Yelich goes hitless in return from IL

May 19th, 2021

After unlocking some answers to his lingering back trouble and testing it over the weekend in the Minor Leagues, returned to active duty for the Brewers.

The team reinstated Yelich from the 10-day injured list and penciled him in as the designated hitter and three-hole hitter for Tuesday’s 2-0 loss to the Royals at Kauffman Stadium. To clear a spot, the club optioned left-hander Hoby Milner to Triple-A Nashville.

“You can't make up for five weeks,” said Yelich, who had been down all but one day since April 11 and went 0-for-4 with three strikeouts in his return. “It just doesn't happen. The game of baseball doesn't work like that. It doesn't happen like that. So for me, it's kind of just back to the process of playing and doing everything you can to help the team win and be successful on the present day, and then one day at a time and it'll kind of stack up like that."

Yelich’s return was forecast on manager Craig Counsell’s weekly radio show on Tuesday morning, when Counsell said Yelich was back with the team from a brief rehabilitation assignment with Nashville. Yelich logged seven plate appearances and played 13 innings in the outfield over three straight games, including Sunday’s day game after a night game.

The Brewers’ short two-game series in Kansas City was the right time to return, the sides decided, since it offered opportunities to give Yelich at-bats as the DH. The schedule then has an open date on Thursday before Milwaukee returns to National League play in Cincinnati for a three-game weekend series.

Counsell referred to “easing him back into the schedule” and didn’t commit to anything beyond Yelich’s start as the DH on Tuesday.

“There’s definitely unknown because this is a back and because this has lingered,” Counsell said. “I think we’re in the best place we’ve been since this started, that’s for sure. But yeah, there’s always [unknown] and I still think we’ll be cautious at times, and help him continue to build up strength and confidence in his back.”

That’s part of what the rehab assignment was for. The Brewers sent their assistant athletic trainer, Theresa Lau, with Yelich to Nashville over the weekend, and the reports were positive enough to bring him back.

“Obviously, it went well. I felt good enough to be here,” Yelich said. “I don't really want to get into any of the specific details or anything like that. But I ended up feeling better and doing some stuff that I feel worked for me. That's why I felt good enough to go on rehab assignment and am back here today.”

He added, “You know, when your back's bothering you, it sucks to do everything. So it’s just one of those things that I had to get better playing the field and [hitting]. Basically, I just did a bit of everything down there for those few days."

Prior to the back injury, Yelich wasn’t hitting for power yet, but he put up a solid .353 batting average and a .463 on-base percentage in his first 10 games before departing the team’s April 11 game in St. Louis with lower back stiffness. At the time, the team believed it would be a minor inconvenience; Yelich has a history with back trouble and had always avoided the IL in his first three seasons with the Brewers.

This time, however, the pain and stiffness lingered for weeks. After he plateaued in his comeback, the Brewers sent Yelich for an MRI scan on April 24, and when that didn’t show any structural changes in his back, the sides agreed to try coming off the IL on May 3 in Philadelphia, where Yelich tallied a couple of hits in a 4-3 Brewers loss.

He was still hurting, however, and it was clear that he could not grind through day after day in that state. The Brewers placed him back on the IL the following day and sought new answers, including, according to Counsell, some amended treatment methods. When they produced good results, Yelich was back on the field last week for workouts at American Family Field, followed by the rehab assignment to Nashville from Friday to Sunday. He was 0-for-5 with a pair of walks in those games.

“I think it was just, like, more proving to the team that I could play back-to-back-to-back days and not have any issues like I did in Philly,” Yelich said. “[That] was kind of the purpose for the rehab assignment, was just to get the multiple days in a row playing instead of avoiding a Philly situation like last time, where I felt OK and after the game and the next day, it just wasn't good. I feel confident about it now, and I’m looking forward to being back.”

Surprise, surprise: Yelich’s teammates were pleased to have him back.

“It’s awesome,” said Corbin Burnes, who’s slated to start for the Brewers on Wednesday night. “I think we were all kind of following his games down in Nashville and trying to get the updates from the training staff if he was bouncing back, and the days after if he was feeling good. It’s good to see him back, and obviously we expect big things from Yeli. But I think more important, it’s good just to have him back in the lineup.”