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Thames stays red hot with HR in Brewers win

Brewers slugger has hit 18 dingers over past two Aprils, 10 against Reds
MLB.com

MILWAUKEE -- Sitting in the bullpen with time to kill in the early innings, do Brewers relievers kick around ideas about how they would attack Eric Thames when he's rolling like this?

Not really, said Jacob Barnes. They were asking a different question after a 2-0 win over the Reds on Wednesday at Miller Park felt like deja vu all over again.

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MILWAUKEE -- Sitting in the bullpen with time to kill in the early innings, do Brewers relievers kick around ideas about how they would attack Eric Thames when he's rolling like this?

Not really, said Jacob Barnes. They were asking a different question after a 2-0 win over the Reds on Wednesday at Miller Park felt like deja vu all over again.

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"We wonder why they pitch to him in the first place," Barnes said of the Reds. "We're like, 'Wait, you haven't learned the first [12] times?'

"I don't know what it is, but he's figured them out, and we enjoy seeing it because he produces runs. That's what we like."

Video: CIN@MIL: Davies, Barnes talk 2-0 win over Reds

In a near-carbon copy of a Brewers victory the night before, Thames hit another two-run home run to supply all of the offense in a second straight three-hit shutout of the Reds. The games even ended in similar fashion, with a two-inning save.

This time, Zach Davies started and pitched into the seventh inning before Dan Jennings and Barnes closed the Brewers' first back-to-back shutouts at hitter-friendly Miller Park since the team won three in a row against the Marlins from July 19-21, 2013.

Josh Hader on Tuesday and Barnes on Wednesday delivered Milwaukee's first back-to-back saves of at least two innings apiece since Chuck Crim and Dan Plesac in 1990.

"Pretty much, the last two [games] are because of our pitching," Thames said. "The offense hasn't been hitting on all cylinders, like it usually is. That's how it's going to be throughout the year. We pick them up and they pick us up sometimes."

Video: CIN@MIL: Barnes K's Pennington for six-out save

For the second straight game, Thames accounted for the game's only runs with one swing. His two-run homer in the third inning against Reds starter Tyler Mahle was Thames' 10th against Cincinnati in the past two Aprils and gave him 12 total homers against the Reds over the last two years. That matched Yankees slugger Aaron Judge (vs. Baltimore) for the most home runs against a single opponent since the start of 2017.

"I'm not getting too caught up in all that stuff," Thames said. "Just trying to have a good at-bat, quality ABs. I just got a pitch to hit and I didn't miss it."

Six of Thames' last eight hits have cleared the fence. He leads the Brewers with seven home runs this season and has hit 18 and counting in April over the past two years. Bryce Harper is second in the Majors with 17 home runs in the past two Aprils entering the Nationals' game against the Mets on Wednesday night.

Video: Thames powers Brewers to back-to-back 2-0 wins

"It's his month," Davies said of Thames.

"[Thames] is their offense against us the last two days with the home runs," Reds manager Bryan Price said. "We've made some good pitches against him this series too, but when we make a mistake, he makes us pay for it. There are those times where you just have to pitch to him.

MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Double the pleasure: The Brewers added three more errors to their Major League-leading total (21), including Jonathan Villar's boot of an easy Billy Hamilton grounder in the seventh inning. That gave the Reds runners at the corners with one out in a two-run game, and prompted a call for reliever Jennings to replace Davies with left-handed hitter Jesse Winker coming up. Jennings induced an inning-ending double play to keep the shutout bid alive.

"We gave them some extra chances today, for sure," Brewers manager Craig Counsell said. "These were kind of easy mistakes; I'd call them unforced errors. We got through them today but they're going to bite you. We've got to make those plays."

Video: CIN@MIL: Jennings escapes first-and-third jam in 7th

Early trouble: Davies held the Reds scoreless on three hits and two walks over 6 1/3 innings for his second quality start, but first, he had to navigate first-inning trouble. Reds leadoff man Winker opened the game with a double and took third when center fielder Christian Yelich bobbled the baseball for an error. Davies walked Joey Votto on four carefully-placed pitches, but he retired the other three batters he faced without allowing Winker to budge.

"It kind of sets the tone for the game, that I know I'm getting some soft contact and being able to put the ball where I want it," Davies said.

Video: CIN@MIL: Davies leaves runners at first and third

SOUND SMART
With All-Star closer Corey Knebel on the disabled list, Counsell is getting creative with save opportunities. The Brewers already have a trio of two-inning saves this season, the first time they have had that many since 2008, but they have a way to go to match the club record. The 1982 Brewers, led by future Hall of Fame reliever Rollie Fingers, registered 21 multi-inning saves.

"I just used the eighth inning as the guide there," Counsell said of sending Barnes back for the ninth. "I thought he handled the eighth inning efficiently, filling up the strike zone, so he could get through the ninth and still have really effective stuff."

YOU GOTTA SEE THIS
Credit left fielder Hernan Perez with an assist on a circus play in the second inning, when he converged with Yelich and shortstop Orlando Arcia on a popup off the bat of Reds third baseman Alex Blandino. A potentially dangerous play turned into a highlight-reel catch, as the baseball glanced off Perez's glove and into the glove of a sliding Yelich, who bobbled it before securing the second out of the inning.

• Yelich makes sliding snag via Perez deflection

Video: CIN@MIL: Yelich grabs the ball off Perez's glove

HE SAID IT
"I'm always a competitor. I always like to go after guys. But he's on a tear, and it's tough to get him out right now. It'll be interesting to see what guys do for the rest of the year. -- Davies, asked whether he would pitch to Thames right now

UP NEXT
Lorenzo Cain is expected back atop the lineup following a scheduled off-day, and Yelich will be reunited with his former team when the Brewers host the Marlins for the start of a four-game series on Thursday. On the same day they agreed to sign free agent Cain to a five-year deal, the Brewers acquired Yelich in a blockbuster trade with Miami for a package of prospects led by Lewis Brinson. Both teams are waiting for the trade to pay dividends; Brinson is off to a slow start for the Marlins, and Yelich just returned to the Brewers lineup on Wednesday following a stint on the disabled list for a right oblique injury. Chase Anderson starts for Milwaukee at 7:10 p.m. CT.

Adam McCalvy has covered the Brewers for MLB.com since 2001. Follow him on Twitter @AdamMcCalvy and like him on Facebook.

Milwaukee Brewers, Jacob Barnes, Zach Davies, Eric Thames

Yelich makes sliding snag via Perez deflection

MLB.com

MILWAUKEE -- Hernan Perez's first outfield assist of 2018 was one to remember.

It came on a circus play in the second inning of the Brewers' 2-0 win over the Reds on Wednesday at Miller Park, when left fielder Perez converged with center fielder Christian Yelich and shortstop Orlando Arcia on a popup off the bat of Alex Blandino. A potentially dangerous play turned into a highlight-reel catch, when the baseball glanced off Perez's glove into the glove of a sliding Yelich, who bobbled it before securing the second out of the inning.

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MILWAUKEE -- Hernan Perez's first outfield assist of 2018 was one to remember.

It came on a circus play in the second inning of the Brewers' 2-0 win over the Reds on Wednesday at Miller Park, when left fielder Perez converged with center fielder Christian Yelich and shortstop Orlando Arcia on a popup off the bat of Alex Blandino. A potentially dangerous play turned into a highlight-reel catch, when the baseball glanced off Perez's glove into the glove of a sliding Yelich, who bobbled it before securing the second out of the inning.

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"I thought they really went at it the right way with one guy sliding," Brewers manager Craig Counsell said. "They weren't going to run into each other. There are going to be those balls -- and they're always dangerous -- that have three guys going to the same spot. Yelich made a heck of a play; I think it just kind of landed on his leg and popped right up to him."

Yelich was making his first Brewers start in center field in his first game off the disabled list for a right oblique strain. He'd already been charged with an error in the first inning on a misplay of Jesse Winker's leadoff double, but he atoned for that mistake an inning later with an assist from Perez.

At the plate, Yelich was 1-for-2 with a single and pair of walks. The only time he was retired was a big spot, batting with the bases loaded and two outs after the Reds opted to have starter Tyler Mahle intentionally walk hot-hitting Eric Thames to face Yelich instead.

"That's not a comfortable feeling either. Yelich is one of the better young hitters in the game," Reds manager Bryan Price said. "Just for whatever reason, Thames has hurt us so many times in the last year-plus. Better to have somebody else up there in that situation to have to do the damage as opposed to have to face Thames."

It was the right move. Mahle fell behind in the count, 3-0, but he came back to strike Yelich out, ending the threat.

Next up for Yelich is four games against his former team, the Marlins, who are at Miller Park beginning Thursday night at 7:10 p.m. CT.

Adam McCalvy has covered the Brewers for MLB.com since 2001. Follow him on Twitter @AdamMcCalvy and like him on Facebook.

Milwaukee Brewers, Hernan Perez, Christian Yelich

Eric Thames hit two-run HRs to beat the Reds in back-to-back games and the photos are almost identical

In baseball, repetition is the key to success (unless you're doing this, don't keep doing this). But when you hit a two-run home run to beat a team, 2-0, as Eric Thames did against the Reds on Tuesday night -- why not try the same exact swing the next day? Of course you should try the same exact swing the next day.

As you can see in these photos below, Thames literally did the same exact thing the next day.

Crew holds out Braun (calf); Miley makes start

Logan throws off mound; Knebel optimistic about hamstring
MLB.com

MILWAUKEE -- It's shaping into another injury-addled start to the season for Ryan Braun, who was again confined to bench duty for the Brewers on Wednesday. Not because of his back, but discomfort in the same left calf that landed Braun on the disabled list for 39 games last May and June.

Braun had just returned to the starting lineup Tuesday from several days that saw him limited by back tightness when he felt pain in his calf during the Brewers' 2-0 win over the Reds. He was replaced by pinch-runner Hernan Perez after an eighth-inning double, but the team did not cite any injury until Brewers manager Craig Counsell was asked about Braun before Wednesday afternoon's series finale.

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MILWAUKEE -- It's shaping into another injury-addled start to the season for Ryan Braun, who was again confined to bench duty for the Brewers on Wednesday. Not because of his back, but discomfort in the same left calf that landed Braun on the disabled list for 39 games last May and June.

Braun had just returned to the starting lineup Tuesday from several days that saw him limited by back tightness when he felt pain in his calf during the Brewers' 2-0 win over the Reds. He was replaced by pinch-runner Hernan Perez after an eighth-inning double, but the team did not cite any injury until Brewers manager Craig Counsell was asked about Braun before Wednesday afternoon's series finale.

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"It was bugging him last night a little bit," Counsell said. "We'll just treat it today and see what's going on."

Braun is off to a .200/.237/.400 slash line through 55 at-bats while starting 13 of the Brewers' first 19 games. Most of his absences have been planned, part of an effort to protect his surgically-repaired back and to prevent a repeat of last season when he was limited to 380 at-bats because of a variety of injuries.

Miley back in action
Left-hander Wade Miley, who was one day away from securing a spot on the Brewers' Opening Day roster when he went down with a groin injury during the final week of Spring Training, successfully navigated a 37-pitch start for Double-A Biloxi in his season debut Tuesday.

Miley was hurt the day before he could have requested his release from a Minor League contract had the Brewers not promised him a roster spot. Miley's agent and the Brewers negotiated a compromise in which the team paid Miley a $100,000 retention bonus and agreed to again offer his release once Miley reached the end of his rehab. Tuesday's start represented a big step toward that decision date.

Video: OAK@MIL: Miley leaves game with injury in the 5th

Miley allowed two runs (none earned) on four hits in 2 2/3 innings for Biloxi, with two strikeouts and no walks.

"Really, 'healthy' was the report," Counsell said. "He felt fine; anxious for more. So he's in a good spot to continue on. He threw 37 pitches, and we'll ramp him up quickly. We feel like we can be fairly aggressive moving up the pitch count. We're not there yet, but I think -- we're not there yet -- but he had a good base under him, so we'll move rapidly."

Video: Counsell gives update on Wade Miley's rehab

Miley will advance to 55-60 pitches next time out, Counsell said. After that, the team will decide how many more Minor League starts he needs, if any.

Since the Brewers have come this far with Miley, it's unlikely they would get him healthy again only to release him. Two of the pitchers currently in the rotation have Minor League options: Brent Suter and Junior Guerra.

"It doesn't do me any good [to speculate]," Counsell said. "But that's why we agreed to this, to get him there. We have to get him healthy."

Last call
• Left-handed reliever Boone Logan threw off a mound Tuesday morning for the first time since straining his left triceps in the same game Miley injured his groin.

Video: Craig Counsell updates Boone Logan's health

• Nearing two weeks into his stint on the disabled list, closer Corey Knebel said he is still feeling the effects of his left hamstring injury. He mentioned optimism about a four-week timeline the day the Brewers placed him on the DL, but he may have been referring when he hoped to get back on the mound, not pitch in a game, Counsell said.

Adam McCalvy has covered the Brewers for MLB.com since 2001. Follow him on Twitter @AdamMcCalvy and like him on Facebook.

Milwaukee Brewers, Ryan Braun

Hader, Guerra dominant in shutout of Reds

After starter's gem, lefty earns 2-inning save, has 25 K's in 41 batters faced
MLB.com

MILWAUKEE -- There are times, says Eric Thames, that he catches himself laughing at first base after watching a hitter react to something filthy out of Josh Hader's left hand.

"I'm just chuckling," said Thames. "Like, 'Oh man, that stinks.'"

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MILWAUKEE -- There are times, says Eric Thames, that he catches himself laughing at first base after watching a hitter react to something filthy out of Josh Hader's left hand.

"I'm just chuckling," said Thames. "Like, 'Oh man, that stinks.'"

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Thames, Milwaukee's Mr. April, hit the decisive home run, and Junior Guerra delivered the scoreless start. Both were wowed by Hader, who added three more strikeouts and another two-inning save to his dominant start to the season in the Brewers' 2-0 win over the Reds on Tuesday at Miller Park.

Forty-one batters have stepped into the box against Hader. Twenty-five have struck out. Hader is tied for ninth in the National League in strikeouts, even though he has worked 11 2/3 innings of relief and everyone else on the leaderboard has at least four starts.

Tuesday marked Hader's second straight two-inning save, but he is not the Brewers' closer, even though All-Star Corey Knebel is on the disabled list. Manager Craig Counsell wants to remain free of the constraints of that role with the long-haired left-hander.

"There are a few guys in the league who have fastballs like that," Thames said. "Out of the hand, you think it's going to be a ball down. Then, bam, it has that late life, and it just blows you away. It's like, 'I was right on that pitch,' and then it's in the mitt.

"As a hitter, that's the biggest headache in the world. Hader has done a great job for us to step up like that."

Is this sustainable? Not just the strikeouts, but the multi-inning outings? Hader has recorded at least four outs in six of his seven appearances this season, including four appearances of two full innings.

"I don't know," said Hader. "I guess we can find out."

Has he looked at his eye-popping statistics?

"I don't really check that out," Hader said. "Whenever I get up, I get outs."

The Brewers had to get a lead in order to get Hader into the game. Thames obliged in the sixth inning with a two-run homer off Cincinnati starter Sal Romano, who entered the game with a 6.46 ERA but matched Guerra through five scoreless innings against a Brewers lineup bolstered by the return of Thames and Ryan Braun from minor injuries.

Video: CIN@MIL: Thames crushes two-run jack to right field

Guerra's second start of the season was just as good as his first. He allowed one hit -- a Joey Votto two-out single in the third inning -- in 5 2/3 scoreless innings, with three walks and seven strikeouts, including a trio of swinging strikeouts on his signature splitter. Guerra threw only nine of his 20 pitches for strikes in the first inning, when he had to navigate around consecutive one-out walks before settling in.

In his first two starts since a promotion from Triple-A, Guerra has allowed one run on five hits in 11 innings, for a 0.82 ERA.

Video: CIN@MIL: Guerra tosses 5 2/3 frames of one-hit ball

"I feel really good right now," Guerra said. "I don't know if I'll have the same year as two years ago, but the best thing right now is I feel really good."

Dan Jennings, Jeremy Jeffress and Hader finished the Brewers' first shutout in 2018. It was their first shutout over the Reds since Sept. 14, 2016, and their first shutout over the Reds at Miller Park since Aug. 28, 2015.

Video: CIN@MIL: Thames, Hader discuss Brewers' 2-0 win

MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Mr. April: Romano allowed only a walk and two singles before Lorenzo Cain worked a walk leading off the sixth inning, and Thames followed with a home run to the second deck in right field. It was Thames' sixth home run this month and his 17th April homer over the past two seasons to match the Nationals' Bryce Harper for most in the Majors. Nine of Thames' April home runs over the past two years, and 11 of his 37 home runs overall, have come at the Reds' expense.

Hader vs. Votto: The best moment of Hader's two innings came with two outs and the bases empty in the eighth, when Votto, the 2017 National League MVP runner-up, stepped to the plate. Hader fell behind in the count, 3-1, but came back with consecutive fastballs to catch Votto looking.

Video: CIN@MIL: Hader K's Votto to end perfect frame in 8th

"I don't know if it was fun [because] I got into a deep count," Hader said. "It was nice to get that punchout."

Said Counsell: "He's getting outs. He's getting them in a pretty dominating fashion right now. The first innings of his work have been absolutely electric. We'll keep trying to put him in good spots and give him the proper rest. I still think that's critical for him. With the way he's performing, we have to do that."

SOUND SMART
According to Elias, Hader's seven straight relief appearances with three or more strikeouts ties Tom Henke (1989 Blue Jays) and Tom Gordon (1991 Royals) for the longest such streak since 1893, when the distance from the pitcher's mound to home plate was set at 60 feet, six inches.

YOU GOTTA SEE THIS
From the "you don't see that everyday" department: Brewers second baseman Eric Sogard kept his focus in the fourth inning and made the catch when Scooter Gennett's towering popup to shallow right field struck one of the cables that help support Miller Park's convertible dome. The Brewers don't track fly balls that strike the roof, but the most notable instance came during Game 4 of the 2008 National League Division Series between the Brewers and Phillies, when Counsell, then an infielder with the Crew, made an athletic catch near the third-base line in Milwaukee's season-ending loss.

Video: CIN@MIL: Gennett skies popup off Miller Park cables

The ground rules state that a batted ball that strikes the roof, a roof truss or roof cable over fair territory is in play. If, in the umpires' judgement, it strikes part of the roof in foul territory, it is a dead ball.

HE SAID IT
"Nothing." -- Guerra, when asked what he would do if he had to bat against Hader

UP NEXT
The Brewers expect to have one of their big bats back in the lineup against the Reds on Wednesday, when left fielder Christian Yelich makes his first start since sustaining a right oblique injury against the Cardinals on April 4. Zach Davies is Milwaukee's scheduled starting pitcher for the 12:40 p.m. CT series finale, while Tyler Mahle is expected to start for Cincinnati.

Adam McCalvy has covered the Brewers for MLB.com since 2001. Follow him on Twitter @AdamMcCalvy and like him on Facebook.

Milwaukee Brewers, Josh Hader

Thames smacks 6th April HR in return to lineup

Slugger has 17 homers in month since start of '17 season
MLB.com

MILWAUKEE -- There's something about Eric Thames in April. Especially when he gets to swing the bat against the Cincinnati Reds.

Returning from a minor groin injury to face his favorite opponent, Thames' two-run home run in the sixth inning was the difference in Milwaukee's 2-0 win at Miller Park.

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MILWAUKEE -- There's something about Eric Thames in April. Especially when he gets to swing the bat against the Cincinnati Reds.

Returning from a minor groin injury to face his favorite opponent, Thames' two-run home run in the sixth inning was the difference in Milwaukee's 2-0 win at Miller Park.

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It was Thames' sixth home run, on top of the 11 he hit last April, when the left-handed slugger returned to the U.S. on a three-year deal with the Brewers following three huge seasons in South Korea. Of his 17 April homers and counting over the past two years, nine have come at the Reds' expense. Of Thames' 37 home runs overall since returning, 11 have come against the Reds.

With Tuesday's shot off Reds right-hander Sal Romano, Thames tied the Nationals' Bryce Harper for the most April home runs in the Majors over the past two seasons.

And five of Thames' last seven hits have been home runs.

So he must be happy, right?

"No," Thames said. "I feel like I have a lot of bad habits. I'm doing certain things in the cage and stuff like that. I'm going back to my formula a little bit and changing my approach. That's going to help in the long run."

The long run is on Thames' mind, since his red-hot April last season preceded pedestrian numbers until a strong finish in September. Thames returned this season hoping to be more consistent.

He is off to a productive start, despite his own misgivings. Thames' batting average is .224, but his on-base percentage is .309, and he is slugging .633, tops on the team.

"He's in a good place," Brewers manager Craig Counsell said. "When he gets a pitch to drive, he's doing damage with it. He's hoping that his experience is going to help him moving forward this year. He's off to a good start, and that's the main thing."

Thames didn't play in Monday's series opener against the Reds after exiting Sunday's game against the Mets in New York with discomfort in his right groin.

He's looking for the Brewers' offense to get going.

"The whole team feels like we're on the brink of breaking out," Thames said. "A 10-run inning or something crazy like that. It's bound to happen."

Adam McCalvy has covered the Brewers for MLB.com since 2001. Follow him on Twitter @AdamMcCalvy and like him on Facebook.

Milwaukee Brewers, Eric Thames

These 5 players have opened eyes in April

MLB.com

Each week on the Statcast™ Podcast, hosts Mike Petriello and Matt Meyers dig into the world of Statcast™ and advanced metrics, exploring the most important topics in baseball through the lens of the groundbreaking Statcast™ technology. Download, subscribe and help others find the show by leaving a rating and review on iTunes or your favorite platform.

It's true that it's only mid-April, still so early in the year that Joe Mauer entered Tuesday hitting .412 and Jose Ramirez .160. There are a lot of unexpected early-season numbers that won't last, because they simply can't. We go through this every year. Baseball takes some time to balance out.

Each week on the Statcast™ Podcast, hosts Mike Petriello and Matt Meyers dig into the world of Statcast™ and advanced metrics, exploring the most important topics in baseball through the lens of the groundbreaking Statcast™ technology. Download, subscribe and help others find the show by leaving a rating and review on iTunes or your favorite platform.

It's true that it's only mid-April, still so early in the year that Joe Mauer entered Tuesday hitting .412 and Jose Ramirez .160. There are a lot of unexpected early-season numbers that won't last, because they simply can't. We go through this every year. Baseball takes some time to balance out.

That doesn't mean they don't hold some interest, however -- at least in the sense that digging deeper under the hood of a hot start or a cold one can tell you a little bit about why things look that way right now. At the very least, it's interesting enough to see some names you might not have thought about carrying some massive numbers.

There are five in particular that stood out to us. Which ones will last? 

1. Josh Hader, 61 percent strikeout rate
On Saturday in New York, Hader faced six Mets hitters. The first five -- Juan Lagares, Wilmer Flores, Michael Conforto, Asdrubal Cabrera and Yoenis Cespedes -- all struck out. (The sixth, Jay Bruce, flied out to center.) That seems to have been something of a coming-out party for the second-year Milwaukee lefty, but it shouldn't have been. He's established himself as one of the most high-upside relievers in the game, as he's whiffed 25 of the 41 batters he's seen so far.

If that sounds like hyperbole, it shouldn't be. Since 2008, over 1,200 pitchers have thrown at least 50 innings. Hader has struck out 40.5 percent of the batters he's faced, and that puts him third on that list, behind only Craig Kimbrel and Aroldis Chapman. Looking just at the rate of contact inside the zone -- i.e., pure dominance -- he's first.

Hader throws something like Chris Sale's fastball, from a similar low lefty release point, and Andrew Miller's slider. That'll play. It has played.

2. Adam Ottavino, 64.7 percent strikeout rate
Ottavino has struck out 22 of the 34 hitters he's faced, but he's getting there in a different way. Ottavino had previously been a very good reliever for Colorado, of course, but after 2015 Tommy John surgery interrupted his career, he struggled to throw strikes in '17 (5.06 ERA, 6.6 walks per nine) and didn't even make the Rockies' Wild Card Game roster.

Now Ottavino is throwing strikes. He's throwing sliders, more of them than almost anyone in baseball, and they look like this:

Video: SD@COL: Ottavino strikes out Pirela, side in the 9th

Not only that, Ottavino is throwing them in counts that no hitter would expect to see a slider in. For all the money the Rockies spent on relievers Wade Davis, Bryan Shaw, and Jake McGee last offseason, it's their longest-tenured pitcher who has been by far their best.

3. Brandon Nimmo, .590 xwOBA, second best in baseball
Nimmo has only had 27 plate appearances in the Mets' crowded outfield picture, but the entire point here is to highlight interesting small sample numbers and what they might mean. He's not going to keep hitting .333/.481/.714, of course, nor is he going to keep leading the National League in Expected wOBA, as he's doing now.

But we knew Nimmo had showed an elite line-drive rate, a potentially elite batting eye and above-average speed. So far, he's got four barrels, the best possible combination of exit velocity and launch angle, and 15.4 percent of his plate appearances have ended in a barrel -- a top-five rate in MLB.

4. Rick Porcello, .190 Expected wOBA, best in baseball
Porcello may have won the 2016 American League Cy Young Award, but he's never really been considered as a true "ace," at least the same way as current teammate Sale and former teammates Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander have been. In his first three starts of 2018, he's doing his best to change that viewpoint.

Video: NYY@BOS: Porcello flirts with no-no in stellar outing

To date, there have been 123 pitchers to face at least 50 hitters, and Porcell's Expected wOBA -- a number that includes strikeouts, walks and expected outcomes based on quality of contact -- of .190 is the lowest of anyone. That's in part because he's collected 17 strikeouts against just a single walk and no homers; it's also because his ground-ball rate of 52 percent is well up from last year's 40 percent.

5. Cleveland is baseball's most unfortunate hitting team
You don't need advanced stats to know that the Indians are off to a poor hitting start, since they're hitting a meager .208/.284/.355 to start 2018. It's the weakest line in the game. Is that due to poor luck or poor performance?

The answer, as you'd expect, is a little of both, but Indians are not this bad. They actually have the second-best hard-hit rate of any team in the game, and one of the 10 lowest strikeout rates in baseball. They're making enough contact and they're making hard contact. They're just not finding success -- as the worst-in-baseball .234 Batting Average on Balls in Play would indicate.

The unfortunate outcomes are to such an extent that the 81-point difference between the Indians' Expected wOBA (.347, which is actually above average) and their actual wOBA of .266 is the highest in baseball by quite a bit. On an individual basis, there have been 255 hitters with 30 times up, and Francisco Lindor (expected .438 wOBA, actual .296 wOBA) and Yonder Alonso (expected .442, actual .276) are both among the six biggest underperformers. It'll get better, Cleveland fans. It has to.

Mike Petriello is an analyst for MLB.com and the host of the Statcast podcast.

Josh Hader, Brandon Nimmo, Adam Ottavino, Rick Porcello

Tuesday's top prospect performers

MLB.com

Here's MLB Pipeline's roundup of the top prospect performances in the Minor Leagues on Tuesday.

With top pitching prospect Triston McKenzie sidelined to begin the season, Shane Bieber and Sam Hentges are taking center stage in the Cleveland Indians' farm system. They combined to throw 13 scoreless innings with 16 strikeouts, as each hurler recorded his second win in three starts at his respective level.

Here's MLB Pipeline's roundup of the top prospect performances in the Minor Leagues on Tuesday.

With top pitching prospect Triston McKenzie sidelined to begin the season, Shane Bieber and Sam Hentges are taking center stage in the Cleveland Indians' farm system. They combined to throw 13 scoreless innings with 16 strikeouts, as each hurler recorded his second win in three starts at his respective level.

Bieber, Cleveland's No. 8 prospect, fired seven scoreless frames, allowing four hits and striking out six to lead Double-A Akron past Altoona, 2-0. The 22-year-old right-hander extended his season-opening scoreless-innings streak to 20 with the performance, during which he's allowed just 10 hits and zero walks while striking out 23 batters.

That Bieber, the Indians' fourth-round pick in the 2016 Draft, is yet to issue a walk should not be surprising -- he issued just 12 free passes (two intentional) in 173 1/3 innings last season to lead all Minor League hurlers both in walk rate (1.5 percent) and walks-per-nine innings (0.5 BB/9).

Hentges (No. 17) also dazzled in his start for Class A Advanced Lynchburg, posting six blank frames to help the Hillcats defeat Frederick, 4-1. The 21-year-old lefty scattered six hits and one walk with 10 strikeouts in arguably his best outing since returning from Tommy John surgery last June. He's quickly emerged as Lynchburg's ace in McKenzie's absence, posting a 0.56 ERA with 19 strikeouts and three walks in 16 innings (three starts) to begin the season.

The rest of the best performances from top prospects Tuesday

• It took him 10 games, but No. 2 overall prospect Ronald Acuna (Braves' No. 1) is finally on the board with his first home run. The 20-year-old phenom connected on a two-run shot to left field in the fifth inning, before finishing 2-for-4 with two runs and a walk in Triple-A Gwinnett's win over Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. The RBIs also were firsts for Acuna, who's hitting .175 overall with two extra-base hits after his second multi-hit game.

Acuna's first 2018 homer

No. 13 overall prospect Bo Bichette (Blue Jays' No. 2) extended his hitting streak to nine games with an RBI single in Double-A New Hampshire's loss to Binghamton. Bichette also scored and run and stole his fourth base. The 20-year-old shortstop is hitting .341 through 10 games and ranks among the top three in the Eastern League in both runs scored (10) and hits (15).

No. 14 overall prospect Brendan Rodgers (Rockies' No. 1) broke out of a 1-for-26 slump by going 3-for-4 in Double-A Hartford's loss to Portland in game one of a doubleheader. One of the 21-year-old shortstop's hits was a double, and he also plated a run in the three-hit performance, his second this season.

No. 29 overall prospect Juan Soto (Nationals' No. 2) collected a pair of hits in both ends of Class A Hagerstown's doubleheader to improve his season slash line to a robust .415/.537/.902. The 19-year-old outfielder went 2-for-3 with two doubles and an RBI in the opener and then reached base four times in the nightcap in a 2-for-2, two-walk performance. Altogether, Soto has produced 10 extra-base hits and 20 RBIs in 12 games, with nearly twice as many walks (13) as strikeouts (seven).

No. 60 overall prospect Jesus Luzardo (A's No. 2) furthered his reputation as one of baseball's top left-handed pitching prospects by spinning five no-hit frames with nine strikeouts for Class A Advanced Stockton. He allowed just two hitters to reach base -- one via a walk and the other on his own error -- and threw 50 of his 76 pitches for strikes. The 20-year-old southpaw has been dominant to begin the season, posting a 1.23 ERA with 25 strikeouts and .120 opponents' average over 14 2/3 innings (three starts) in the hitter-friendly California League.

No. 81 overall prospect Nick Gordon (Twins' No. 4) has at least one hit and one RBI in three straight games after connecting on his first home run, a solo shot, in Double-A Chattanooga's win over Jacksonville. The 22-year-old middle infielder is off to a strong start in 2018, hitting .350/.381/.550 through 10 games in his second tour of the Southern League.

Angels No. 10 prospect Michael Hermosillo set a career high with six RBIs behind a trio of run-producing extra-base hits in Triple-A Salt Lake's rout of Sacramento. The 23-year-old outfielder accrued his RBIs in the first six innings, too, as he plated two runs with a triple in the second inning, connected on a three-run homer in the fourth and then added a solo shot two frames later to finish 3-for-5. Hermosillo also scored two runs and recorded an outfield assist in center field.

Hermosillo's second homer

Blue Jays' No. 9 prospect T.J. Zeuch tossed six scoreless innings en route to his second win in three starts for Class A Advanced Dunedin. He scattered five hits with two walks and eight strikeouts while generating an additional seven outs on the ground. The 6-foot-7 right-hander has completed at least six innings in each of his three starts for Dunedin, posting a 2.89 ERA with a 0.96 WHIP and 17 strikeouts in 18 2/3 frames overall.

Brewers No. 5 prospect Luis Ortiz set a career high with 10 strikeouts for Double-A Biloxi after entering the game as a reliever in the fourth inning. The 22-year-old righty would work the remaining 6 1/3 frames, allowing two runs (one earned) on three hits and three walks as the Shuckers fell 4-3 to Mobile in 10 innings. At the plate for Biloxi, Corey Ray (No. 7) stayed hot with his fourth straight multi-hit performance as he finished 2-for-5 with two steals. He's hit a double in four straight games and has an extra-base hit in nine of his past 10 contests.

Dodgers No. 16 prospect Caleb Ferguson took a no-decision for Double-A Tulsa despite posting five scoreless frames of two-hit ball. He tallied nine strikeouts against just one walk while throwing 53 of his 73 pitches for strikes. The 21-year-old righty sports a 0.87 ERA with 15 strikeouts in 10 1/3 innings through three starts for the Drillers.

Ferguson fans nine

Giants No. 8 prospect Shaun Anderson led the way with six scoreless innings as Double-A Richmond blanked Bowie, 1-0. Facing three batters over the minimum in the outing, Anderson, whom San Francisco acquired from Boston at last year's Trade Deadline, yielded four hits and one walk while pairing four strikeouts with nine ground-ball outs. He threw 86 pitches, 52 for strikes.

Orioles No. 17 prospect Zac Lowther allowed three hits over five innings in his second straight scoreless start for Class A Delmarva. He struck out seven and did not issue a walk, throwing 58 of his 84 pitches for strikes in the outing. The 21-year-old lefty has been dominant early in his first full season, posting a 0.36 WHIP with 20 strikeouts across 11 scoreless frames (both wins).

Reds No. 5 prospect Tony Santillan has gone 16 innings without allowing an earned run as he pitched Class A Advanced Daytona past Tampa, 8-2. The 21-year-old righty gave up three hits in six innings, struck out five and hit a batter. He's limited opposing hitters to a .145 average across his first three starts, posting 18 strikeouts against four walks in 16 innings.

Mike Rosenbaum is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @GoldenSombrero.

Brewers activate Yelich from disabled list

OF available off bench, with Thames, Braun in lineup; Lopez optioned to Triple-A
MLB.com

MILWAUKEE -- All of a sudden, the banged-up Brewers look a whole lot healthier.

While he did not start against the Reds on Tuesday night, Christian Yelich was activated from the 10-day disabled list at about the same time the team posted a lineup that included Eric Thames and Ryan Braun. All three players had been hovering in day-to-day status recently -- Yelich with a right oblique injury, Thames a mild groin strain and Braun a stiff back.

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MILWAUKEE -- All of a sudden, the banged-up Brewers look a whole lot healthier.

While he did not start against the Reds on Tuesday night, Christian Yelich was activated from the 10-day disabled list at about the same time the team posted a lineup that included Eric Thames and Ryan Braun. All three players had been hovering in day-to-day status recently -- Yelich with a right oblique injury, Thames a mild groin strain and Braun a stiff back.

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Thames went 1-for-4 with a two-run homer in the Brewers' 2-0 win Tuesday. Five of his last seven hits have been home runs.

"The goal was to come back and not have to go back on, so maybe it took a few more days than we thought," said Yelich, who had been eligible for reinstatement since Sunday. "We were being cautious with it."

The Brewers optioned reliever Jorge Lopez back to Triple-A Colorado Springs to activate Yelich. They originally planned to make that roster move Wednesday, but after Lopez pitched three innings of relief on Monday night, rendering him unavailable for Tuesday's game, the team opted to activate Yelich a day early for bench duty.

Video: CIN@MIL: Lopez gets first MLB hit with two-run double

Yelich will start Wednesday's series finale against the Reds, manager Craig Counsell said.

"I feel good, and I'm ready to go," Yelich said. "I'm definitely excited to be back."

The Brewers were excited to have him back to fortify an offense that disappointed in its first 17 games. Through Monday, the Brewers were 12th of 15 National League teams with 3.53 runs per game, 12th with a .670 OPS, 11th with 1.06 home runs per game and 11th with a .301 weighted on-base average.

"We're getting healthier," Counsell said. "Eric missed a game and a half. Ryan missed two games. Those were small ones. But getting Christian back, it's certainly really important. …

"We just haven't got going offensively yet, with a lot of guys. I would point to that. We've had injuries, for sure, but we've also just not swung the bats to our capabilities."

The Brewers' offense is still missing primary catcher Manny Pina, who was placed on the 10-day disabled list Monday after an unsuccessful effort to rehab a right calf strain without a trip to the DL.

Last call
• The Brewers added left-hander Wade Miley to the active roster at Double-A Biloxi on Tuesday, a milestone in the veteran's comeback from an ill-timed groin injury in Spring Training, when he was on the cusp of making Milwaukee's Opening Day roster.

Miley will have to make a series of healthy appearances in the Minor Leagues before the Brewers make a decision about bringing him up to the Majors. If they do not have a spot for him, Miley can request his release.

• Another lefty, Boone Logan, still has not thrown off a mound since straining his left triceps in the same game that sidelined Miley. But Logan "is throwing the ball as hard as I've ever seen someone throw a ball in a long toss program," Counsell said, so a mound session is imminent.

"Once he gets on a mound, we're starting to map out kind of a tight schedule as far as when he gets back," Counsell said.

• The organization promoted left-handed reliever Nick Ramirez to Triple-A Colorado Springs on Tuesday. Once he arrives, that team will have to make a corresponding roster move.

Adam McCalvy has covered the Brewers for MLB.com since 2001. Follow him on Twitter @AdamMcCalvy and like him on Facebook.

Milwaukee Brewers, Christian Yelich

Crew shows heart, but can't overcome big deficit

Special to MLB.com

MILWAUKEE -- With more than half of their 2018 home run total hit by players sidelined with injuries, the Brewers managed just two singles off Luis Castillo through the first six innings and couldn't overcome a nine-run deficit en route to a 10-4 loss to the Reds on Monday night at Miller Park to open a seven-game homestand.

Castillo (1-2), who entered with a 7.31 ERA after his first three starts, improved to 2-0 with a 3.10 ERA in three career starts against the Brewers.

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MILWAUKEE -- With more than half of their 2018 home run total hit by players sidelined with injuries, the Brewers managed just two singles off Luis Castillo through the first six innings and couldn't overcome a nine-run deficit en route to a 10-4 loss to the Reds on Monday night at Miller Park to open a seven-game homestand.

Castillo (1-2), who entered with a 7.31 ERA after his first three starts, improved to 2-0 with a 3.10 ERA in three career starts against the Brewers.

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"We got something going late, but especially the first time through the order, he got through us pretty good and quickly, in probably about 30, 35 pitches," Brewers manager Craig Counsell said. "He's been tough against us, for sure."

The Reds scored three runs in the second off starter Brent Suter (1-2), then pounded the Brewers' bullpen to notch just their third victory against 13 losses. The Brewers were without Eric Thames and his team-best five homers; as well as starters Ryan Braun, Christian Yelich and Manny Pina. The four had accounted for 10 of Milwaukee's 18 home runs.

"Just a couple pitches I want back, because I was pounding the strike zone pretty well," said Suter, who threw 53 of his 69 pitches for strikes. "I think my strike percentage was as high as it's been, so a little bit frustrating result-wise, for sure."

Trailing 9-0, Brewers reliever Jorge Lopez was left in to bat with two outs in the seventh and responded with his first career hit, a bases-loaded double to make it 9-2 and end Castillo's outing.

Rookie catcher Jacob Nottingham, called up earlier in the day, had worked a two-out walk in his first big league at-bat to load the bases for Lopez. Nottingham then scored on a wild pitch, and Lopez came home on Jonathan Villar's single.

Video: CIN@MIL: Nottingham scores on Reed's wild pitch

Milwaukee's best opportunity with the game still in reach came in the fifth with the Reds up 3-0. Hernan Perez walked with one out. Orlando Arcia singled Perez to third and took second on the throw. After Castillo struck out Jett Bandy, pinch-hitter Eric Sogard narrowly missed a home run when he jerked a 2-2 pitch just to the right of the right-field foul pole. Castillo then retired Sogard on a grounder to first.

Video: CIN@MIL: Castillo induces groundout to end 5th inning

"I thought we had a chance to score in the fifth with Sogard, and it was probably about five feet from tying the game," Counsell said.

The Reds then jumped on reliever Oliver Drake in a six-run sixth that included four doubles to push the lead to 9-0. Adam Duvall and former Brewer Scooter Gennett opened the inning with consecutive doubles. Gennett was erased in a rundown between second and third on Phillip Ervin's fielder's choice. Phil Gosselin was intentionally walked with two outs to get to Castillo, who responded with a two-strike RBI single down the right-field line. Billy Hamilton singled in another run to make it 6-0, and Jose Peraza and Joey Votto followed with back-to-back doubles.

"You give up a hit to the pitcher, it's obviously a big spot," Counsell said. "It's 4-0 at that point, it's certainly still a ballgame. His single only knocked in one, but then the rest of the inning, he was just unable to make a pitch to close it out."

MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Suter can't finish off Hamilton: Suter was within one pitch of escaping the second with just one run, but Hamilton punched a 1-2 pitch to right for a two-out, two-run single to make it 3-0.

Video: CIN@MIL: Hamilton lines a two-run single to right

"I was trying to go up and in, and it leaked back just a little bit middle to give him a chance," Suter said. "You've got to tip your hat. He put it in play for a two-RBI hit, so that was really the back-breaker."

SOUND SMART
Drake had allowed just one run in eight innings in his first six appearances for a 1.13 ERA. After his rough inning Monday, his ERA ballooned to 7.00.

HE SAID IT
"When I hit that ball, I didn't see what was going on," Lopez said of his first hit. "I thought it was foul or something because I didn't see where it was going. I just kept running. Seeing those guys running, I just kept following."

MITEL REPLAY OF THE DAY
Braun, held out of the starting lineup due to back tightness, legged out what was called a pinch-hit single in the ninth after second baseman Gennett made a diving stop behind second and threw to first. But the call was overturned after a 52-second review.

Video: CIN@MIL: Gennett lays out for diving backhanded stop

UP NEXT
Veteran right-hander Junior Guerra, recalled from Triple-A Colorado Springs on April 11, makes his second start of the season Tuesday at 6:40 p.m. CT vs. the Reds. He allowed one run on four hits in 5 1/3 innings in his first start in St. Louis, but got a no-decision in the Brewers' 3-2 victory. After a surprising 9-3 record in 2016, Guerra was the Brewers' Opening Day starter last season, but he posted a 1-4 record and 5.12 ERA, battled injuries and was eventually sent to Triple-A. Sal Romano is expected to start for Cincy.

Jim Hoehn is a contributor to MLB.com based in Milwaukee.

Milwaukee Brewers

Nottingham called up, draws 2 walks in debut

Club provides injury updates on Yelich, Vogt, Braun, Thames
Special to MLB.com

MILWAUKEE -- After limping home from New York with primary catcher Manny Pina among the players battling day-to-day injuries, the Brewers called up catching prospect Jacob Nottingham for the start of a weeklong homestand Monday. Pina was placed on the 10-day disabled list, retroactive to Friday, with a right calf strain.

Nottingham made his debut Monday, entering in the seventh inning in the Brewers' 10-4 loss. He worked a two-out walk in his first at-bat to load the bases and eventually scored on a wild pitch in a four-run seventh. He walked again in the ninth.

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MILWAUKEE -- After limping home from New York with primary catcher Manny Pina among the players battling day-to-day injuries, the Brewers called up catching prospect Jacob Nottingham for the start of a weeklong homestand Monday. Pina was placed on the 10-day disabled list, retroactive to Friday, with a right calf strain.

Nottingham made his debut Monday, entering in the seventh inning in the Brewers' 10-4 loss. He worked a two-out walk in his first at-bat to load the bases and eventually scored on a wild pitch in a four-run seventh. He walked again in the ninth.

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"I think just controlling the strike zone was big," Nottingham said. "Just staying in the moment and kind of slowing the game down as much as I can. Obviously it came in my favor, which was a relief, because the first at-bat was a little nerve-wracking. But, I think a lot of the pressure came off after I caught the first inning. After that, I think I settled in a little bit."

Video: CIN@MIL: Nottingham scores on Reed's wild pitch

Manager Craig Counsell said Nottingham will primarily back up Jett Bandy and use the promotion to gain much-needed big league experience after just eight games at Triple-A.

"My first thought was that this is where we set him up, however long he's here, for the rest of the season as an experience that he can take back to Triple-A and use as a springboard," Counsell said before Monday's game against the Reds. "The fact that it was Jacob means he's ready for this, but he also needs, preferably, significant experience at Triple-A as well."

Bandy was on the verge of an ejection in Sunday's game after being called out on strikes. He managed to stay in the game, though Counsell was ejected. At that point, the only backup option was an injured Pina.

"We wanted to make sure we had a healthy catcher here," Counsell said. "Basically, it got down to Manny needing more time."

Nottingham, 23, is ranked as the Brewers' No. 27 prospect according to MLB Pipeline. He has a .296/.345/.519 slash line after 27 at-bats at Triple-A Colorado Springs, and hit his first home run in Game 1 of a doubleheader on Sunday.

"I'm just going to play hard," Nottingham said. "When I'm in the lineup, I'm going to do everything I can to contribute, and everything else will take care of itself."

"At first I was very excited, but once I landed here, that's kind of when the nerves kicked in, and seeing the big Miller Park sign," he said. "I'm just happy to be here. I'm excited."

Video: MIL@STL: Pina exits game due to right calf tightness

Nottingham was not quite prepared for the weather in Milwaukee, which is digging out from a weekend snowstorm.

"I'm from California, so I don't really own that many sweaters and stuff like that. So definitely shopping for some coats is going to be a big thing," he said. "I've seen snow maybe 10 times. It's definitely different."

Injury updates

• Pina joins Christian Yelich, who has a right oblique injury, on the DL, but Yelich was eligible for reinstatement beginning Sunday.

"We've got to string a couple really good days together," Counsell said of Yelich. "I think we're on that path. He's going to have a full day on the field in a little bit here, so it will be another step. We'll see how he feels as we get through the night. He'll tolerate everything on the field. At times he's had some soreness after workouts, so we've got to make sure that's not happening."

• Catcher Stephen Vogt, who is on the DL with a right shoulder strain and has yet to debut this season, is progressing, but not ready, Counsell said.

"I played catch with him the other day, and there's something on the ball; he's out to 90 feet at this point," Counsell said. "I think the feeling is that we've got to put a bit of a base under him, but he's pushing the envelope a little, which is always a good sign."

• Outfielder Ryan Braun, bothered by a sore back, pinch-hit Sunday but was not in the starting lineup Monday night. He pinch-hit in the ninth inning again Monday and reached on what was originally called an infield single, but the call was overturned after a challenge by the Reds.

"He's improving," Counsell said. "He's definitely improving tonight. Before the game, he thought he was really on the right track. We would have used him tonight in the field if we would have had to, with a double-switch or something. He's on the mend, for sure."

• Counsell said the injury to first baseman/outfielder Eric Thames, who left Sunday's game with a left abductor strain, was not as serious as originally thought.

"It was all good news, actually," Counsell said after Monday's game. "He saw the doctors. Feeling good. Trainers put him through a pretty good physical test, and he did well. Tomorrow's still a possibility. We'll take a look at how he feels when he gets here."

Jim Hoehn is a contributor to MLB.com based in Milwaukee.

Milwaukee Brewers, Jacob Nottingham