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Eric Thames bats, AP photo

Brewers' Eric Thames bats during a spring training  game earlier in March  month in Phoenix.

PHOENIX — Eric Thames is used to proving himself.

He did it in 2011, when he broke into the big leagues with Toronto, in '12 when he was traded to Seattle, and again in '13 when the Mariners shipped him to Baltimore.

Then, after he was claimed off waivers and released by Houston, Thames had to prove himself again when he took a chance in the Korean League in 2014. And he found himself under the microscope in 2016 when the Milwaukee Brewers signed him to a three-year, $16 million contract.

So, no, Thames isn't feeling any extra pressure this spring, even as he tries to bounce back from one of the more frustrating seasons of his pro career.

"I don't care who you are or what kind of deal you're on, you always have something to prove," Thames said. "It's just part of being a ballplayer. It's part of being competitive. There's a lot of stuff that's going to happen this year and in this camp that nobody in this room can control. You just. Have to work as hard as you can and get your body ready."

Thames made Brewers general manager David Stearns look like a genius early on, hitting .345 with a 1.276 OPS and 11 home runs in April 2017. But Thames cooled off quickly, hitting .221 with .791 OPS in May of that season, and .162 with a .669 OPS in June. He hit just eight home runs in the second half of the 2017 season and finished with a slash line of .247/.359/.518, 31 home runs and 63 RBI.

Finding more consistency was Thames' goal heading into last season but after getting off to another quick start (.976 OPS, 7 home runs, 13 RBI), he tore a ligament in his left thumb and was sidelined for six weeks.

The injury opened the door for Jesus Aguilar, who rode a scorching first half into his first career All-Star appearance and played his way into the full-time job. Thames was relegated to a reserve role when he returned just ahead of the non-waiver trade deadline.

"(Thames' season) got derailed by health," Brewers manager Craig Counsell said. "Eric was very much performing, got hurt, Jesus took off and his performance made it tough for Eric to get back in there. So, he never got on track."

Splitting time behind Aguilar at first base and Ryan Braun in left field, Thames started just 18 games after the All-Star break, appearing in 46 overall, while hitting .161 with 3 home runs, 9 RBI and a .565 OPS.

Adding to the frustration, Thames was left off Milwaukee's postseason roster as the Brewers came within a game of the World Series.

"I was happy for the guys last year but it was tough to watch it," Thames said. "All of us guys (who weren't on the roster) were wishing we could help in some way. All we could do is cheer and that's tough."

With Aguilar expected to fill the starting role this season, Thames will serve again as a backup, left-handed option while also seeing action in left field — assuming, of course, he's still with Milwaukee come Opening Day.

Though both Stearns and owner Mark Attanasio have dismissed the notion that the Brewers need to shed salary (despite going into the season with a franchise-record payroll), the $6 million owed to Thames could be useful at the trade deadline and presents something of a bargain for teams looking to upgrade.

Thames admits the thought of getting more playing time elsewhere has crossed his mind but at the same time, wants to win — and contribute — with this group.

So for the time being, he's focused on the task at hand, waiting for his moment.

"I can only worry about the things I can control," Thames said. "Some guys get caught up in what could happen. You can't worry about what the coaches do, what the manager does or what the GM does ... all you can do is control how you work. You never know what will happen. You just have to be ready."

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