PHOENIX -- A back injury helps explain why Brewers third baseman Lucas Erceg, a surprise star of the Cactus League a year ago, has been limited to five at-bats in big league games so far in 2018.
Erceg, ranked as the club's No. 4 prospect by MLB Pipeline, developed discomfort in his left hip and hamstring late last year in the Arizona Fall League, but an MRI was negative and Erceg chalked it up to fatigue. When pain persisted earlier this spring, he underwent another MRI of his lower back that revealed a bulging disc pressing on a nerve and causing the shooting pain down his left leg.
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Erceg got back on track in Minor League camp after a lidocaine injection, and he has been working with athletic trainers on a routine to navigate the regular season.
"Ever since then, I've been doing a bunch of hip mobility, core stability, all that stuff that gets me ready for each day," Erceg said. "It's been feeling a lot better. It feels good to be out there pain-free. As of right now, it feels like I'm 100 percent."
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Likely to open the season at Double-A Biloxi, Erceg has been called over to play in four Cactus League games, singling twice in his first five at-bats. He played a much more prominent role last year in his first professional Spring Training, hitting .417 with a 1.190 OPS in 24 at-bats, including a pair of home runs in one memorable game against the Indians.
His splashy spring might have had a downside, Erceg said. He entered the 2017 season at Class A Advanced Carolina envisioning a quick promotion to Double-A, and perhaps beyond.
Instead, Erceg posted a .561 OPS in April and .631 OPS in May, and wound up with a .250/.278/.404 slash line before a season-ending stint at Triple-A Colorado Springs and then the Fall League.
"For me to go out there and have that much success, then start off the season as slow as it did, it was hot water and cold ice clashing together," Erceg said. "This whole process is a learning experience, whether it's good or bad. Learning how to deal with your success and learning to deal with adversity is the biggest thing in becoming a big leaguer."
Closing day, kind of
Zach Davies scattered four hits over five scoreless innings and Brett Phillipscontinued to gather nuts by hitting a fourth-inning home run in the Brewers' 1-0 win over the Royals on Thursday.
It was the final Major League game at this iteration of Maryvale Baseball Park. On Friday, crews begin work on a $58 million renovation of the complex.
"It's nice to be feeling healthy and feeling ready for opening week," said Davies, who has one more scheduled spring outing on Tuesday in an exhibition against the Astros at Minute Maid Park before his scheduled start on April 2 against the Cardinals in the Brewers' home opener at Miller Park.
Davies was efficient, throwing 65 pitches to 17 batters before tossing 10 more pitches in the bullpen. While other starters for the club are backed off in their final spring starts, Davies is expected to push forward toward the 90-pitch mark on Tuesday, making up for time lost earlier in camp to a minor oblique injury.
• Major League Baseball Players Association executive director Tony Clark was in camp on Thursday morning for the team's annual union meeting, an hour-long clubhouse discussion that touched on the odd offseason coming to a close. Davies and Chase Anderson are the Brewers' player representatives this year, with Corey Knebel and Brent Suter serving as alternates.
• The Brewers have hired former big leaguer Carlos Villanueva as "special advisor of baseball operations and player development." The right-hander, who pitched parts of five seasons with the club, will assist in a variety of different areas of baseball operations.
• Right-hander Daniel Missaki, one of the then-teenage pitchers acquired in the Adam Lind trade, worked a 1-2-3 inning against a Mariners Class A team on Thursday, his second outing this spring. Missaki, who is trying to come back from two Tommy John surgeries, hasn't pitched a pro inning since 2015.
Listen to an exclusive webcast as right-hander Brandon Woodruff, who is still pushing for a spot in the rotation, starts at 3:05 p.m. CT on Friday against the Cubs at Sloan Park.