Strong signs for Brewers despite loss to Bucs

July 3rd, 2022

PITTSBURGH -- and homered but surrendered two home runs in his return from the injured list, and the Brewers fell to the Pirates 7-4 at PNC Park on Saturday.

Here’s a trip around the bases following the penultimate game of the Brewers’ road trip:

First: They will be cautious with Ashby
"The goal today is to get him out before he gets tired,” Brewers manager Craig Counsell said on Saturday morning, after the team activated Ashby from a two-week stint on the IL with forearm fatigue. “We want to get him out of the game feeling good. The issues happen when he gets tired.”

Ashby threw 62 pitches over 3 2/3 innings in his return and was burned by two home runs: Michael Chavis’ two-run shot in a three-run third inning, and Oneil Cruz’s line-drive solo missile in the fourth, which ended Ashby’s afternoon.

But Ashby said his pitches, particularly his signature slider, felt “crisp.” He came out of the outing healthy and eager to start again.

“I think there was probably a little less stamina than two weeks ago when I was making consecutive starts,” Ashby said, “but other than that, I felt pretty good.”

Counsell attributed Ashby’s recent bout of arm fatigue to a young pitcher experiencing his first full Major League season. Ashby opened the season in a hybrid role, moving between the rotation and bullpen, before injuries forced him into a full-time starter role in May.

Could that mean some relief appearances mixed in as he returns to active duty? The Brewers, after all, have seen Jason Alexander emerge as a viable starter, and Brandon Woodruff preceded Ashby in returning from the injured list. Chi Chi González has been serviceable in his outings so far, which have included two starts and a three-inning, scoreless relief outing against the Pirates on Saturday.

“I think the way we’re structured right now, I see [Ashby] starting,” Counsell said.

Second: Christian Yelich has thrived hitting leadoff
Yelich is the Brewers’ leader in games played and plate appearances, a sign of good health coming off last year’s early-season bouts with a bad back. Lately, he’s been rejuvenated by a move to the leadoff spot.

Yelich hit his first home run since June 16 on Saturday and reached base twice, pushing his slash line to .256/.349/.396 as the Brewers hit the halfway point of the season on Sunday. Since moving into the leadoff spot, he’s hitting .326 with three home runs in 23 games.

“He’s having a big impact on us right now in all areas of the game, I think,” said Counsell, who made a point the night before to call out Yelich’s subtle contributions on the basepaths in Friday's 19-2 rout. “I think what Christian is doing really well right now works in the leadoff spot. He’s getting on base.

“That’s the guy you want on base. He’s going to have an impact. He’s going to get you runs. He’s going to save outs.”

Third: Hitters have been keeping the line moving.
The Brewers hit into double plays in the second, third and fourth innings on Saturday to tarnish what was another pesky day at the plate. They tallied 11 hits, and are slashing .297/.375/.605 as a team in the first five games of this trip. Thirty of the team’s 55 hits have gone for extra-bases.

The adage is that hitting is contagious, even though logic says that shouldn’t be the case since every pitcher-batter matchup is its own entity, and every day is separate from the day before.

“I think you’re wrong. I think it is contagious,” first baseman Rowdy Tellez said. “When you see your own teammates having success against a pitcher, it breeds success. When you think about how often you get out in this game as a hitter, the more guys in front of you who are getting on and doing good things, a pitcher’s confidence is going down and your confidence is going up. He’s not in the zone. He’s not feeling himself.

“So, I think hitting is contagious. That’s a saying that’s been around for a while.”

Home: McCutchen has lengthened the lineup
The Brewers are a different offense with production from Andrew McCutchen, who had two more hits Saturday and is 33-for-91 (.363) in his last 24 games following a 1-for-40 skid. He has as many extra-base hits in that span (10) as he has strikeouts.

“I try not to think too much into it, honestly,” McCutchen said. “You work to get through that stuff, and then you get through it. After that I just try not to think too deeply. I try to go out and be consistent with my plan, my approach. You know it’s working. It’s like, ‘All right, let’s stick with that.’

“Mentally, more than anything, you show up knowing what your plan is and what you need to do to execute. Going through those skids, you don’t necessarily know what your game plan is. You’re trying to figure out how to get consistent. I feel like I’m doing a pretty good job of that. I need to let the game play.”