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Craig Counsell counting on Brewers hitters bouncing back in 2021

Craig Counsell counting on Brewers hitters bouncing back in 2021

Craig Counsell watches batting practice, AP generic file phot

Milwaukee Brewers manager Craig Counsell watches his players take batting practice before a game against the Washington Nationals in Washington, in this Monday, Sept. 30, 2019, file photo.

Milwaukee Brewers manager Craig Counsell has a pretty simple formula for boosting a lineup that struggled throughout the abbreviated 2020 season.

His hitters just need to produce the way they typically have throughout their careers.

“We had guys that just didn’t perform last year offensively,” Counsell said Thursday in his first media session since Brewers pitchers and catchers reported to spring training in Phoenix. “It was puzzling. It was out of the norm.”

The most notable case involved 2018 NL MVP Christian Yelich, who hit just .205 last year after winning batting titles in 2018 and 2019.

But he wasn’t the only Brewers hitter who failed to perform up to expectations.

The Brewers scored 4.1 runs per game to rank 27th out of 30 MLB teams last year as they slipped into the playoffs with a 29-31 record. Their .223 team batting average placed them 26th. Their 582 strikeouts were the second-highest total of any MLB team, behind only the Tampa Bay Rays.

Keston Hiura batted .212 and had an NL-high 85 strikeouts last year after posting a .938 OPS as a rookie in 2019. Omar Narváez batted .176 with a .562 OPS last year after hitting .278 with 22 homers and an .813 OPS in 2019 with the Seattle Mariners. Avisaíl García batted .238 with a .659 OPS last year after hitting .282 with a .796 OPS in 2019 with Tampa Bay.

“We had some tough seasons and some of the most down seasons that some established players have had,” Counsell said. “You’re hoping, you’re planning on them getting back to norm, and that’s going to create a pretty big improvement in our offense. That’s a big part of this."

That starts with getting Yelich back to his usual form.

Yelich had a respectable .356 on-base percentage last year thanks to his 46 walks in 247 plate appearances. But he struck out 76 times. His .786 OPS was his lowest since 2014, a dramatic fall for someone who led the NL in that category in 2018 (1.000) and 2019 (1.100).

His .205 batting average was the first time he’d ever hit below .282 in a season.

“I think we’re going to see a very motivated player,” Counsell said. “He was disappointed in the results last year, disappointed in his performance. He wants to be better, and he’s going to be better. I think (from our) offseason conversations, I’ve found Christian has been in just an incredibly optimistic place. That’s kind of the thing that’s struck me about him. Eager and optimistic, I guess would be the best way to say it.”

The Brewers should get a boost from the return of center fielder Lorenzo Cain, who played just five games before opting out of the 2020 season. Newly acquired Gold Glove second baseman Kolten Wong has posted an on-base percentage of at least .350 each of the last two seasons.

The biggest key to improving the offense is getting better performances from the guys who slumped last year.

Any improvement from the lineup could go a long way toward helping the Brewers earn a fourth straight playoff berth because their pitching should rank among the best in the NL Central. Counsell confirmed Thursday that the Brewers have brought back free-agent pitcher Brett Anderson, though the team still hasn’t officially announced the signing.

Anderson, who went 4-4 with a 4.21 ERA last year, will be part of a rotation that’s headed by Brandon Woodruff (3-5, 3.05) and Corbin Burnes (4-1, 2.11).

Boxberger signs minor league deal

Former All-Star reliever Brad Boxberger has signed a minor league contract with the Milwaukee Brewers that includes an invitation to major league camp.

Boxberger, 32, went 1-0 with a 3.00 ERA in 23 appearances for the Miami Marlins last season.

The right-hander made the AL All-Star team in 2015, when he went 4-10 with a 3.71 ERA and an AL-leading 41 saves for the Tampa Bay Rays. He also had 32 saves for the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2018, when he went 3-7 with a 4.39 ERA.

He owns a 22-30 record, 77 saves and a 3.56 ERA in nine major league seasons with San Diego (2012-13), Tampa Bay (2014-17), Arizona (2018), Kansas City (2019) and Miami (2020). He has 413 strikeouts in 329 innings.

Lew Krausse dies

Lew Krausse, who pitched 12 years in the major leagues and started the first game in Milwaukee Brewers history, has died. He was 77.

Chad Krausse, Lew's youngest son, said his father died Tuesday of complications from cancer while in hospice care in Kansas City.

Krausse was 68-91 with 21 saves and a 4.00 ERA during a big league career that began in 1961 and ended in 1974. He pitched the first three innings and took the loss when the Brewers fell to the California Angels on April 7, 1970.

The expansion franchise originally known as the Seattle Pilots in 1969 moved to Milwaukee and became the Brewers the following year.

Krausse made his major league debut in 1961 at age 18 and went 2-5 with a 4.85 ERA for the Kansas City Athletics. He returned to the majors for good in 1964 with the A's.

He pitched with the A's through 1969, the final two seasons after the franchise moved to Oakland. He also pitched for Milwaukee (1970-71), the Boston Red Sox (1972), St. Louis Cardinals (1973) and Atlanta Braves (1974).

His best season came in 1966, when he went 14-9 with a 2.99 ERA.

Krausse's father, also named Lew Krausse, pitched in the majors for the Philadelphia Athletics from 1931-32. The elder Krausse died in 1988 at the age of 76.

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

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