MILWAUKEE — Craig Counsell finally got to deliver some good news.
Following a weekend that saw an entire series wiped out when a coronavirus outbreak left the Milwaukee Brewers’ opponent isolated in a downtown hotel and included Lorenzo Cain’s decision to opt out of the season, Ryan Braun landing on the injured list and bench coach Pat Murphy suffering a heart attack, Counsell got to perform one of his favorite tasks when he welcomed Mark Mathias to a major league clubhouse for the first time
“It was a bright spot in the day to welcome a guy for his first day in the big leagues,” Counsell said Tuesday before the Brewers faced the White Sox at Miller Park.
Mathias, who turned 26 Sunday, was recalled Monday from the team’s alternate training facility in Appleton to help fill the void created when Cain and Braun became unavailable. Acquired in November trade with Cleveland, Mathias had played exclusively in the infield all through high school, college and his first few professional seasons for Cleveland.
When he reported to the Brewers’ spring training facility — two weeks early — he was told they wanted to try him in the outfield, as well.
“(Counsell) told me that the more positions I can play, the more valuable I can be as an asset for the team,” Mathias said during spring training. “I took that into consideration and put that in my tool shed.”
When the team signed veteran utility player Brock Holt early in camp, it became clear to Mathias the ability to play the outfield would be his best chance at big league action. Most of his spring training work came in left field, but in Appleton he began getting regular work in right, too.
“Two totally opposite positions, different balls going different ways,” Mathias said of the adjustment process. “I’m the most comfortable, I’d say, in left field, just because I had the most games played there in spring training. Now I’m starting to get a little bit more comfortable right as well.”
Despite Mathias’ inexperience, Counsell won’t hesitate to use him in the outfield if needed.
“He’s played very well in the outfield,” Counsell said. “We’ve taken much bigger risks than playing Mark Mathias in the outfield.”
A player’s first call-up usually involves scrambling to pack and catch a flight while helping family make arrangements to be on hand for the big league debut. Mathias didn’t have to worry about the first part — Appleton is about a two-hour drive from Milwaukee — but with no fans allowed this season his friends and family will have to settle for watching him on television.
“Yeah, my family would love to be here right now,” Mathias said. “I FaceTime with them all the time so they’re getting a first-person look at it. I sent some pictures and stuff, pictures of my jersey, No. 13, sent some pictures of the field and kind of how the protocol is going.
“They’re with me every step of the way.”
Lindblom to start Thursday
Adrian Houser gets the start Wednesday and Josh Lindblom will follow on Thursday when the Brewers continue their home-and-home series with the White Sox in Chicago.
Lindblom’s debut start last Tuesday was cut short because of back cramps.
“It’s a little bit of a mystery thing that’s happened to him his last two times (pitching) but there’s no restrictions and he’s ready to go,” Counsell said.
Counsell has yet to name his starter for Friday when the Brewers face the Reds at Miller Park.
“We’ll see what happens today, then we’ll make a decision,” Counsell said. “We’ll see how Brett (Anderson) is doing and then obviously we have some other guys we can choose from as well.”
Anderson was hit in the foot by a Luis Robert come-backer in the first-inning Monday night. He stayed in the game, working three innings before the foot began to stiffen up, but Counsell said that the veteran left-hander was feeling better Tuesday.
Thursday marks the deadline for teams to trim their active rosters by two spots to 28. MLB originally planned to allow teams 30 players for the first two weeks, then 28 players for the next two weeks and 26 for the remainder of the season. Two sources Tuesday night told The Associated Press that MLB plans a 28-man roster for the rest of the regular season.
Counsell is in favor of that adjustment.
“It just protects everybody,” Counsell said. “Things are going to happen from day to day and 28 (players) just helps you get through that.
“It will help on days when you don’t have to make a roster move. You can sit down one or two guys and you’re at 26 and you can still do it, but if you get down to having to play a game with 23 you’d be in serious trouble.”
If fans were allowed at Miller Park, they’d notice the Brewers have switched bullpens.
Brewers relievers have used the left-field bullpen since the stadium opened in 2001 but are in right field this season in an effort to keep teams closer to their own dugouts and clubhouses while trying to limit interaction with other teams.
“We were able to create some more space in right field for us to spread out,” Counsell said. “It was really done just to be convenient for both teams.”
An added feature for Brewers pitchers is a new seating area in what used to be the right-field picnic area. The structure used for those new seats was meant to be used for the now-postponed Ryder Cup at Whistling Straits.
“The built this beautiful little deck out there for the bullpen guys,” Counsell said. “It was sitting up there in Sheboygan and they just drove it down here.”
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