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Brewers pitching prospect Aaron Ashby impresses in camp
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Brewers pitching prospect Aaron Ashby impresses in camp

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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.”

Williams waits

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.

On deck

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

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