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Brewers' Keston Hiura 'confident' about playing first base
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Brewers' Keston Hiura 'confident' about playing first base

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PHOENIX — With six weeks of work under his belt, Keston Hiura feels more than ready to take on the challenge of playing first base for an entire season.

“It just takes time,” Hiura said Monday as the Milwaukee Brewers prepared to face the Rangers in an exhibition game at Globe Life Park in Arlington, Texas. “I’ve got a handful of innings over there and every game, every inning, every play is going to help me feel more comfortable.”

Milwaukee moved Hiura after signing free agent second baseman Kolten Wong. While Hiura had shown improvement defensively since he joined the organization as a first-round pick in the 2017, teams don’t sign Gold Glove winners with the intent of playing them at a different spot.

That meant Hiura had little choice but to adapt. The process of learning the position, particularly the nuances of positioning and footwork, was difficult and required daily work in addition to playing in games. But it was a challenge Hiura was more than willing to accept.

“For as long as I’ve played baseball, I’ve seen myself as a gamer, being able to adjust to different situations,” Hiura said. “I’ve been pretty proud about that and being able to handle it, so the past couple weeks definitely have felt better and hopefully I can keep it going as the season starts.”

It will take some time before Hiura is considered a “good” first baseman, but Brewers manager Craig Counsell has little doubt that it will happen.

“We want good defenders everywhere,” Counsell said. “Our goal is to make Keston as good a defender as we possibly can.”

The extra defensive work hasn’t gotten in the way of Hiura’s efforts to improve at the plate. He hit 10 home runs with an .707 OPS during the shortened season in 2020, but led the National League with 85 strikeouts and finished with a .212 batting average and .297 on-base percentage.

Hiura’s ability to hit has never been in question. The Brewers knew when they first called him up in 2019 that he’d experience growing pains in both aspects of the game, so the struggles last year weren’t a surprise. How he’d adjust was the bigger question and his .289 average, four home runs, 11 RBIs and .956 OPS in 45 spring at-bats was encouraging, even if his 16 strikeouts were the second-highest total on the team.

“I’m pretty confident going into the season,” Hiura said.

On the field

Right-hander Adrian Houser bounced back from two bad outings to pitch 5 2/3 scoreless innings, allowing two hits with one walk and six strikeouts in the Brewers’ 4-0 exhibition victory over the host Rangers in Arlington, Texas.

“After the first inning, he really got his stuff going,” Counsell said. “He was efficient. His stuff was in the strike zone consistently.”

Relievers Josh Hader, Devin Williams and Brad Boxberger each recorded three strikeouts in their one inning.

Orlando Arcia hit a two-run double and Hiura had an RBI single.

Topa sidelined

Right-handed reliever Justin Topa will miss at least the first half of the season after sustaining a strained flexor tendon in his right elbow while pitching in a simulated game Saturday.

The good news is Topa will avoid surgery. Instead, he plans to get a second opinion, then begin a rehab program in Phoenix.

“It’s a significant injury and that’s unfortunate, but it’s not the really bad one,” Counsell said. “He’ll start on a rehab track and we’re hopeful we’ll get him back this year.”

Topa, 30, was expected to start the season in Milwaukee’s bullpen despite his shaky numbers in Cactus League play (12.71 ERA, 2.82 WHIP, .448 BAA).

From the infirmary

Utility man Mark Mathias will not undergo surgery after sustaining a shoulder injury earlier in camp. Like Topa, he’ll remain in Phoenix and begin rehabbing along with Tim Lopes, another utility player who spent most of camp sidelined by an oblique injury.

Around the horn

Outfielder Tyrone Taylor is feeling better after sustaining a thigh bruise in a collision Saturday against the Royals. He traveled with the team to Texas and worked out before the game, but was held out of the lineup. ... Right-handed reliever Drew Rassmussen was told he’s made the Opening Day roster. Rasmussen posted a 2.89 ERA in six Cactus League appearances with 11 strikeouts in 9⅓ innings. ... Counsell said a decision hasn’t been made on whether to add right-hander Brad Boxberger to the active roster before Opening Day. For now, Boxberger is slated to begin the year on the taxi squad.

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

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