Skip to main content
You have permission to edit this article.
Billy McKinney doing his best to impress Brewers' brass
topical alert

Billy McKinney doing his best to impress Brewers' brass

  • 0

For most players, spring training is nothing more than a process; re-establishing a routine and rhythm in preparation for the regular season, with statistics providing little more than confidence.

But for players such as outfielder Billy McKinney, who are trying to earn a roster spot while being out of minor league options, the luxury of a six-week ramp-up is diminished by a need to produce and impress.

"The stats don’t matter really, but they kind of do in my circumstance," McKinney said Saturday as he and the Milwaukee Brewers prepared to face the Cincinnati Reds in their first Cactus League night game. "It’s a little bit different because you kind of have to come in ready and prepared to show what you can do because obviously, the coaching staff hasn’t really seen you play yet."

McKinney, 23, has done a good job of finding the balance between those goals. Appearing in 13 of Milwaukee's first 18 games this spring, McKinney is batting .214 (6-for-28) with a .945 OPS. He's hit three home runs in his past two games, including a pair Friday in the Brewers' 9-3 victory over Arizona.

"It's a credit to him and what he's doing," manager Craig Counsell said. "He comes into camp and knows he has to show his best to make the club and that's what he's been doing."

Selected No. 24 overall by Oakland in the 2013 draft, McKinney has been involved in three high-profile trades. The A's dealt him to the Cubs for Jason Hammel and Jeff Samardzija at the deadline in 2014, and two years later he went to the Yankees as part of the Aroldis Chapman deal. He made his big league debut with the Yankees in 2018 but appeared in just two games before he was sent to Toronto in exchange for J.A. Happ.

McKinney played 84 games for the Blue Jays in 2019, batting .215 with 12 home runs, 28 RBIs and a .696 OPS. He appeared in just two games last season, spending most of his time on Toronto's taxi squad or at the Blue Jays' alternate training site.

"It was definitely a grind last year," McKinney said. "I was able to get in the cage and not really have to think about the game. I just focused on honing in on myself and my personal game. ... I obviously wanted to play but I was able to learn something new every day and try to get better."

When the Blue Jays placed McKinney on waivers in mid-September, the Brewers added him to their taxi squad. He was brought along for the NL wild card series in Los Angeles — had Milwaukee forced a third game McKinney might have seen action due to Ryan Braun's injury.

"It made things easier coming into camp because I felt like I kind of knew the guys a little bit," McKinney said. "It’s hard for guys coming in to a new team, not knowing anyone, so it was nice having those relationships already being built."

He was expected to compete for a backup job, along with Derek Fisher, another former first-round draft pick who came to the Brewers from Toronto and was also out of minor league options. Both, it seemed, were on track to make the roster as camp got underway but the addition of free agent outfielder Jackie Bradley Jr. filled one of the two likely spots.

McKinney's chances improved when Fisher was sidelined by a hamstring injury that could send him to the injured list to start the season, but he isn't letting that change his approach.

"I try to not think too much about it," McKinney said. "I try to not put too much pressure on myself. ... Just do my thing, play my game and not make too much of it."

On the field

Lorenzo Cain and Devin Williams made their Cactus League debuts as the Brewers beat the Reds 4-1 Saturday night in Goodyear, Arizona.

Cain struck out on an off-speed pitch in his first at-bat and hit a hard grounder to second baseman Kyle Holder in the third before finally breaking through with a single to right in the fifth off Reds starter Jose De Leon.

"It was a good first day," said Cain, who also played five full innings in center field. "I had a chance to get a lot of reads out there. I was a little shaky on my reads out there, a little shaky at the plate. But overall, it was definitely good to be out there and get some work in."

A three-run second inning that included an RBI double from Travis Shaw and Omar Narvaez's second home run of spring provided an early cushion for left-hander Brett Anderson, who allowed six hits and a walk but struck out five batters over four scoreless innings.

Williams followed and after retiring his first two batters — including a strikeout of Nick Castellanos — walked Mike Moustakas on 10 pitches. He was a pitch away from striking out Eugenio Suarez, who doubled off the wall in right, allowing Moustakas to score and bringing Williams' debut to an early end.

"He didn’t want to get out of the box, I guess," Williams said of Moustakas. "It was a good test to see where I’m at. I probably wouldn’t typically throw that pitch (a slider) that I ended up walking him on, if it was the regular season. I was just out there trying to get my work in, so it is what it is."

After Clayton Andrews got out of the inning without further damage, Jordan Zimmermann turned in two scoreless frames, allowing two hits with a strikeout. Eric Yardley bounced back from a rough performance earlier in the week with a scoreless eighth.

The Reds outhit Milwaukee 10-3 but went 2-for-11 with runners in scoring position.

Around the horn

The Brewers signed right-hander Zack Godley to a minor league contract, providing depth for the starting rotation. A 15-game winner in 2018 with Toronto, Godley, 30, posted a 5.97 ERA over 92.1 innings between Arizona and Toronto in 2019 and an 8.16 ERA in 28⅔ innings for the Red Sox last season. ... Left-hander Eric Lauer and right-hander Josh Lindblom will pitch in a B-game against members of the Dodgers, including left-hander Clayton Kershaw, at Camelback Ranch. ... Counsell said the team is still interested in giving Orlando Arcia work at third base during spring training games, even after officially adding Travis Shaw to the roster.

On deck

Right-hander Freddy Peralta returns to the mound for his third spring appearance Sunday when the Brewers host the Seattle Mariners at American Family Fields. Peralta has struck out 10 while walking just two and has yet to allow a run in 3⅔ innings. Mariners left-hander James Paxon is scheduled to make his first appearance in a Cactus League game after doing most of his work this spring in B-games.

Here’s everything you need to know as Milwaukee Brewers kick off spring training in Arizona

Get the latest baseball news delivered to you!

* I understand and agree that registration on or use of this site constitutes agreement to its user agreement and privacy policy.

Related to this story

Get up-to-the-minute news sent straight to your device.


News Alerts

Badger Sports

Breaking News