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Former Gold Glove winner Jackie Bradley Jr. gives big boost to Brewers outfield
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Former Gold Glove winner Jackie Bradley Jr. gives big boost to Brewers outfield

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In what’s becoming something of an annual tradition, the Milwaukee Brewers have made a late addition to their roster.

Last year, it was utilityman Brock Holt. Two years ago, a reunion with third baseman Mike Moustakas. This year, it’s longtime Boston Red Sox outfielder Jackie Bradley, Jr., who according to multiple reports reached agreement Thursday on a two-year, $24 million contract.

Bradley has the right to opt out after one year and $13 million, allowing him to become a free agent again after this season.

The deal is pending a physical so it hasn’t been confirmed by the team.

Milwaukee’s starting outfield was all but locked with Christian Yelich in left, Avisail Garcia in right and Lorenzo Cain back in center field after opting out of the 2020 season. Behind that trio, former high draft picks Derek Fisher and Billy McKinney were battling for a backup job this spring along with Tyrone Taylor, who saw playing time for the Brewers last September.

The Brewers faced a similar situation heading into the 2018 season, when the team signed Cain to a five-year, $80 million contract the same day it acquired Yelich in a blockbuster trade with the Miami Marlins. At the time, Milwaukee also had a robust corps of outfielders including Ryan Braun, Keon Broxton and Domingo Santana as well as prospects Taylor and former first-round pick Corey Ray.

It was the same story last season after Milwaukee signed Garcia to a two-year deal, adding him to a group that included Braun, Cain, Yelich and Ben Gamel. The Brewers planned to give Braun regular action at first base to make room in the outfield but than plan was scuttled when the National League added the designated hitter following its pandemic hiatus.

As he has in the past, manager Craig Counsell dismissed the notion there wouldn’t be enough playing time to go around.

“We don’t have any fourth outfielders,” Counsell said. “We’re going to have a lot of starting outfielders and we’re going to have to figure out how that works. That’s kind of how I’m viewing it. But there is playing time, absolutely.”

Bradley turns 31 on April 19 and is regarded as a top defensive center fielder. He had spent his entire eight-year career in Boston and hit.283 with seven homers and 22 RBIs during the pandemic-shortened 2020 season. He had a .364 on-base percentage and an .814 OPS in 55 games last season.

His career numbers include a .239 batting average, .321 on-base percentage. 732 OPS, 98 homers and 376 RBIs. He won a Gold Glove in 2018 and led the American League in assists by a center fielder in 2014, 2016, 2018 and 2019.

Adding Bradley does provide a way to help manage the workload for Cain, who turns 35 next month and played just four games last season before opting out. The Brewers are taking a slow approach with him during spring training and with Bradley on the roster, could utilize a similar approach with Cain that they used with Braun over the past few years; minimizing his playing time during the regular season with structured off days in order to keep him fresh down the stretch run.

Counsell, though he couldn’t comment specifically on Bradley, was adamant his addition wouldn’t mean shifting Cain elsewhere on the diamond.

“Lorenzo’s our center fielder,” Counsell said.

Bradley has played center for 781 of his 873 career games, though he has made infrequent appearances at the other corner outfield spots. Cain has played center in about 90% of his career games, though he also has made 157 appearances in right field.

Bradley and Yelich are left-handed hitters, while Cain and García bat from the right side.

On the field

Adrian Houser worked a scoreless inning in his spring debut, but Eric Lauer gave up back-to-back home runs in the first of his two innings as the Brewers fell 5-1 to Cleveland at American Family Fields of Phoenix.

After Lauer (1-1) walked former teammate Ben Gamel to lead off the second, Yu Change hit the next pitch to left to make it 2-0. Mike Freeman followed with a home run on Lauer’s next offering.

“The home runs, nobody likes that, but I thought it got better as it went,” Counsell said. “The velocity of the fastball was better today. I thought he finished well, five straight outs, two strikeouts. Overall, I was happy with Eric’s outing. I thought we continue to go in the right direction. It’s just getting Eric out there. We’re building him up. That’s what’s most important for us to do at this point and I think we took another step toward that today.”

Lauer retired his next six batters in order but Chang struck again in the fourth, hitting his second homer of the game on a 2-0 offering from Clayton Andrews while Freeman gave Cleveland a 5-0 lead when he drove in Josh Naylor on a sacrifice fly in the sixth off Ethan Small.

Aaron Ashby turned in another impressive outing, striking out all three batters in the fifth inning on nine pitches. He also struck out three batters in his first outing of spring last week against the White Sox.

“His two innings have been very impressive,” Counsell said. “He clearly keeps going in the right direction. It’s an exciting player for us to keep watching.”

Milwaukee scored its lone run in the seventh when Corey Ray walked, moved to third on consecutive singles then came home on a groundout by Dustin Peterson. The Indians held the Brewers to just three hits. Yelich went 0-for-2 in his second spring start, as did regulars Wong, Keston Hiura and Garcia.

Around the horn

Right-hander Brandon Woodruff threw a live batting practice as he works toward making his first Cactus League start. Woodruff had been slowed by a sore back. ... Right-hander Freddy Peralta and left-hander Josh Hader will remain at the Brewers’ complex and throw in a simulated game Friday, Counsell said. It will mark the first game action for Hader this spring and the second outing for Peralta, who struck out three during a scoreless inning against the Diamondbacks earlier this week. ... Cain’s progress in getting back into game shape after sitting out last season is going a little slower than the team planned, but Counsell said at this point it’s not something the team is worried about.

— Associated Press contributed


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

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