MILWAUKEE — There hasn't been much talk about Mike Moustakas' work at second base this season and that's a good thing for the Milwaukee Brewers.
Signed to a one-year, $10 million contract at the start of spring training, Moustakas agreed to move to second base — a position he hadn't played since the start of his big league career — allowing Travis Shaw, who moved to second when Moustakas was acquired in a deadline deal with Kansas City last season, to stay at third.
"(Reporters) were always asking questions but I felt comfortable pretty quickly in spring training," Moustakas said.
It's still a work in progress for Moustakas, especially when it comes to the finer points of the position. Manager Craig Counsell made it clear in spring training that there's only so much a player can learn during drills and workouts; the rest — footwork, relays, positioning — comes with repetition and in-game experience.
"We're still learning," Counsell said. "He's still getting the feel of the finer details of the position. I think Moose is still benefiting from experience at second base."
But it's hard to argue with results. In 33 appearances including 31 starts spanning 276⅓ innings at second base, Moustakas has just one error in 115 chances for a .991 fielding percentage. He has also made 31 appearances at third, including 26 starts, where he's made just one error in 55 total chances.
The Brewers had hoped to avoid flip-flopping Shaw and Moustakas between the two positions as much as possible, hoping to let Moustakas settle in at the new position. That plan went up in smoke when Shaw, mired in a deep slump at the plate, landed on the injured list with a wrist injury. Moustakas slid back across the diamond to third and when Shaw returned from a rehab assignment has been seeing time at both positions, without issue.
"It's been fun," Moustakas said. "Bouncing back and forth, I feel really involved in all the plays — pickoffs, run-downs, relays — so its just a lot of fun."
Shifting positions can often affect a player's performance at the plate but Moustakas hasn't missed a beat offensively this season. In fact, he's putting up some of the best numbers of his career.
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His 42 runs scored, 43 driven in, 14 doubles, .592 slugging percentage and .930 OPS are all second-most among Brewers' players this season while his .275 batting average and 63 hits are third-most on the team.
But his 20 home runs — also second on the team — are what stand out the most for Counsell.
"He's been very consistent but doing that kind of damage is huge," Counsell said. "That's big-time damage."
Moustakas did some big damage again Sunday in the Brewers' 5-2 sweep-clinching victory over the Pirates. With one on, nobody out in the eighth inning, Moustakas crushed a 1-0 fastball from Francisco Liriano to right center, breaking a 2-2 tie — not to mention winning one lucky fan a new SUV for hitting a promotional display atop the bleachers.
"That was a first time for me (winning someone a car.)," Moustakas joked afterward. "Definitely something I am going to remember for a long time."
It was Moustakas' fourth homer in four games and seventh in his last nine. Over his last 15 games, Moustakas is batting .344 (21-for-61) with nine home runs and a 1.214 OPS.
"I feel really good," Moustakas said. "It just starts with the work with (hitting coach) Andy (Haines) in the cage, saying consistent with an approach we put together and not deviating from that approach. It's been working pretty well so I want to stick with it and continue to get good pitches to hit and put good swings on them."
Only four players in baseball have hit 20 home runs this season and two of them play for the Brewers: Moustakas and Christian Yelich. The duo has done the heavy lifting for an offense that has yet to click on all cylinders, but nonetheless has the Brewers sitting atop the NL Central standings.
"Once we get the rest of the guys going, we're going to be really tough to beat," Moustakas said. "Part of the job for all of us in here to come in and pick each other up every single day. It's something this team is great at. If one guy isn't having a good series or a great week, somebody is picking him and we keep doing that as a team."