Sooner or later, Aaron Ashby will head back to the minor league side of the Milwaukee Brewers’ spring training complex in Phoenix where he’ll prepare to begin the season with Class AA Biloxi.
For now, though, the left-hander is doing his best to make sure he leaves a good impression on the coaching staff.
Ashby, 23, is in major league camp for the first time since being selected in the fourth round of the 2018 MLB draft. He’s struck out six of seven batters in two Cactus League appearances, including three in a row Thursday against Cleveland.
“He’s been very impressive,” Brewers manager Craig Counsell said.
Ashby hadn’t pitched in an actual game in more than a year. After going 5-10 with a 3.50 ERA between Class A Wisconsin and Class A-advanced Carolina in 2019, Ashby stood to miss an entire year of development when the COVID-19 pandemic wiped out minor league baseball last season.
The Brewers didn’t want that to happen to one of their most highly touted prospects, so he was added to the team’s 60-player pool and assigned to the alternate training site in Appleton. But that assignment was halted when Ashby tested positive for COVID-19 at the beginning of July.
The symptoms were minimal and he avoided a hospital stay. He lost his sense of taste and smell — which still bothers him at times — and battled shortness of breath during workouts but managed to avoid the more serious symptoms some have faced.
“I tried to work out as much as I could,” Ashby said. “I consider myself pretty fortunate to not have the more severe symptoms.”
Once he finally made it to Appleton, Ashby picked up where he left off at the end of 2019 and opened eyes among coaches and teammates with his performances in intra-squad games. Most notable was Ashby’s 95-96 mph fastball and a slider that is problematic for hitters because of Ashby’s unique delivery, which features a variety of leg kicks and pauses that disrupt a batter’s timing.
“I kind of learned that in college when our coach was preaching to our hitters, hey, timing is everything,” Ashby said.
The deception is secondary to Ashby’s talent, Counsell said.
“The swings are from the stuff,” Counsell said. “The deceptions to the deliveries for me are just a little add-on that are going to get you some outs or some strikes or some weird swings every once in a while.”
Devin Williams is fully recovered from the shoulder injury that kept him from pitching in the NL wild card series last fall, but the Brewers are taking a cautious approach to make sure the injury doesn’t resurface during the regular season.
As a result, the reigning NL Rookie of the Year has yet to see action this spring and likely won’t get into a game until at least after the team’s second scheduled off day on March 17.
“I’m getting close, Williams said. “Everything’s been going to plan.”
Williams described the injury as a sprain but couldn’t pinpoint when or how it happened. Sitting on the sidelines while his teammates were swept in two games by the eventual World Series champion Dodgers was difficult, but provides motivation going into 2021.
Counsell wasn’t worried about Williams feeling pressure to duplicate his 2020 performance, when he went 4-1 with a microscopic 0.33 ERA and 53 strikeouts over 27 innings while pitching in 22 of Milwaukee’s 60 regular-season games.
“Any time a player has been to that place, captured that feeling of performance at the highest level, he has it in him,” Counsell said. “Let’s not say he can’t do it again because he’s done it, he does have it in him.
“Hitters in the league don’t like striking out and they’re going to do their darnedest not to. There’s going to be adjustments but Devin can make those adjustments, too.“
On the field
Corbin Burnes struck out five and the Brewers hit four home runs in a 12-3 victory over the Colorado Rockies at Salt River Fields.
Burnes walked his first batter of the day, Rockies outfielder Raimel Tapia, on four pitches but struck out two of his next three batters to get out of the inning. He struck out two to open the second before Josh Fuentes reached on an error by Luis Urias then struck out Chris Owings to close out his day.
“Everything feels good,” Burnes said. “It’s definitely nice to go out there and throw more pitches in the second.”
Through his two outings, Burnes has struck out seven and walked one without allowing a run in three innings.
“Corbin is in a really good place and on a nice progression,” Counsell said. “It is a time for some of these guys to do some other things, but when you can do that and still be locked in, that’s a really good feeling. He’s in the place that’s exactly where he wants to be. And we’ll keep moving him forward.”
Trevor Story gave Colorado a 3-0 lead with a three-run home run off Jordan Zimmermann in the third inning.
“Trevor Story is one of the best hitters in baseball, and I didn’t think (Zimmermann) threw an awful pitch or a bad pitch to him,” Counsell said. “It was just an impressive swing. It was down, looked like a little out over the plate and opposite field. So little margin for error with hitters like that. But then he came back and I thought he did a really nice job.”
Milwaukee tied the game in the fourth on a three-run shot by
Derek Fisher, Zach Green, Peyton Henry and Nick Kahle homered for Milwaukee.
From the infirmary
Catcher Jacob Nottingham is making progress from surgery to repair a fractured thumb. Nottingham took batting practice against members of the team’s coaching staff and could be cleared before the regular season begins on April 1.
“I think there’s still enough time,” Counsell said. “He’s an example of a player that the schedule’s going to get a little bit tighter, but I think there’s enough time still.”
Infielder Luis Urias left Friday’s game with a sore hamstring after grounding into a double play in third inning. Counsell said the move was precautionary and will update Urias’ status after he gets re-evaluated on Saturday.
Right-hander Brandon Woodruff got through a simulated game Thursday with no problems and will make his Cactus League debut Monday against the Angels. Woodruff had been held back to start camp because of a sore back.
Around the horn
Left-handed reliever Josh Hader threw in a simulated game and is on track for his first spring game next Wednesday against Oakland.... Friday marked the first time this spring the Brewers played a full nine-inning game. ... The Brewers have hit 10 home runs through six games, the most among NL and Cactus League teams. Only the Boston Red Sox have more with 11.
LHP Brett Anderson makes his Cactus League debut Saturday when the Brewers host the Chicago Cubs at American Family Fields of Phoenix. Anderson went 4-4 with a 4.21 ERA in 10 starts for Milwaukee in 2020 and returned to the Brewers when he signed a one-year, $2.5 million deal on the eve of Spring Training. RHP Shelby Miller, a former All-Star with the Cardinals who spent time working on a comeback in the Brewers’ farm system, gets the start for Chicago. The game will be broadcast on Fox Sports Wisconsin and the Brewers Radio Network.
Here’s everything you need to know as Milwaukee Brewers kick off spring training in Arizona
Here's everything you need to know as Milwaukee Brewers kick off spring training in Arizona
WHO'S ON THIRD
After Keston Hiura moved to first base to make way for Kolten Wong, third base remained the only position without an obvious starting candidate.
The Brewers brought Travis Shaw back on a minor-league contract, hoping he can return to the form in 2017-18, when he hit 63 home runs with 187 RBI. While Luis Urias (above) and former top-prospect Daniel Robertson are likely to get a shot at winning the job, too.
Acquired last winter in a trade with Seattle, Omar Narváez (above) was supposed to give the Brewers a much-needed offensive boost while admittedly being a work-in-progress behind the plate. Instead, Narvaez was one of many Brewers hitters to struggle last season but surprised the Brewers’ coaching staff and front office with his defensive improvements. He’s back again in 2021 but will have to battle for a job with the likes of Manny Piña, Jacob Nottingham and Luke Maile.
With Brett Anderson returning on a one-year deal, the Brewers will open camp with all five spots of their starting rotation seemingly filled. But as history has shown, it’s rare to get through an entire season with just five starters. So who’s waiting in the wings if and when the Brewers need a replacement? Eric Lauer (above) and Freddy Peralta will try to earn spots in the rotation this spring, as will former UW-Stevens Point standout Jordan Zimmermann, who is in camp on a minor league deal.
PLAYERS TO BE NAMED LATER
It was a quiet offseason for the Brewers, but they weren’t unique in that regard. Across baseball, trades and signings seemed to be few and far between as players and teams both waited out a winter of uncertainty. Now that camps are open, there’s a greater likelihood of trades and with more than 100 free agents still unsigned, the Brewers’ roster could have a new face or two before the season gets underway.
WILL IT LAST?
Baseball is back, but for how long? That might be the single biggest question this spring, not just for the Brewers but baseball as a whole. The pandemic still rages on and though vaccinations are on the rise, one infection can quickly become an outbreak that leaves an entire team sidelined indefinitely. Players resisted requests and suggestions to delay the start of spring training, and the regular season, by a month believing they proved last year they can complete a season safely. But the margin for error is still slim and another full-blown shutdown of spring training, which would ultimately impact the regular season, remains one large outbreak away.
SPRING TRAINING ROSTER
Teams are allowed to have up to 75 players in major league camp at any given time and the Brewers go into camp with all 40 of their roster spots filled along with 20 non-roster invitees. Once the regular season begins, active rosters will revert to the original 26-player limit that was planned for 2020 before the pandemic suspended operations. Teams still are allowed to add an additional player to the active roster for doubleheaders and can have a taxi squad of up to five players — including one catcher — on all road trips. Rosters will expand again in September, but only by two spots for a total of 28.
Pitchers (31): Brett Anderson, Clayton Andrews*, Aaron Ashby*, Alec Bettinger, Phil Bickford, Ray Black, Zach Brown*, Corbin Burnes, Jake Cousins*, J.P. Feyereisen, Dylan File, Josh Hader, Blaine Hardy*, Adrian Houser, Thomas Jankins*, Eric Lauer, Josh Lindblom, Hoby Milner*, Freddy Peralta, Angel Perdomo, Drew Rasmussen, Miguel Sanchez*, Ethan Small*, Brent Suter, Justin Topa, Quintin Torres-Costa*, Bobby Wahl, Devin Williams, Brandon Woodruff, Eric Yardley, Jordan Zimmermann*.
Catchers (6): Mario Feliciano, Payton Henry*, Luke Maile, Omar Narvaez, Jacob Nottingham, Manny Pina.
Infielders (11): Orlando Arcia, Zach Green*, Keston Hiura, Tim Lopes, Mark Mathias, Jace Peterson*, Daniel Robertson, Travis Shaw*, Brice Turang*, Luis Urias, Daniel Vogelbach, Kolten Wong.
Outfielders (11): Lorenzo Cain, Dylan Cozens*, Derek Fisher, Avisail Garcia, Tristen Lutz*, Billy McKinney, Garrett Mitchell*, Corey Ray, Pablo Reyes*, Tyrone Taylor, Christian Yelich.
* — Non-roster invitee
Manager Craig Counsell’s coaching staff will have a different look in 2021. Third-base coach Ed Sedar has transitioned into a new, advisory role while longtime bullpen catcher Marcus Hanel’s contract was not renewed by the team after last season.
Sedar will be replaced on the staff by Quintin Berry, who had been the Brewers' minor-league outfield and base-running coordinator for the last two seasons after concluding his 13-year playing career serving as a player/coach with Class AAA Colorado Springs in 2018.
Néstor Corredor and Adam Weisenburger will replace Hanel and Robinson Diaz as the team's bullpen catchers.
The rest of Counsell's staff will remain intact moving forward, including hitting coaches Andy Haines (above left) and Jacob Cruz. Chris Hook and Steve Karsay will handle Milwaukee’s pitchers and bullpen, respectively, and Pat Murphy returns for a sixth season as Counsell’s bench coach.
Jason Lane, the Brewers’ first base coach last season, returns, too, though Counsell planned to decide during spring training where Lane and Berry would be used in games this season.
Manager — Craig Counsell (7th season). Bases — Quintin Berry (1st season), Jason Lane (5th season); Bullpen — Steve Karasy (3rd season); Bench — Pat Murphy (6th season); Hitting — Jacob Cruz (2nd season); Andy Haines (3rd season); Bullpen catchers — Néstor Corredor (1st season); Adam Weisenburger (1st season).
CACTUS LEAGUE SCHEDULE
The Cactus League schedule underwent a last-minute adjustment earlier this month with the elimination of split-squad games. The Brewers will play 27 games in Arizona — 14 at American Family Fields and 13 on the road — and wrap up their exhibition slate with a pair of contests against the Rangers at Globe Life Park on March 29 and 30 before returning to Milwaukee ahead of their April 1 regular-season opener against the Twins at American Family Field.
February: 28 — @ Chicago White Sox. March: 1 — at Diamondbacks; 2 — vs. Athletics.; 3 — at Padres; 4 — vs. Cleveland.; 5 — at Rockies; 6 — vs Cubs; 7 — OFF; 8 — vs. Angels; 9 — vs. Giants; 10 — at Athletics; 11 — vs. Royals; 12 — at Cubs; 13 — vs. Rangers; 14 — at Mariners; 15 — vs. Padres; 16 — at Dodgers; 17 — OFF DAY; 18 — at Angels; 19 — vs. Diamondbacks; 20 — at Reds (7 p.m.); 21 — vs. Mariners; 22 — vs Cleveland; 23 — vs. Dodgers; 25 — at Giants (8 p.m.); 26 — vs. White Sox; 27 — at Royals; 28 — at Reds; 29 — vs. Rangers (Arlington, Texas); 30 — vs. Rangers (Arlington, Texas).
(NOTE: Unless otherwise noted, all games start at 2:10 p.m. local time prior to March 14 and 3:10 p.m. after, due to Arizona not observing Daylight Savings Time)
IF YOU GO
Unlike previous seasons, fans will not be able to watch the team’s workouts, which take place on the complex’s ancillary fields. That means no opportunities for kids — little and big alike — to get autographs and pictures. The team store at American Family Fields will be open and the team announced last week that a limited number of fans — up to 23% of capacity at the 10,000-seat stadium — will be allowed to attend games when Cactus League play gets underway.