How Mitchell's approach has paid off against left-handers

March 23rd, 2024

PHOENIX -- Left-on-left matchups are supposed to be uncomfortable for hitters, but Brewers outfielder feels comfortable with discomfort. A pitch from a southpaw may look like it’s coming right at him, but that just forces the 25-year-old to streamline things.

“I’m going up there with a simplified approach,” Mitchell said, “which is really just hitting the ball right back where it’s coming from.”

The fourth-inning curveball thrown by Royals lefty Emilio Marquez didn’t come from right-center field, but that’s where Mitchell sent it Friday in an 11-5 win over Kansas City at American Family Fields of Phoenix. The grand slam was Mitchell’s first homer of spring, a good sign for a player coming off shoulder surgery. The fact that it came off a lefty was an even better omen.

Through parts of two Major League seasons, Mitchell has been only a part-time player, with 130 plate appearances against righties and only 11 against lefties. He’s hit well in those 11 chances -- a .967 OPS with a .333 batting average -- but his Minor League numbers are more pedestrian. That doesn’t mean he can’t hit big league lefties, but with Major League clubs looking to maximize every advantage, it meant that he’d have to earn the chance to prove it.

To that end, the Brewers have given Mitchell as many left-on-left matchups as possible this spring. So far in Cactus League play, Mitchell has hit better against lefties (.876 OPS) than righties (.763).

“That’s really key, because that’s going to come up during the season,” said Brewers manager Pat Murphy. “That doesn’t mean they’re always going to play against lefties, but they’re going to have to hit left. It’s important to make that an emphasis in my mind. I think the analytics guys think I’m crazy, but that’s all right. That won’t be the first time they think I’m nuts.”

As he was a year ago, Mitchell is lining up to be the team's starting center fielder on Opening Day. That campaign ended in injury after just 19 games, but Mitchell feels like a more complete player going into 2024. He’s worked to make his swing more connected, allowing him to put the ball in the air more often and on the ground less. He’s also hit a fair amount of leadoff, putting him in the mix for that role in the regular season.

Mitchell would love nothing more than to take the Brewers’ first plate appearance of ‘24. But after missing so much of last year due to injury -- and having to sit against lefties even when he was healthy -- it’s far more important to him to take as many at-bats as he can.

“The goal is to be out there every single day,” Mitchell said. “I want to help the team in any way I can.”

Wiemer, Ashby sent down
With Opening Day a few days away, Milwaukee on Friday sent down two young players who played sizable roles in the Major Leagues last year. Outfielder clubbed 13 homers in 132 games last season while left-hander made 19 starts and threw 107 1/3 innings. Both were optioned to Triple-A Nashville on Friday to get more regular playing time than the Brewers could offer in the final days of Major League camp.

“I consider him part of our Major League team, but right now, he needs to go play every day, work on some adjustments and get it all squared away,” Murphy said of Wiemer. “Do really well and he’ll be on the team.”

Optioning Wiemer was hardly a surprise, given how settled Milwaukee’s outfield seems to be. But while Ashby hasn’t performed particularly well this spring, he represented one of a few experienced arms who might be called upon to fill in while left-hander Wade Miley works back from injury.

That cohort got a little more banged up Friday as righty Jakob Junis was scratched from a planned start against the Royals with shoulder discomfort, but Murphy said that Junis could have pitched if needed, and that his injury is not very serious. Bryse Wilson, another pitcher who could play a long relief or swingman role, started in Junis’ place.

Miley is scheduled to start Saturday against the Cubs and return sometime in early April. With three off-days in the first week of the regular season, the Brewers might be able to work around his absence without naming a full-time replacement.