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Brewers manager Craig Counsell happy baseball trying new things
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Brewers manager Craig Counsell happy baseball trying new things

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Craig Counsell has never been shy about sharing his belief that baseball needs to change.

The Milwaukee Brewers manager didn’t complain last year when several adjustments were instituted as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, including seven-inning doubleheaders, starting extra innings with a runner on second base and adding the designated hitter to National League play.

And Counsell isn’t going to grouse now after Major League Baseball announced it was planning to test new rules in minor league games that would limit defensive shifts, change the pickoff rules for pitchers, expand the size of bases and even test automated strike zones.

“I’m pleased that we’re attempting, trying to find ways to improve the game, and I think that’s how we should look at it,” Counsell said. “My firm belief is we have to start exploring changes. We absolutely have to.”

That’s not to say he is necessarily in favor of the aforementioned changes. But Counsell thinks baseball owes it to itself and to its fans to try new things, even if they’re unpopular at first or ultimately don’t work out.

“Are they all going to be successful? Are we going to like all of them? Probably not, but we have to try some things,” Counsell said. “We can sit there and judge all these rule changes and criticize them and say, ‘Get off my lawn, this is baseball,’ but the game, we have to move it forward and this is the way we’re experimenting without affecting the product on the biggest stage. I like all the experimentation, even if they’re all not going to come into play at the highest level because I think they’re a step forward in the way we’re thinking as an industry. That’s really important to improving our product.”

Because they’re only being instituted in the minors, none of the rules will impact Counsell or the Brewers this season. But if limits on shifts made it to the majors, it could significantly change the way the Brewers play defensively.

According to BaseballSavant.com, the Brewers employed a shift 968 times last season, the fifth-highest total in the majors. Milwaukee’s 699 shifts against left-handed hitters were the third-most among MLB’s 30 teams in 2020.

It’s been a key factor in the Brewers’ success over the past three seasons, each of which ended with a postseason appearance. Even still, Counsell is willing to at least see what the changes do in terms of increasing action and and creating more fan interest.

“I think it’s important to do,” Counsell said. “I don’t want to be the downer on any of these things. I want to see them in action. I don’t really know if I’m right or wrong, so I think we should try it and find out. You hear arguments from both sides of these arguments, and I think people are making valid arguments on both sides.”

Shifting has become a cornerstone of Milwaukee’s defensive philosophy under Counsell and president of baseball operations David Stearns. Because the team employs shifts so frequently, players are taught the value of it starting at the lowest levels of the minor league organization.

“Every year, more and more hitter information is trickling down to the lower levels where we’re now able to acquire quite a bit of information,” Class A Wisconsin manager Matt Erickson said. “Even in (Class) A ball, a majority of the time we’re in some kind of an over-shade, a mini-shift or even a full shift where we have three infielders on one side of the field. That’s something we have increased over the last several years, especially since David Stearns, Matt Arnold and the new front office has come in. We try to use data as much as possible.”

Erickson and his staff will have to help his pitchers adjust to the new pickoff rule, which he thinks could have a significant impact on left-handers and could lead to a rise in injuries.

“For a left-hander to have to step off and make a snap throw, there’s some potential medical and health issues to think about there because that throw isn’t for everybody,” Erickson said. “Anything that puts an athlete in a precarious situation for injury, I’m not for, and obviously I think that one does.”

But like Counsell, Erickson doesn’t get to decide the rules. It’s up to him to implement them and get his players on board with adhering to them.

“Baseball has always been about making adjustments,” Erickson said. “It doesn’t matter how skilled or talented you are, if you’re unable to make adjustments you’ll be unable to stay consistent in the game of baseball.”

On the field

Garrett Mitchell went 2-for-2 with a walk and hit his first home run as the Brewers and the Texas Rangers played to a 4-4 tie Saturday at American Family Fields of Phoenix.

Mitchell, the Brewers’ first-round pick in last summer’s draft, is batting .538 (7-for-13) with a double, home run, four RBIs and a 1.446 OPS in 10 games.

“He’s continued to have great at-bats and he did it again today,” Counsell said. “Right now, he’s earning more at-bats.”

Daniel Robertson also hit his first home run while Jackie Bradley Jr. went 1-for-3 with a run scored in his first game action since signing a two-year contract last week.

Tyrone Taylor tied the game at 4 with a sacrifice fly in the seventh off Texas Brett de Geus, who left the game with two outs in the inning after being examined by the Rangers’ medical staff, ending the game early.

“That’s how the rule is written; you can do that,” Counsell said. “Obviously, it’s to protect players and something was going on with the player, so I understand.”

Brewers starter Drew Rasmussen allowed two runs on three hits while striking out three over 2⅔ innings. Aaron Ashby, who’d struck out six of his first seven batters this spring, allowed his first run and added another strikeout. Josh Hader bounced back from his rocky spring debut earlier in the week to record two strikeouts in a scoreless fifth.

From the infirmary

Infielder Luis Urias tested his injured left hamstring and is expected to return to the lineup Sunday, Counsell said.

  • An MRI on left-hander Brent Suter’s hand, injured during a scrimmage Friday, revealed no fractures. Suter planned to play catch Saturday and be ready to pitch in a few days.

On Deck

Right-hander Adrian Houser (0-0, 3.38 ERA) is scheduled to start Sunday when the Brewers travel to Peoria to face left-hander Yusei Kikuchi (0-2, 3.60 ERA) and the Seattle Mariners. Houser allowed a run on three hits and a hit batter while striking out four over 1⅔ innings on March 9 against the San Francisco Giants.


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



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