The results in spring training don’t matter, but that doesn’t mean what the Milwaukee Brewers’ offense has done isn’t encouraging.
As they took the field Sunday in Peoria, Arizona, to start the second half of their 28-game Cactus League schedule, the Brewers led National League teams in home runs (20), slugging percentage (.527) and OPS (.887); ranked second among NL squads with a .273 team batting average; and ranked 11th with 105 strikeouts through 14 games.
“Not every player is going to be locked in from Day 1 of games — that’s why we play 28 games here,” Brewers manager Craig Counsell said. “But when you’re scoring runs, it means guys are putting good swings on balls and that always puts everybody in a good place.”
Outfielder Avisail Garcia and catcher Omar Narvaez have been two of the best, encouraging developments after both struggled mightily last season.
Garcia went 9-for-20 with two home runs and five RBIs in his first eight games while Narvaez, who hit just .176 last season, brought a .385 average (5-for-13), one home run and two RBIs into Sunday’s game.
Their production has been especially satisfying for hitting coach Andy Haines, who spent considerable time with both players over the winter.
“We all know spring training stats, those translating to the season mean next to nothing most of the time,” Haines said. “But the optics of what you’re watching and what’s important to that player is where our mind has to stay, and both those guys are doing it and they’re getting affirmation that they’re working on the right things and it’s showing up for them.”
Haines also sees improvement in Christian Yelich, himself looking to bounce back from a dreadful showing in 2020. The two-time National League batting champ saw his average plummet to .205 with 12 home runs and a .786 OPS last season.
He’s appeared in six games this spring. In 13 plate appearances, he is 3-for-11 with a double, home run, two walks and a 1.021 OPS.
“He looks like Christian up there, regardless of where the balls went or whatever in 11 at-bats,” Haines said. “There could not have been any other thing I’d love to see out of Christian as far as, like, peace of mind, knowing what he needs to do.
“You can kind of see his tempo and things, how he’s seeing the ball and just his passes at the ball regardless of the result. The passes he’s taking, kind of like, I flinch. They can turn the game.”
While veteran players such as Garcia, Narvarez and Yelich can afford to dismiss spring training stats because they’re locked into the big league roster, the numbers are anything but meaningless for players such as Tyrone Taylor, who is competing with two players out of minor league options for what is likely just one backup outfield spot on the Opening Day roster.
Prior to his start Sunday, Taylor was batting .333 (6-for-18) with a double, home run and a .906 OPS. It might be enough to overcome the fact he still has options remaining, unlike Billy McKinney and Derek Fisher, who also are in the mix for the outfield spot.
Another young outfielder, Garrett Mitchell, has no chance of cracking the Opening Day roster but has put up eye-opening numbers . Milwaukee’s first-round selection in last summer’s MLB Draft is batting .571 with a 1.482 OPS after singling in his only at-bat Sunday.
“This guy is impressive,” Haines said. “He’s played really well. It’s difficult for a first-round pick to exceed expectations in major-league spring training. I think that’s very difficult, and he’s done that and more.”
On the field
Catcher Jacob Nottingham homered in his first Cactus League appearance but Brad Boxberger gave up five runs in the fifth inning as the Brewers fell 5-4 to the Seattle Mariners in Peoria.
Boxberger took the mound with a 3-0 lead thanks to Zach Green’s bases-loaded double in the fourth but gave up a leadoff home run to Mariners infielder Jack Reinheimer then loaded the bases with three straight singles.
Kyle Lewis followed with a two-run double to tie the game at 3 and the Mariners took the lead one batter later on Tom Murphy’s sacrifice fly to right. Boxberger struck out Taylor Trammell for the second out of the inning, then headed back to the dugout after hitting his pitch limit.
Miguel Sanchez allowed another run on Evan White’s RBI single before getting out of the inning with a ground out by Sam Haggerty.
Nottingham cut the deficit to a run with a one-out homer off Keynan Middleton in the seventh.
Brewers starter Adrian Houser walked two batters with a strikeout and didn’t give up a run but left the game with two outs in the third because of discomfort in his right thumb.
Houser experienced the same issue during an outing last spring but was able to make his next scheduled appearance.He’s expecting a similar result this time.
“We’ll go in tomorrow and see how everything feels and go from there,” Houser said. “I don’t think it will be a big problem. We’ll work on it, we’ll strengthen it up a little and we’ll be good to go.”From the infirmary
Right-handers Thomas Jankins has been shut down temporarily after suffering flexor strain in his right forearm during an outing against the Cubs on Friday. He had been reassigned to minor league camp earlier in the week. If healthy, he will likely open the season at Class AAA Nashville.
Right-hander Ray Black will begin a throwing program and could be back on the mound as early as next weekend, Counsell said. Black had been shut down last week because of inflammation in his right elbow and it could set him back just enough to leave him out of the Opening Day bullpen.
- Right-hander Zack Brown has been slowed down because of shoulder fatigue and isn’t expected to see any further Cactus League action. Counsell said that the injury wasn’t serious, nor do the Brewers think it will be a long-term issue, but because they plan to rely heavily on their minor league pitching depth to cover innings this season they’ve opted to take a conservative approach with the former organizational pitcher of the year.
- Outfielder Lorenzo Cain continues to make progress as he recovers from a sore right quad and could make his Cactus League debut by the end of this week.
- Right-hander Devin Williams threw a live batting practice session Saturday and will throw another on Tuesday. If all goes well, he, too, could see his first game action this weekend. Williams has been off to a slow start this spring as he recovers from a shoulder injury that kept him out of the playoffs last season.
Around the horn
Counsell said the Brewers will play a B-game Tuesday against the Dodgers and hold an intrasquad scrimmage on their off-day Wednesday as the team looks to get at-bats for players such as Lorenzo Cain and Nottingham. ... Travis Shaw went 0-for-2 with a walk Sunday in the last game before he’s eligible to opt out and sign elsewhere should the Brewers not add him to their 40-man roster.On deck
Left-hander Brett Anderson returns to the mound for his third spring start Monday when the Brewers host the Padres at American Family Fields of Phoenix. Anderson allowed one unearned run on two hits with a strikeout over two innings his last time out against Oakland on March 10. He’ll be matched up against Padres’ left-hander Blake Snell, who worked a scoreless inning against Milwaukee on March 3 and allowed a hit with one strikeout over two innings in his last outing against the White Sox.
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.