Sheets fans five, hits mph on gun in rehab start

Updated: April 7, 2006, 1:58 AM ET
Associated Press

 Ben Sheets
PEARL, Miss. -- Ben Sheets is getting back his confidence -- and his fastball.

Regularly reaching the mid-90s on the radar gun, the hard-throwing Milwaukee Brewers ace struck out five in 2 2/3 innings in his rehabilitation start for Double-A Huntsville on Thursday night.

"Everything felt great out there -- the velocity was there, I was throwing strikes, [had a] good curveball," Sheets said.

Sheets, rehabbing a strained muscle in his upper back, allowed two runs -- one earned -- and four hits against the Mississippi Braves, walking none. He was relieved by Carlos Villanueva with the Stars trailing Mississippi 2-1 with two outs in the third inning. Huntsville rallied for a 4-2 victory, saving Sheets from a loss.

Sheets entered on a 50-pitch limit and threw 37 of 49 pitches for strikes. His most impressive might've been his seventh pitch of the game -- a 96 mph fastball blown past Martin Prado -- and he routinely reached 93-94 mph.

"I've just got to locate a little better on my fastball -- that makes me have confidence, when I locate the ball a little better," Sheets said.

Both Mississippi runs scored on Sheets were driven in by Yunel Escobar, who had an RBI double in the first and a run-scoring single in the second.

Sheets also admitted having trouble getting comfortable with catcher Lou Palmisano, saying he couldn't see his signs.

"We had to make up some stuff I'd never done in my life," Sheets said, adding "if he had the chance to catch me a couple more times, we'd be right on the same page."

Still, it was an encouraging start for Sheets, an All-Star who strained a muscle in his upper back in a spring training game March 9 and was placed on the 15-day disabled list on March 30. The move was made retroactive to March 24, and he's eligible to come off the DL on Saturday.

First, he's scheduled to return to Milwaukee for a doctor's evaluation.

Then, perhaps another minor league start.

"We'll see where that takes us," Sheets said of going back to Wisconsin. "If I'm pitching, I'm pitching -- I don't care where. I want to pitch in the big leagues, ultimately."

Last year, Sheets was 10-9 with a 3.33 ERA in 22 starts before he injured a different back muscle and missed the last month of the season.

The Brewers chose to send him to their Double-A team because thunderstorms were in the forecast for Triple-A Nashville's opener at Omaha, Neb.

Sending his team against Sheets probably wasn't how Jeff Blauser preferred to begin his stint as Mississippi's manager.

Before his first game, the former Atlanta Braves infielder described a recent phone conversation with his former minor league roommate -- Brewers manager Ned Yost.

"I thanked him for sending a top-notch major league pitcher to face us in my managerial debut," Blauser said. "He got a chuckle out of that."

Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press