Ashby to face Cubs for MLB debut today

June 30th, 2021

MILWAUKEE -- Brewers manager Craig Counsell said Wednesday’s series finale against the Cubs will be a bullpen day, but he saved the real news for after Tuesday’s 2-1 win over the Cubs.

The Brewers will call up left-hander , one of their top pitching prospects, to be part of that bullpen mix. Ashby will start the game and the Brewers hope for a couple of innings in his Major League debut with family on hand, including his uncle, former Major League right-hander Andy Ashby.

“Pretty cool,” Aaron Ashby said.

Ashby, 23 years old and No. 7 on MLB Pipeline’s list of Milwaukee’s top prospects, has been preparing for this moment since shifting to the bullpen at Triple-A Nashville late last month in order to grease the skids for a promotion to Milwaukee. Ashby made that switch after going 2-1 with a 2.93 ERA in six starts to open the year, and has been used as a multi-inning reliever ever since, throwing as many as 39 pitches in two innings against Indianapolis on June 9.

He last pitched on Saturday in Charlotte and struck out four in 1 2/3 scoreless innings.

“I think putting him in at the start of the game, it gives him a little familiarity,” Counsell said. “But we're not looking for a normal start here. We're looking for a short start to the game.”

The Brewers similarly moved Josh Hader and Corbin Burnes to the ‘pen when they were top prospects in order to prepare them to begin their big league careers in relief. Long term, the Brewers still see Ashby as a starting pitcher.

“He's one of our top people and we think he can help the big league club, at least out of the 'pen initially,” Triple-A manager Rick Sweet said.

All told, Ashby has a 4.50 ERA and 13.3 strikeouts per nine innings in 38 innings for the Sounds this season. That, after he opened eyes in big league camp with the Brewers by appearing three times in the Cactus League and getting seven of his eight outs via strikeout.

"I think just throwing strikes early and often is the biggest thing,” Ashby said. “It's when I have the most success. First-pitch strikes out of the ‘pen are really important. And I think it kind of helps lock that mental focus. In your bullpen and during the game, everything has to be a little bit sharper. So that's what I've been working on, and it's gone well."

Why a bullpen day to close out a charged series against the division rival closest in the standings to first-place Milwaukee? Because the Brewers want to continue giving their starters at least one day of extra rest between outings in an effort to keep them healthy and performing well in a 162-game season after only 60 regular-season games in 2020. That means Burnes will start Thursday at Pittsburgh instead, allowing Ashby to fill Wednesday's opening.

Urías on Monday's ‘sick play'
The play of the day in Monday’s 14-4 win over the Cubs only happened because Luis Urías anticipated the possibility of it before it unfolded.

In case you missed it, here’s the setup: seventh inning, tie game after Chicago pinch-hitter Patrick Wisdom launched a two-run home run halfway to Lake Michigan. Joc Pederson was at first base and Brewers reliever Brad Boxberger was scuffling when a left-handed-hitting Ian Happ bounced a single past third base. Urías normally would have been standing there, but he was on the other side of second base as part of Milwaukee’s infield shift.

Shortstop Willy Adames chased the baseball. Left fielder Christian Yelich charged. Alertly, Urías ran 136 feet, according to Statcast, toward an uncovered third base.

“As soon as I saw the base hit, I was like, ‘I gotta be there,’” Urías said. “I was kind of anticipating something happening where I might have to go to third. Obviously, Yelich made a great throw, right on the money.”

It was a spectacular display of athleticism on both ends – just the thing, Brewers manager Craig Counsell said, that everyone wants to see more of in today’s power-centric game of baseball. Yelich threw on the run and Urías made the catch on the run, then contorted in order to tag out Pederson.

“That was a sick play,” Urías said.

Counsell called it “special” and ”game-changing.” Instead of second and third with one out, Boxberger had a runner at second and two outs. He struck out Javier Báez to preserve the tie. Then Devin Williams stranded the bases loaded in the top of the eighth and the Brewers scored 10 runs in the bottom of that inning for a runaway win.

The Yelich-Urías play was the turning point.

“That's just an overall tough play,” said Gold Glove Award-winning center fielder Jackie Bradley Jr. “A lot of things have to go right starting with ‘Yeli’ hustling to the ball, making a throw on the run, keeping it down in order for Luis to snag it and put on the tag while he was still moving. That's one of those athletic plays you don't get to see often. We don't work on that because it just kind of happens.”

Bradley on perseverance
Even after picking up a couple of late hits in Monday’s win, Bradley woke up Tuesday with a .159 batting average and a .217 batting average on balls in play. It indicates that beyond performing far below his own expectations, Bradley is hitting into some terrible luck.

Here’s how he has kept his head up:

“Just focus on the now and help the team win today,” Bradley said. “Whatever that is, focus on this at-bat, this pitch. You have to keep things simple, or at least try to. This is a game that requires a lot of physical performance but a lot of mental focus as well. So, I'm trying to just stay focused and stay in the present. You can't change the past and obviously, I've been horrible to this point and I have to get better.”