Through three Cactus League games, the Milwaukee Brewers have yet to play a full nine innings.
As part of an effort to protect players from being exposed to and potentially spreading the coronavirus, Major League Baseball is allowing teams to shorten Cactus and Grapefruit League games to as few as five innings through the first two weeks of spring training.
The option allows teams to pack fewer players on buses, in dugouts and into already-cramped visiting clubhouses. While it might make baseball purists cringe, it’s an option that has very few detractors.
“The fans will be scratching their heads at times,” Brewers manager Craig Counsell said. “But, for us, on our side, it’s going to be really helpful in getting our guys ready for the season. It’s never more frustrating when you have a starter in his second outing and you want to get him up twice and he has a 35-pitch inning. It just doesn’t go very well. So, these rules are going to be very helpful for us developmentally and help us get guys ready for the season.”
Pitchers are the primary reason for shorter games, but the rule will require Counsell to adjust the way he utilizes his position players, too. With fewer late-inning replacements available, regular players will likely see more action.
“You’ll see more guys just playing the whole game so that we take less guys,” Counsell said. “If we’re gonna play five or six innings, in a lot of cases let’s let one player play that five or six innings and then he’ll have the day off the following day, even early in camp.”
Managers also have the option to end innings early provided a pitcher has thrown at least 20 pitches.
Counsell utilized that rule Monday when right-hander Jordan Zimmermann had only recorded two outs after throwing 27 pitches. The rule also allows managers to send a pitcher back out for another inning, which Counsell opted against, and is intended to help pitchers better manage their workloads.
“It’s going to provide some flexibility,” Counsell said. “You’ll have some days when you have pitching backed up and you’ll want to get them out there and play. That’s also helpful to give the extra guys a couple more at-bats.”
Games will return to their more traditional form starting March 13 when teams will play at least seven innings and won’t have the option to end innings early. The three-batter minimum for pitchers, which was instituted last season, will go into effect starting March 14.
Hello, old friend
Tuesday marked the return of fans to American Family Fields of Phoenix, as well as the return of 87-year-old Bob Uecker to the airwaves, and that was good news for Counsell.
Counsell said one of the most disappointing aspects of last season was the inability to sit and chat with the Brewers’ longtime radio voice and baseball Hall of Famer for the daily pregame show.
“It’s great to see him,” Counsell said. “I know he’s excited to be back at the field and being able to interact a little bit more. So, it’s a good thing. It’s another year of baseball, another year on the air for him, which is incredible. It really is.
“And as good as ever, as funny as ever.“
Uecker is in his 51st season broadcasting Brewers games. He’d cut down his schedule in previous seasons, eliminating most road trips, and only broadcast home games during the 60-game season in 2020.
On the field
Thomas Jankins (0-1) allowed a solo home run to Buddy Reed with two outs in the seventh as the Brewers fell 2-1 to the Oakland Athletics in seven innings on Tuesday.
Right-hander Josh Lindblom allowed a run on one hit, struck out a batter and hit two with pitches in his first spring inning. He also gave up Oakland’s first run when Tony Kemp led off with a single and eventually scored on a wild pitch.
“I just wanted to be aggressive in the strike zone today,” Lindblom said. “That was primarily the goal ... you can’t hit two guys but with that being said, I thought I was able to make a couple pitches when I needed to to minimize the damage, and only allow one run.”
Travis Shaw drove in the Brewers only run with a single in the fourth off right-hander Wandisson Charles.
Right fielder Christian Yelich and Kolten Wong saw their first action of the spring. Yelich went 1-for-2, flying out out to center in the first and doubling down the right field line in the fourth inning. Wong grounded out in the first and was hit by a pitch with two out in the third.
Orlando Arcia went 1-for-3 while playing a clean game defensively in his first start at third base, where he’s getting work this spring while the Brewers get a look at Luis Urias’ ability to play shortstop.
“The more (work) he can get over there, the better,” Counsell said. “Anytime you play third base now with the shifting and stuff, you’re moving around. I think it put him on his toes for seven innings. That was a good day. We’ll do it again.”
- Right-hander Brandon Woodruff, who was scratched from his first scheduled start Tuesday because of a sore back, threw a bullpen session instead and could see action in either a simulated or Cactus League game as early as this weekend.
“It went really well,” Counsell said. “Positive signs. We’ll just make sure he comes back good tomorrow morning and then put him on a day either Thursday or Friday.”
Around the horn
Tuesday’s game, the first home contest of Milwaukee’s spring training schedule, began with a moment of silence for Hank Aaron and Don Sutton, former Brewers and members of baseball’s Hall of Fame, who died earlier this year. ... The Brewers announced two changes to their spring training television schedule. The March 22 game against Cleveland, which had been slated to be webcast, will now air on Fox Sports Wisconsin with a simulcast of the Fox Sports Ohio broadcast while the March 30 exhibition against the Rangers in Arlington, Texas will also be televised. ... Lorenzo Cain’s Cactus League debut likely won’t come until at least next week. Counsell said he wants to give Cain time to get his legs up to full-strength after he missed all but the first week of the regular season in 2020.
The Brewers travel Wednesday to Peoria, Arizona, to take on the new-look San Diego Padres. Right-hander Drew Rasmussen will get the start for Milwaukee with left-hander Brent Suter also among those scheduled to work an inning.
Left-hander Blake Snell will make his debut for the Padres, who acquired him in a trade with Tampa Bay during the offseason. Fox Sports Wisconsin will air Fox Sports San Diego’s broadcast of the game, which also will be available on the Brewers Radio Network.
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.