Brewers 2, Cubs 1: It don't matter now

Brewers 2, Cubs 1: It don't matter now

PHOENIX, Arizona — By the time the Cubs’ 2-1 loss to the Brewers in the Cactus League opener ended, just before 4 p.m. local time, it was downright cold and sprinkles began to fall at Maryvale Baseball Park.

Honestly, it would have been a fine weather day for a Cubs home opener, but for spring training? Temperatures not getting out of the 50s, when the average high this time of year is 73? Yuck.

A ragtag squad of mostly Cubs minor leaguers lost to a Brewers team featuring several of their regulars, playing likely because it was a Milwaukee home game and the game was being televised back to the folks in Wisconsin.

Kyle Schwarber debuted his new svelte form by walking and striking out in two plate appearances before heading out; he had no fielding chances.

The Cubs took a 1-0 lead in the third inning when Mike Freeman singled, advanced to second on an infield out and scored on a single by Tommy La Stella [VIDEO].

TLS looked good at the plate and made a nice fielding play, too. There’s no doubt he could start at second or third base for some teams; he’s a nice bench player to have for this edition of the Cubs.

Michael Roth, who’s likely going to be in the Iowa rotation this year, threw two decent innings. Rob Zastryzny relieved him and should have been out of his inning 1-2-3, except for an error by Freeman.

I’ve been down on Freeman for some time, and this is why. The Cubs usually stash someone at Iowa just in case of injury, as happened to Addison Russell last year. Freeman came to the major leagues last August and didn’t play well defensively, and games like today are for evaluation. Truth be told, I’d rather see Ryan Court, who finished the game at shortstop, get some reps in the field to see if he can be that guy instead of Freeman.

Rob Z got out of his inning on this spectacular diving grab [VIDEO] by Ian Happ.

If Happ doesn’t catch that ball, three runs score, as the Brewers had the bases loaded. For his part at the plate, Happ, who might get some consideration in the leadoff spot he occupied Friday, he was 0-for-2.

Dario Alvarez, who’s vying for a spot as one of the “Iowa shuttle” relievers, did not have a good debut. The first three Brewers reached against him, the third being a two-run triple by Eric Sogard. Before that, Alvarez and Victor Caratini had also allowed a stolen base by Hernan Perez.

Those two runs were all the Brewers needed, as Joe Maddon emptied his bench after the middle innings. The Cubs managed just two hits and a couple other baserunners on errors, walks and hit by pitches after the third inning, and did have the tying and lead runs in scoring position with two out in the eighth, but “best beard in camp” Ali Solis flied to center to end that threat.

The headline of this post is just to let you know that nothing that happened Friday really matters that much. Almost all of the guys who are going to be starting for the Cubs stayed back in Mesa for batting practice, and many of them should be in Saturday’s home spring opener against the Rangers.

Other than that… it was still great to get back out to the ballpark for baseball, a few days short of four months since I was last at a ballgame. Seems like a longer offseason than just four months, doesn’t it? The smallish crowd of 4,489 seemed about half Cubs fans, and now that extensive renovations are planned for Maryvale Baseball Park (check out the renderings, it looks pretty cool) after the Brewers finish this spring season, I’ll probably make another trip out there in 2019.

Saturday, Eddie Butler takes the mound for the Cubs. Righthander Clayton Blackburn goes for the Rangers. The forecast is for sunshine with temperatures in the low 60s.

Today’s song selection (from the headline):

Milwaukee Brewers complete split squad sweep, beat San Francisco 6-5

Milwaukee Brewers complete split squad sweep, beat San Francisco 6-5

WP: Tristan Archer (1-0); LP: D.J. Snelten (0-1); Save: Josh Uhen (1); Homeruns: Mil – none; SF – Nick Hundley (1); Pablo Sandoval (1)

Box Score

The Milwaukee Brewers sent a split squad to Scottsdale Stadium, home of the San Francisco Giants each spring, and earned a 6-5 win to sweep their two games on the opening day of spring training, if you can earn a win when all six of your runs are unearned. And you thought the Brewers had defensive issues against the Cubs!

Milwaukee spotted the Giants a four run lead in the bottom of the second as minor league pitcher Jon Perrin allowed all of the runs on five hits and a walk, including a home run for Nick Hundley, in 23 of an inning.

The Brewers began their climb back into the game with a three run fifth. Travis Shaw drove in Jonathan Villar, who had a two out single, and Eric Thames, who had walked, with a single. Both runners had moved up when Trent Grisham reached on an error by Giant third baseman Jonah Arenado. DH Keston Hiura then singled in Grisham (Hiura’s second hit of the day) to pull Milwaukee within one. All three runs were unearned, of course.

After Pablo Sandoval’s homer leading off the bottom of the sixth (off of Radhames Liz) pushed the Giants’ lead back to two (5-3), Milwaukee tied things up with two more of their unearned runs in the top of the seventh. Grisham singled leading off the inning and took second when Giants’ first baseman Kyle Jensen made a throwing error. Keston Hiura walked (pushing his OBP to .750 – how can he not start at second this year? except he DH’d today) to load the bases, and a Mitch Ghelfi fielder’s choice plated the equalizer.

The deciding run in the top of the ninth also came via generosity from the San Francisco defense. Tyler Heineman reached on shortstop Chase d’Arnaud’s error, and was replaced by pinch runner Wendell Rijo. A wild pitch from D.J. Snelten moved Rijo to second, and second baseman Alen Hanson was charged with an error when he couldn’t handle Snelten’s pick-off attempt at second; Rijo came around to score the run for the lead. That run was beautifully gift-wrapped, with a bow. Troy Stokes was at the plate at the time, and actually connected for a triple, but was left stranded.

Josh Uhen came on for the save, and struck out the first batter he faced on three pitches. Then he walked Chris Shaw on four pitches. A first pitch single put runners at first and second; Uhen then had another three pitch strikeout for the second out, but a first pitch wild one moved the runners up, and Gorkys Hernandez walked on four pitches to load the bases. Then d’Arnaud flew out to center to end the ballgame on the first pitch he saw, and give the Brewers the fastest start ever in Cactus League history (tied). So Uhen faced six batters and none of them had both a ball and a strike on them at the same time. That would also be a record, but would be a bit hard to trace. (ed. – it appears that every pitcher did this today. That’s amazing…almost like all of the pitches weren’t being shown. Nevermind.)

The Brewers’ very own Archer (Tristan) earned the win with a perfect eighth inning including two strikeouts.

Lorenzo Cain had hits in both of his at bats in his Spring Training debut.

The Brewers (2-0) will put their perfect record on the line against the Angels (0-1) tomorrow on the road at Diablo Stadium in Tempe. Shohei Ohtani will start for the Halos in his first appearance. Game time is 2:10 Central time, and will air on FSWisconsin, although it will be called by the Angels’ broadcast team.

Notes: Christian Yelich, Lorenzo Cain get to stop talking about being Brewers and go play

Notes: Christian Yelich, Lorenzo Cain get to stop talking about being Brewers and go play

PHOENIX – Lorenzo Cain and Christian Yelich weren’t on the same field Friday but made their debuts as the Milwaukee Brewers played split-squad games to open Cactus League play.

The ballyhooed outfield acquisitions finally got to stop talking about joining the team and go out and play. And it was a nice first day as the Brewers won both games, defeating the Chicago Cubs, 2-1, at Maryvale Baseball Park and the San Francisco Giants, 6-5, in Scottsdale.

Cain went 2 for 2 in his only trips to the plate against the Giants.

“It’s early and all I’m really focused on is coming out of the game early,” said Cain, who signed a five-year, $80 million deal as a free agent. “But two knocks today. I didn’t hit them like I wanted to, but I’ll take it.

“The main goal is the same. Just get ready for the season. Whatever happens in spring happens in spring, whether you hit .400 or .200, your main goal is to make sure you’re completely healthy for the season because that’s when the real grind starts.”

Facing nothing but lefties, the left-handed-hitting Yelich went 1 for 3 with a pair of strikeouts against the Cubs. 

“It’s good to get the first one out of the way and try to knock some of the rust off,” said Yelich, acquired in a blockbuster trade with Miami. “It was the first time out there with a new team and a new group of guys, so it was exciting. Somehow, I managed to get a hit. That was nice. 

“You’re just working yourself back into baseball shape. It was good to be back out there.”

With the focus on Cain and Yelich since the Brewers acquired them within hours of each other on Jan. 25, manager Craig Counsell said he was sure they were glad for the games to start and get on with it.

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“For everything that’s new, you cross a hurdle and then it gets a little more normal,” Counsell said. “Now they probably both think they can ease into the routine of spring, and the ramp-up of swing.

“They’re probably most happy that the day is over because we can move on to other news stories.”

Ramping up: While Ryan Braun was the lone position player to not see action in the Brewers’ split-squad games, he’ll be out there plenty beginning next week and mostly at first base in the early going.

With a glut of outfielders, the Brewers are hoping Braun can play well enough at first to be a right-handed-hitting option behind Eric Thames. He hasn’t played on the infield since his rookie season in 2007 when he came up as a third baseman, but Counsell said so far, so good with Braun during workouts.

“The physical stuff, he’s got it,” Counsell said. “There are no worries at all about his actions. We have to get through receiving throws, running to the bag, how far he can get from the bag. Things like that, you have to experience in a game at game speed. That’s why the more action he can get at first base will benefit him.

“I actually kind of want mistakes to happen here because generally, those are the plays that make you think ‘I can do better’ or ‘I can do this differently next time.’ There’s part of you that kind of wants to see him put in those uncomfortable situations because he’ll correct them. I’m very confident in that.

“More things happening to him is what you want. That’s how you learn.”

Fitting in: First baseman Ji-Man Choi, who signed a minor-league deal in January with an invitation to camp, has fit right in with an engaging personality and sense of humor. His interpreter is Daniel Cho, who already had been hired by the Brewers to run the video operation at Class AAA Colorado Springs.

“I love it,” Choi said of the Brewers’ camp. “The manager and coaches are relatively young, and the players are easy-going and fun. I enjoy that part of it.

“Speaking with teammates isn’t a problem. Even if we have a miscommunication, it’s fun, just being with them.”

Choi, 26, has little chance of making the club, especially with Braun getting action at first base. He signed with the Brewers knowing Eric Thames was the No. 1 first baseman and that Jesús Aguilar did nice work as the backup last year.

“There’s competition at any level so I’m not too worried about that,” he said. “I feel like it’s going to be a battle anywhere I go.”

Choi spent most of last season playing for the New York Yankees’ Class AAA Scranton/Wilkes-Barre affiliate, batting .288 with 15 home runs, 25 doubles and 69 RBI in .288. At the least, he gives great depth at first base but Counsell also said he’d see action in left field.

“He’s an interesting player,” Counsell said. “He had a very good season last year. He had a brief big-league thing that didn’t work out (with the Angels in 2016), a look that didn’t last long, but he had a great Triple-A season last year.” 

Choi displayed a great sense of humor, joking that Thames “is more popular than me in Korea.” He also said he hasn’t mentioned the homer he hit off Junior Guerra while briefly up with the Yankees last season.

“He doesn’t act like he knows me,” Choi said with a smile.

 

Camp report: Brewers open Cactus League play with split-squad wins

Camp report: Brewers open Cactus League play with split-squad wins

On the field: The Brewers opened Cactus League play in style, beating the Chicago Cubs, 2-1, at Maryvale and the San Francisco Giants, 6-5, in Scottsdale.

Nine pitchers each threw an inning for the Brewers at home, with the Cubs scratching out their run in the third off Oliver Drake. Eric Sogard’s two-run triple in the fourth put Milwaukee in front to stay.

Corbin Burnes, the Brewers’ 2017 minor-league pitcher of the year, picked up the victory with an efficient fourth inning that included a pair of strikeouts.

BOX SCORES: Brewers (ss) 2, Cubs 1 |  Brewers (ss) 6, Giants 5

“We threw a lot of strikes today. I think that’s what I was encouraged about,” manager Craig Counsell said. “Guys all got through their innings clean; we didn’t have any fire alarms going off in the bullpen. They all did a nice job and set themselves up really well to come back in a couple days and pitch again.”

Christian Yelich went 1 for 3 with a single and two strikeouts in his Brewers debut.

In Scottsdale, Travis Shaw drove in a pair of runs and Lorenzo Cain and 2017 first-round pick Keston Hiura had two hits apiece.

Starter Aaron Wilkerson struck out a pair in his lone inning of work, and Josh Uhen held on in a rocky ninth to pick up the save.

Jon Perrin had a tough day, allowing five hits (including a home run) and four runs in a 2/3-inning outing.

Weather: 59 degrees, cloudy.

Cactus juice: Just two games into the Cactus League schedule, the Brewers will already be experiencing a circus-like atmosphere. They travel to Tempe to face the Angels and Japanese sensation Shohei Ohtani, who will be making his first major-league appearance.

Ohtani, 23, is slated to both start games as a right-handed pitcher and serve as designated hitter on days he’s not pitching in the regular season. 

“I’ll take atmosphere every time. So we’ll go to a fun atmosphere,” Counsell said. “The players will tell you the same thing – every time they can play in a fun atmosphere, they’re excited for it.”

Scoreboard: Brewers 2, Cubs 1 and Brewers 6, Giants 5. Record: 2-0. Saturday: Brewers at Angels, 2:10 p.m. Milwaukee RPH Chase Anderson vs. LAA RHP Shohei Ohtani. Broadcasts: TV – FS Wisconsin. Radio – AM-620. 

Countdown: 33 days until the Brewers’ season opener March 29 in San Diego.

Yelich makes spring debut in left field for Brewers

Yelich makes spring debut in left field for Brewers

PHOENIX (AP) — New Milwaukee Brewers outfielder Christian Yelich struck out twice in his spring training debut Friday when the Brewers hosted the Chicago Cubs in a split-squad game.

He also singled before departing after the fourth inning.

Yelich, who arrived via trade for four prospects in one of the major leagues’ most notable offseason moves, played left field. That’s the spot where he figures to see most action in 2018.

Yelich was primarily a left fielder from 2013 to 2016 with the Miami Marlins, then played 155 games in center field there last season. He ran down a curling line drive off the bat of the Cubs’ Ian Happ on the first pitch of the game, then went 1 for 2 with two strikeouts and a soft single to left-center.

”Excited to get things under way. These guys have been awesome,” Yelich said.

Coming from the Marlins, who let their entire starting outfield from 2017 go in the offseason, the Brewers with their additions and better outlook for a winning season seem to be a happy destination. The rebuilding Marlins aren’t likely to contend, while the Brewers added Yelich and former Kansas City Royals star Lorenzo Cain to a team that went 86-76 a year ago and finished a game out of the second NL wild card spot.

”That’s all you can ask for,” Yelich said. ”Now it’s about going out there and doing it.”

The Brewers have plenty of experienced outfielders in spring training, but Yelich is set for left, Cain in center field and Domingo Santana primarily in right field. The face of the franchise for a decade, Ryan Braun, is working at first base and might back up Yelich and Santana in the outfield.

Braun will play first base in games starting next week, manager Craig Counsell said.

”We’ve got to get through the unknowns, and there will be some anytime you tack on a new position,” Counsell said of Braun. ”I kind of want mistakes to happen here … he’ll correct them, I’m very confident in that.”

As for other Brewers outfielders, Keon Broxton played 143 games in the majors last season, and 23-year-old prospect Brett Phillips had four stints in the big leagues in 2017.

Yelich, manager Craig Counsell has said, will also see time in right field, where he has never played in the majors. With his experience in center, he can also move there when Cain gets a day off.

”Trying to win. Help these guys win any way I can,” Yelich said. ”I think that’s the most important goal.”

Yelich’s bat and defense should be a major asset. A 2014 Gold Glove winner as a left fielder, he hit .282 with 18 home runs and 81 runs batted in last season. He also stole 16 bases in 2017.

Counsell will have interesting daily lineup decisions to make as the season goes along with a number of players able to play different positions. Yelich hit second in the batting order on Friday.

”That versatility is so valuable in getting your best lineup out there every single day,” Counsell said. ”Good defenders, which he is a really good defender, he can do it. He’s got a smile on his face and he’s ready to go and it’s kind of a fresh start for him.”

NOTE: Counsell said after two games Friday, a lot of main position players will get Saturday off when Milwaukee faces the Los Angeles Angels in the expected debut of Japanese two-way player Shohei Ohtani. He also looks forward to the buzz created by Ohtani’s arrival. ”I’ll take atmosphere every time, so we’ll go to a fun atmosphere. I think the players will tell you the same thing,” Counsell said.

Bench: Hernán Pérez's versatility a big plus for Brewers

Bench: Hernán Pérez's versatility a big plus for Brewers

Eleventh and final in a position-by-position series on the Milwaukee Brewers entering spring training. Today: Bench.

PHOENIX – While Hernán Pérez has his sights on becoming the Milwaukee Brewers’ starter at second base in 2018, his greatest value to manager Craig Counsell will once again be his versatility.

The 26-year-old has become a true Swiss Army knife over the past couple seasons on a team that places high value on players who can fill multiple roles.

Pérez has done it better than most. In 2017, he played in 136 games with 96 starts spread between six positions – 34 in left field, 17 at third base, 16 in right field, 16 at second base, 10 in center field and five at shortstop.

He also played three innings at first base and pitched an inning in a blowout loss.

BREWERS BY POSITION: Starting pitching |  Catcher |  First base |  Second base |   Third base |  Left field |  Center field |  Right field |  Bullpen

“I’ve talked to Hernán about this and every year he’s on the team, you say ‘I don’t really know how this will work.’ But when you play seven positions, it works,” Counsell said. “You don’t have to have it figured out with him. I don’t, and I don’t have to because he can cover you in a lot of spots.

“What I can assure you is, there will be needs at those spots at some point of the season. That’s really what his role is: to not know what your role is but know that you can cover all of those spots.”

Defensively, Pérez handled himself well everywhere he lined up. He was especially good in the outfield, which was impressive considering he’s an infielder who’d never played an inning in the outfield as a major-leaguer prior to 2016.

With Christian Yelich and Lorenzo Cain now on board, Ryan Braun and Domingo Santana returning and Keon Broxton and Brett Phillips also in the mix, Pérez won’t be relied upon as much in the outfield this season.

There will be needs in the infield, however. The second-base job will shake itself out over the next month, with Jonathan Villar, Eric Sogard and Pérez potentially all seeing time there if none is able to seize the spot outright.

On the left side of the infield shortstop Orlando Arcia and third baseman Travis Shaw are in the lineup most days, but Counsell has shown he has no problem using Pérez or Sogard (20 starts at shortstop, two at third base in 2017) at either spot.

“I always enjoy playing,” said  Pérez, who hit .259 with 14 homers, 51 runs batted in and 13 stolen bases. “If I’m playing, I enjoy it. I always say I want to play every day. I don’t care where I play, but I want to play every day.”

Having options like Pérez, who can fit seamlessly at so many spots, is a huge luxury for Counsell, who eschews the traditional terms “starters” and “reserves” in favor of “position-player group.”

With that in mind, he was asked if Pérez might be one of the top utility men in the game.

“You guys can do the research on that. All I know is that it’s valuable,” he said. “We’ve settled on having to have eight relievers for the majority of games. Especially early in the season, looking at the schedule with limited off-days. Once you settle on that, (versatility) is what allows you to keep another player who only plays one position.

“That’s how the position players are connected, that’s how they’re related. They’re joined because that matters. You need that versatility to carry a player who only plays one position.”

That player last season was Jesús Aguilar, the burly slugger who mashed his way onto the team with a huge spring training despite the fact he can only play first base.

He’s back again this season trying to once again earn a spot as the right-handed-hitting complement to Eric Thames, but with the team trying Ryan Braun at first base as well due in part to all the outfield depth, he could face an uphill battle to make the opening-day roster.

The Brewers will also have a tough call to make at catcher, where Manny Piña, Stephen Vogt and Jett Bandy are going to be battling it out for two spots.

Then there’s also the matter of what to do with Broxton and Phillips, both of whom have minor-league options remaining but have also proven they can be viable contributors with the Brewers when given the opportunity.

“That’s hopefully a sign that our talent level is going up and that we’d be comfortable with all of them in big roles,” Counsell said, referring to the team’s overall depth.

“I do think that’s a sign that we keep increasing the talent level in our position-player group. I consider the group the same way this year.

“The versatility is important for the group, and just knowing the number of guys we feel comfortable giving a lot of at-bats to is a good feeling.”

By the numbers

6 Offensive career highs set by Pérez in 2017 (games, 136; at-bats, 432; hits, 112; doubles, 19; HR, 14; walks, 20).

7 RBI for Aguilar against the New York Yankees last July 7, tying a franchise record.

8 Pinch-hit homers by the Brewers in 2017, tied with the Los Angeles Dodgers for second-most in the majors.

88 Strikeouts by Milwaukee pinch-hitters in 2017, also second-most in the majors.

.250 Aguilar’s average as a pinch-hitter in 2017.

CLOSE

Brewers GM David Stearns tells us what his message to the team was this year.