Are you ready for first baseman Keston Hiura?
In Smoak's place came Daniel Vogelbach, claimed off waivers from Toronto. But the Brewers envision using Vogelbach primarily as the designated hitter when he starts, and not at first base. Ryan Braun has some experience at first base, but Milwaukee doesn't plan to play him at first base, either, in part because of a recent flare-up of Braun's bad back. Jedd Gyorko was first up at first base on Friday in Cleveland, and manager Craig Counsell also mentioned utility men Jace Peterson and Mark Mathias as possibilities for the position.
Then there is Hiura, the Brewers' second baseman and designated hitter. Counsell had a discussion with Hiura on Friday to discuss beginning some pregame work at first base to get acclimated.
Hiura has never manned the position. Hiura spent Spring Training working diligently on improving his defense at second base, but he ranks last among qualifying players at the position in defensive runs saved and ultimate zone rating.
"I know everybody's going to get excited, but as we try to figure out the next 24 games, we have to be willing to consider everything to get our best team on the field," Counsell said. "So if some scenario has Keston at first base, that may be."
The crash course at first base began immediately.
"This is brand new," Counsell said. "We just talked about it so you're not going to see it today or [Saturday]. … I don't even know that it's going to happen once, but I did talk to Keston today and tell him it's going to be a possibility over the next 24 games. We understand it's going to be brand new for him and that's not easy, but I do think he can handle it. He's got a good baseball IQ."
Another fresh start
How does a hitter keep his confidence up after falling from last year's All-Star Game to being shuttled between three different teams in barely two weeks?
That is the challenge facing Vogelbach as he tries to resuscitate his season, and maybe his career, with the Brewers.
"Anytime in life you don't have all the answers it can be worrisome," Vogelbach said. "I believe that I can hit. I believe in the work that I put in. I just obviously got off to a slow start this year, but that doesn't change how I believe in myself and the confidence that I have in myself."
Vogelbach was a threat for Seattle during the first half of 2019, when he posted a .881 OPS and hit 21 home runs to make the American League All-Star team. But he slumped to a .626 OPS in the second half of last season and was off to a .088/.246/.211 start for the Mariners and Blue Jays, having been designated for assignment by both teams.
"We're just trying to catch lightning in a bottle with him," Counsell said.
Woodruff rejoins team
Brandon Woodruff felt conflicted leaving home in Mississippi on Friday morning to join the Brewers in Cleveland, where he is scheduled to make his first start as a dad on Saturday night. Kyler Alise Woodruff was born to Brandon and Jonie on Monday night.
Woodruff marveled over the timing of the birth, which came a day before Jonie was to be induced. The date, Aug. 31, would have been the birthday of Brandon's late grandmother. And the time, 11:07 p.m. CT, coincided with Brandon and Jonie's Nov. 7 wedding anniversary.
Mom and baby are doing well, and Brandon was even able to get some throwing in. He built a mound at home after Spring Training was suspended, so he summoned a catcher and threw his usual between starts bullpen session on Wednesday.
"I will say it was not easy leaving the house today," Woodruff said. "We stayed an extra night in the hospital, so we had one night at home as a family and it seemed like it went by way too fast. … I'll focus on baseball when I'm out there playing, but other than that, I'll be checking on Jonie and the baby and making sure they're doing good."
• The Brewers reinstated Gyorko from the bereavement list on Friday (he left the team following the death of his grandfather) and optioned reliever Justin Topa to back to the club's alternate training site. That left the team down a pitcher, but it won't be for long. Counsell said former All-Star closer Corey Knebel would be activated from the 10-day IL (left hamstring strain) at some point this weekend.
"He threw Monday and [Thursday]," Counsell said. "I think yesterday was a good outing. He felt good. Had good results, his velocity was up from his Monday outing. A good sign, so he's ready to go."
• Braun could be back in the Brewers' lineup on Saturday as the designated hitter. To be determined is the status of outfielder Avisaíl García, who missed time this week with a minor ankle injury and is now dealing with a stiff hamstring, according to Counsell.