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Villar starting to see benefits of extra work

MLB.com @AdamMcCalvy

MILWAUKEE -- The hits have started to fall for Brewers leadoff man Jonathan Villar, and it's been a team effort, from the video room to the indoor batting cage to the dugout.

The biggest factor, Villar said, is that he was granted the opportunity to swing his way through an early-season funk.

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MILWAUKEE -- The hits have started to fall for Brewers leadoff man Jonathan Villar, and it's been a team effort, from the video room to the indoor batting cage to the dugout.

The biggest factor, Villar said, is that he was granted the opportunity to swing his way through an early-season funk.

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"That's very important when you're not having good moments," Villar said before walking twice and delivering a ninth inning RBI single in the Brewers' 6-4 loss to the Cardinals on Sunday. "Sometimes it takes longer, [but when you get to play] you have video to go see how you need to fix it. When you don't play every day, you don't know what's happening.

"My moment is coming soon. I'm feeling more comfortable now."

Villar is the only Brewer to play each of the team's first 20 games, and 19 of those have been starts. Including Sunday -- when fans received bobbleheads commemorating Villar's Major League-leading 62 stolen bases last season -- he leads the team with 88 plate appearances to go with a .185/.250/.321 slash line. Those numbers have been creeping up thanks to a five-game hitting streak, during which Villar is hitting .391.

"He's started to swing it really well," said Brewers manager Craig Counsell. "Left-handed, we've got him back to a good place, for sure. It's important."

But there remains work to do, especially when the switch-hitting Villar bats right-handed (he is 0-for-20 with nine strikeouts as a righty). Overall, Villar leads the Majors with 32 strikeouts.

But Counsell remains patient, saying it is worth giving Villar a chance to return to his form after a breakthrough 2016 season. Given a chance to play every day for the first time, Villar ranked 16th in the National League with a .369 on-base percentage and became the first big leaguer since Carl Crawford in 2009 to top 15 home runs and 60 steals.

Hitting coach Darnell Coles believes that Villar and Hernan Perez are off to slow starts in part because of their disjointed Spring Training. Villar was on the Dominican Republic roster for the World Baseball Classic and Perez was with Venezuela, but neither got to play much.

Video: STL@MIL: Coles loves Villar's ability batting leadoff

"Now they're playing catch-up," Coles said. "You can't cheat the process. If we stay with the process, the hits will come."

Villar's video study has helped him get into a better hitting position on time. So has extensive cage work with Coles, whom several hitters say has a pretty nasty slider and changeup.

"It boils down for him to the same thing as everybody else: You're only as good as what you're swinging at," Coles said. "There is a comfort level, just based on what he did last year. We know what's in there.

"When you're able to play through something, sometimes it's good and sometime it's not so good. You can continue to battle against the process, like, 'Man, I can't seem to get a hit.' … But Counsell is absolutely phenomenal at understanding when a guy needs rest, [and] when he can play through it."

For now, Villar is playing through it.

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

Milwaukee Brewers, Jonathan Villar