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.”
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.”
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
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.