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Brewers' Lorenzo Cain has no regrets about opting out last season
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Brewers' Lorenzo Cain has no regrets about opting out last season

Lorenzo Cain doesn’t speak to the media often.

When he does, he’s rarely at a loss for words.

But the Milwaukee Brewers veteran outfielder found himself speechless Wednesday when asked whether he missed baseball more than he thought he would after making the decision to opt out of the 2020 season.

“Hmmm, wow. That’s a good question,” Cain said before a lengthy pause. “I never really thought of it that way.”

The Brewers were a week into their 60-game season when Cain made his decision, which came as something of a surprise but was supported by teammates. His absence from the lineup made a noticeable impact on the offense, as did not having his defensive abilities, but in the dugout and clubhouse is where the team missed him most.

Cain admits it was a tough decision. But he has no regrets because the time he spent away allowed him to become a more integral part of a more important team: his family.

The concern over COVID-19 was one factor in his decision, but not the deciding factor. Foremost for Cain was a need to build a tighter bond with his family. Cain and his wife, Jenny, have three children.

“I feel like we’re closer now,” said Cain, who turns 35 on April 13. “Just spending that time together, watching them do certain things and grow, I feel like we built a special bond that I definitely wouldn’t take back from the world.”

Being away from the game as long as he has will require some additional time to get back into playing shape. Cain thinks what he experienced off the field last summer will help him in his return to the clubhouse.

Considered a leader going back to his time with the Kansas City Royals, Cain exhibited that leadership more by example than with his voice. That changed last year, as Cain relied on phone calls, texts and video chats to stay engaged with his teammates. He plans to be a more vocal leader — though still doing most of his talking with his play.

“I’m not the most talkative person,” Cain said. “That’s something I’ve never been great at but being home and teaching my kids helped me be a more vocal leader instead of just showing leadership on the field.”

When Cain reported to camp a year ago, he had dropped around 12 pounds during the offseason in hopes it would reduce the stress on his legs after a series of lower-body injuries left him less than full-strength down the stretch in 2019.

He managed to keep the weight off during baseball’s three-month hiatus. After a strong showing in summer camp he hit .333 with two RBIs and an .817 OPS in five games before opting out. The pandemic, along with being away from the team, required some changes to his offseason training routines but he expects to be ready when the regular season gets underway April 1.

“I’m trying to play catch-up as best I can,” Cain said. “But also understanding that I don’t want to push too hard because that’s also how you get hurt and injured, by rushing it too fast. For me, I think I’ll be ready. I feel like I can adjust very quickly, and when it’s time to go out there, I’ll be out on the field giving it my best.”

Manager Craig Counsell plans to ease Cain into things during the first few workouts and Cactus League games, focusing first on Cain getting his legs back under him and then getting him to the batter’s box to face pitching.

“I told him let’s run around for a week, work out, talk Sunday and see how you feel,” Counsell said. “It’s a little bit of a happy medium but he does want to be in games, I can tell you that.”

DH desired

Major League Baseball has told NL teams to prepare to play the 2021 season without the designated hitter, but Counsell is still holding out hope for a last-minute change to that plan.

“For our roster, yes,” Counsell said when asked if he was in favor of bringing the DH back to the NL. “After using the DH last year, you do see how it frees up at-bats around the field.”

The Brewers feel they have an ideal candidate to fill the role in Daniel Vogelbach, who batted .328 with four home runs, 12 RBIs and a .987 OPS in 19 games after Milwaukee claimed him off waivers from Toronto. Counsell also used the spot to give some of his regular position players a day off their feet defensively.

Last season, MLB announced the universal DH just before the rebooted regular season began.

“It certainly could happen again,” Counsell said. “We don’t have any information leading one way or another, I don’t have any thoughts one way or another. Our thought is to prepare without it, have a backup plan if it happens.”

Brisk sales

Eight of Milwaukee’s 14 spring training home games have sold out and tickets to the remaining games are going quickly, the team announced.

“The demand we are seeing for tickets in Arizona demonstrates that fans are excited to have the opportunity to attend games in person and are comfortable with the extensive efforts to ensure that the experience is safe for all,” said Rick Schlesinger, the team’s president of business operations. “We share our fans’ enthusiasm, and we are confident that we will see similar demand for games in Milwaukee when the team returns in April.”

Capacity at 10,000-seat American Family Fields of Phoenix has been reduced to 2,300 fans per game to comply with health and safety protocols.

Around the horn

Cain will likely split time atop Milwaukee’s lineup with recently-acquired second baseman Kolten Wong, who performed well in that role for the Cardinals last season. ... The Brewers open their Cactus League schedule Sunday against the White Sox but will play a short, intra-squad contest Saturday. Each of Milwaukee’s pitchers is scheduled to throw at least one session of live batting practice leading up to that scrimmage. ... Counsell said right-hander Freddy Peralta will be stretched out during spring training but wasn’t ready to declare him a potential starter or reliever yet. Veteran right-hander Jordan Zimmerman, trying to make the team as a non-roster invitee, is also being considered for a potential “swingman role,” similar to the way Counsell used Peralta and Brent Suter last season. ... Orlando Arcia will get work at third base this spring as the Brewers try to give Luis Urias action at shortstop.

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

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