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Thames seeking a strong finish to campaign

MLB.com @AdamMcCalvy

CINCINNATI -- It was not an excuse. Eric Thames has made very few of those as his magical April gave way to an average May through August. But what he views as an expanding strike zone is at least a factor, according to Thames, in explaining his slide in production over the past four months.

"There was a pitch [on Sunday] at my letters that was a strike," Thames said. "That pitch is unhittable. You can't hit that. But that's the way it is. Now, I'm learning to laugh at it. They say next year it's going to be even higher."

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CINCINNATI -- It was not an excuse. Eric Thames has made very few of those as his magical April gave way to an average May through August. But what he views as an expanding strike zone is at least a factor, according to Thames, in explaining his slide in production over the past four months.

"There was a pitch [on Sunday] at my letters that was a strike," Thames said. "That pitch is unhittable. You can't hit that. But that's the way it is. Now, I'm learning to laugh at it. They say next year it's going to be even higher."

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Thames was not the first player to talk this season about the impact of the high strike -- or the strike zone, in general. After Ryan Braun was ejected on Friday against the Nationals, he said his frustration had much deeper roots.

"The umpires are always doing their best," Braun said. "It's not easy. Pure stuff is better than it's ever been, catchers are better at framing pitches than they have ever been. But for us, a lot of those borderline pitches that we're taking that are balls, are pitches that we're fighting to take. When it's called a strike, it's frustrating as a hitter."

Thames could relate.

Tweet from @AdamMcCalvy: Not an excuse, but one factor in Eric Thames' post-April slide: The high strike. Here are his called strikes on the edges, April and since: pic.twitter.com/KDgihFO5Pg

His plate discipline is what made him so deadly in April, when Thames tied for the Major League lead with 11 home runs and was fourth in OPS, weighted runs created plus and weighted on-base average. He was swinging at 19.1 percent of pitches outside the zone, the seventh-lowest rate in Major League Baseball.

Fast-forward to August, when Thames was swinging at 30.5 percent of pitches outside the zone.

His production has dropped as his chase rate has increased. Since the end of April, Thames ranks 116th of 152 qualified MLB hitters with a .749 OPS. He has also had plenty of bad luck, evidenced by a .268 average on balls in play.

"When you get pitched like I'm being pitched, that's what happens in the big leagues," he said.

Thames has seen some playing time go to versatile August addition Neil Walker while going 2-for-12 on the Brewers' recent homestand. But Thames was not the only Brewers hitter quiet against Cardinals and Nationals pitchers. Travis Shaw was 0-for-12, Keon Broxton was 1-for-10, Orlando Arcia was 2-for-15 (.133), Walker was 3-for-17 (.176) and Braun was a quiet 5-for-18 (.278) with one RBI.

Yet, the Brewers won four of the six games to enter Monday within one-half game of the Rockies for the National League's second Wild Card.

"The team's winning, so there's really no reason to be upset," Thames said.

Physically, Thames said he feels great. Starting Monday, there were four weeks remaining in the regular season.

"It's like that second wind," Thames said. "Plus, all of the energy in the locker room right now with the reinforcements -- and [because] we're winning. We know we have a chance."

Last call

• Brewers manager Craig Counsell confirmed Matt Garza would start Wednesday's series finale in Cincinnati, meaning he bumped back No. 1 starter Jimmy Nelson to pitch on Friday in the opener of a three-game showdown with the NL Central-leading Cubs at Wrigley Field. The Brewers will have their three top starters in that series: Nelson, Chase Anderson and Zach Davies.

"We'll treat Wednesday's game as 'getting outs,'" said Counsell, who did the same on Sunday, when starter Brent Suter worked the first three innings in his return from the disabled list and four relievers followed. "If we can get to Wednesday's game in good shape with our bullpen -- that's what we're really trying to do. Getting to Wednesday in good shape is important."

• Monday began a stretch in which the Brewers are scheduled to play 22 of their final 25 games against division opponents. The exception is a three-game series in Miami from Sept. 15-17.

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

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Milwaukee Brewers, Eric Thames