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One year in, Crew's rebuild on the right track

Attanasio, Counsell pleased with progress from 2016 season
MLB.com

MILWAUKEE -- The Milwaukee Brewers are on a very long journey, but steps in the right direction have certainly been taken.

In the first full season of the Brewers' rebuilding project, the team Thursday night won its 69th game of the season, 3-1, over the Pirates. Conveniently enough, that's one more game than the Brewers had won in 2015.

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MILWAUKEE -- The Milwaukee Brewers are on a very long journey, but steps in the right direction have certainly been taken.

In the first full season of the Brewers' rebuilding project, the team Thursday night won its 69th game of the season, 3-1, over the Pirates. Conveniently enough, that's one more game than the Brewers had won in 2015.

View Full Game Coverage

The progress, of course, goes deeper than that. The Brewers have uncovered some young talent that should be beneficial for the long-term future. And their leadership cadre looks like it has a firm grasp of what needs to be done.

Brewers chairman and principal owner Mark Attanasio was at Miller Park on Thursday and spoke very positively about what the Brewers have accomplished this season. And he gave his endorsement to the work of general manager David Stearns and manager Craig Counsell.

"We had more positive performances from young players this year than I was expecting, so I would say that gives David a high grade right there," Attanasio said. "And I want to get David's assessment of Craig, but from an owner's seat, the main thing I was looking for was for our guys to play with enthusiasm and with an edge, and they've certainly done that. ... So I'd say high marks for both.

"I feel very good about this season. Virtually everybody we wanted to see performance from performed. Jonathan Villar, Hernan Perez, Keon Broxton. Chris Carter, 37 home runs. In the bullpen, [closer Jeremy Jeffress] was lights out and then [Tyler] Thornburg was lights out. Craig's gotten the most out of this team and I feel very good about that."

Counsell feels good about the club's level of effort, which has persisted even after the Brewers had traded some of their best talent.

"That's been something that those guys in [the clubhouse] have done. They've answered the bell every single day," Counsell said. "Tough losses, they come back right after 'em. Tough game, bad game, come back right after it. Finishing the season, we've done it all year. That's a credit to the guys in the room."

One of the positive developments has been the emergence of Perez as someone who could play seven positions and play them all well. Perez was an infielder by trade when the Brewers acquired him from the Tigers on waivers last season. The Brewers have used him at every position but pitcher and catcher, but there is still time left in the season.

Perez has also hit well, showed occasional power, and has stolen 31 bases in 37 attempts. Thursday night, he had his first start in center field. Naturally, he made a fine running catch in the eighth on a drive to left center by Adam Frazier, thus thwarting a possible Pittsburgh rally.

"He made a big play in the eighth; that was a nice play on Frazier's ball," Counsell said. "He got a nice jump on it and played it like a center fielder.

"When we first thought of Hernan playing the outfield, it was really because he would shag balls in center field. It was always kind of a possibility. Obviously, we've had guys who were center fielders, Keon [Broxton] and Kirk [Nieuwenhuis]. But we can explore right now and that's kind of what we're going. I feel that he'll be fine out there. He's done a really good job in right field, I think. It's obviously new and there's risk involved in that, but I think he'll be fine.

"It just gives us flexibility in lineup construction and with injuries and with just rest. We're a little banged up now, near the end of the season. But I think that ultimately that's what a versatile player does, is give you a lot of coverage so you feel that you can put guys in spots and get guys that you want into the game."

This is the kind of development around which successful rebuilding can occur. Villar has carved out a spot somewhere in the infield for himself with his speed, ability to get on base and overall aggressive play, although the Brewers could hope that his propensity for making the third out at third base would be halted.

Rookie Orlando Arcia struggled at the plate initially, but he has shown improved while flashing the range and reflexes and arm that should make him an elite defensive shortstop.

This is just the start for the rebuilding Brewers, but they now have more reasons for long-term optimism than they had at the beginning of the season.

That is progress.

Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com.

Milwaukee Brewers