arriving with the Panthers before the entire team took a tumble in 2016. This past season, the 6-10 Panthers were 26th in points surrendered and 21st in yards. Rapoport also reports that secondary coach Steve Wilks is likely to be promoted to DC in Carolina.

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Nike Bills #64 Richie Incognito Red Men's Stitched NFL Elite Rush JerseyWhen informing the Pegulas of criticism about their organization, the News cited the following pieces from ESPN and The Boston Globe.

Terry was by far the strongest on the matter, essentially saying that fans and media cannot pin the 17 year drought on them.

“I know how I run my life, run our business,” he said. “I know how we treat people, and I know the people we have in our organization. You can’t pin 17 years on the Pegulas. We’ve been around for X-number of years. There’s no foundation, no truth to this dysfunctional talk. I consider it an insult to our organization and the Bills and the good people with the Sabres. They can’t be real happy to hear that.”

The full interview is worth your time. The Pegulas make their case as a strong but silent partner in the NFL operation and offer an honest assessment of general manager Doug Whaley’s debacle of a press conference two weeks ago.

In terms of ownership, Bills fans don’t have much to complain about so far. The Pegulas were intent on keeping the team in Buffalo and, in terms of a head coaching decision, identified quickly that Rex Ryan was not going to cut it and rectified the problem after less than two years. Some owners stick with ineffective coaches for much longer.

As we and they well know, the only way to ease a negative perception is to win. Just look at the Miami Dolphins, who have gone from the picture of dysfunction to a stable, ascending organization in the matter of one season.