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Yelich may have found swing just in time

@AdamMcCalvy
July 23, 2020

MILWAUKEE -- Christian Yelich temporarily lost his timing at the plate. His sense of humor, however, remained very much intact. “I wasn't struggling,” Yelich said. “I was just doing my best Bob Uecker impression.” That’s one way to look at Yelich’s uncharacteristic path to this unconventional season, and a particularly

MILWAUKEE -- Christian Yelich temporarily lost his timing at the plate. His sense of humor, however, remained very much intact.

“I wasn't struggling,” Yelich said. “I was just doing my best Bob Uecker impression.”

That’s one way to look at Yelich’s uncharacteristic path to this unconventional season, and a particularly apt outlook considering that Uecker is going into his 50th season as the beloved radio voice of the Brewers. Uecker was at the mic on Wednesday night, calling the road game remotely from Miller Park, when Yelich smashed an opposite-field home run in an exhibition win against the White Sox. It capped a Summer Camp in which Yelich went 3-for-26 with 13 strikeouts in Milwaukee's seven-game series of intrasquad games plus its lone tune-up against another team.

Add his handful of at-bats in Spring Training, and Yelich was 4-for-34 with 16 strikeouts.

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Of course, none of those statistics count, which is why Yelich was cracking wise about Uecker -- a .200 hitter in his big league career.

“I took it upon myself to try and re-enact some of his ABs,” Yelich said. “The last couple of days, I finally started feeling a little bit better. I made progress every day. The results really weren't there, but it felt like the comfort level was starting to come back. Hopefully, we got it all figured out before Opening Day. The homer made it there right at the buzzer.”

Before that buzzer beater, Yelich’s frustration was evident. He was mic’d for the first game of the Brewers’ Blue-Gold Series at Miller Park and told the broadcasters that his timing “sucked.” After another game, he stayed late in the dugout for a chat with hitting coach Andy Haines. And in the finale, after swinging and missing at a pitch from Freddy Peralta, Yelich looked to the sky and let out a four-letter word. Then he struck out.

Can one good swing Wednesday against a tough left-hander -- White Sox starter Carlos Rodón -- snap Yelich out of that funk?

Maybe.

“Yeah, it comes and goes, kind of when it pleases,” Yelich said. “Some years, it comes faster than others. Sometimes, it just doesn’t come for a really long time, and sometimes, it takes three at-bats. You just never really know, and you're just working through it and kind of trusting the process.

“I guess you guys got to see parts of it that you usually wouldn’t get to see. That stuff’s not broadcast. But that’s not anything really out of the ordinary, at least for myself. That’s kind of how I approach games and work. You just usually don’t get to hear all the expletives and everything that goes into it.

“Baseball is a tough game. It’s a lot harder than it looks, and there’s moments where it’s a grind up there. It’s a grind for everybody. That’s what makes this game special: Everybody is always trying to stay on top of it and try to find that way. Those are the battles you fight throughout the season and before the season and every year.”

Milwaukee's decision makers know this, which is why no one expressed any concern as Yelich compiled an unusual number of swings and misses. More important to them is Yelich’s health, which is back to 100 percent after he missed the final three weeks of the 2019 season -- and the National League Wild Card Game -- with a fractured right kneecap.

Yelich was back to full strength by the start of Spring Training, well before he signed a new club-record-setting contract that added seven years to his current deal. That payoff came after Yelich won the 2018 NL MVP Award in his first season in a Brewers uniform and finished as the runner-up for the award in ’19.

"It's such a small sample [in camp],” Brewers president of baseball operations David Stearns said. “It's such a unique environment with a player who hasn't seen live pitching in 10 months or so. It's tough for me to think much of it. This is one of the best humans on the planet at what he does. And so, I'm looking forward to watching him at his craft for the next three months, hopefully."

Manager Craig Counsell essentially called the shot. As the Brewers prepared to bus to Chicago on Wednesday, here’s how he set the scene:

“I think we are excited to go to a different city and to play a different team. I know a lot of pitchers are really excited about that just from a 'not facing your own hitters' perspective. Yeli's excited about it, just getting a different scene in a different ballpark. I think it's a good thing for us, and it's the next step as we prepare for Opening Day."

Now, Opening Day is upon Yelich and the Brewers.

“It’s about finding a way,” Yelich said. “I think everybody is prepared to play. Nobody said they feel unprepared or they’re not ready to go. I think we’re all fine, we’re all ready to go and we’re excited for the first real one.”

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