Yelich cranks 1st spring HR, stays hot vs. Reds

After pair of cycles vs. Cincy in '18, MVP goes 2-for-2

March 4th, 2019

PHOENIX -- Christian Yelich hit his first home run of 2019 and followed with a double in a pair of at-bats against the Reds during Sunday's 11-5 loss. He’s off to a 4-for-7 start to the Cactus League. 

Wrap him up and send him north to Milwaukee? Not so fast, said Yelich.

“I wouldn’t say I’m locked in already for the season to start tomorrow,” he said.

But two extra-base hits beats two strikeouts.

“You always want to see the ball go over the fence a couple of times in Spring Training,” Yelich said. “We’ll just build on that. … You want the repetitions. You’ve got to get your legs under you as far as the number of innings you’ve played in the field. You need the repetitions hitting, too. You want to see all different pitches, arm slots, movement. It comes and goes in Spring Training; you might feel good one day, and the next day you feel absolutely terrible.

“Just working towards it. We’ve got a long way to go still.”

Yelich started Saturday’s game against the Cubs in left field before tallying a pair of at-bats as the designated hitter against the Reds on Sunday. He's clearly comfortable facing Cincinnati, who he collected both of his September cycles against last season. He was halfway home after a double in the second inning Sunday when manager Craig Counsell sent in a pinch-runner.

“I guess he liked what he saw and that was enough,” Yelich said.

Was two at-bats the plan?

“I saw enough. Did you?” Counsell said with a grin. “With Christian, we want to get him locked in and feeling good. That’s the most important thing.”

Jeffress slowed by shoulder

Josh Hader and Corey Knebel made their Cactus League debuts with a scoreless inning apiece Sunday, but Jeremy Jeffress, the third member of manager Craig Counsell’s “Electric Dudes” bullpen unit is still awaiting game action.

“JJ’s got some shoulder soreness that we’re just going to be cautious with,” Counsell said. “We’re pushing him back. ... It’s really just day to day. We’re going on how he feels every day. I don’t anticipate it being long term, but we’re going to be cautious.”

Jeffress continues to play catch, according to the manager.

“It’s not a shutdown type thing,” he said.

Hader was particularly electric in his spring debut, striking out the side in the seventh inning while touching 98 mph on the stadium radar gun.

“I was surprised with that, to be honest with you,” Counsell said. “I’m happy with it, but surprised. Corey was throwing very hard right off the bat [as well]. It’s a sign they’re coming into the season here in good spots, feeling fresh. That’s where we want them.”

Tomlin hit hard

Less pleasing was the performance of right-handed non-roster invitee Josh Tomlin, who fell into a 6-0 hole after the Reds struck in the first inning for six runs on seven hits, including four doubles, two home runs and a single that would have gone for extra bases had the hitter, Juan Graterol, not been slow-trotting.

Tomlin did go on to pitch two more innings without allowing any further runs.

“I think I gave up three runs in 4-5 pitches. You never want to do that, ever,” Tomlin said. “But you also don’t want to veer away from the game plan of trying to get your work in, trying to get better, also. It’s definitely gratifying to come out and throw the second and third innings and get quick outs and get that up and down three times like I was supposed to do.”

Introducing Mr. Erceg

Twenty-three-year-old Lucas Erceg had to look up what the Cubs’ television announcers meant Saturday when they said his last name looked like something out of “Jumble,” which, as Erceg learned, is a newspaper word game. The highlight got good play because Erceg hammered a long home run a moment later.

Well, as a service for announcers everywhere, here’s the story behind the Erceg family name: His father, Slavko, was an elite youth soccer player who eventually emigrated to the U.S. from Split, Croatia, a city on a peninsula that juts into the Adriatic Sea. Lucas Erceg was nine or 10 years old when he visited his father’s hometown, and remembers a landscape scarred by war. Slavko married an American and settled near San Jose, Calif., where Lucas played some soccer as a boy but quickly focused on baseball.

A second-round pick of the Brewers in 2016, Erceg is No. 8 on MLB Pipeline’s list of the top Brewers prospects and is off to another productive spring start with a pair of home runs.

What’s behind his knack for starting the year on a hot streak?

“For me, being away from the game [for the winter] and then playing in games is what gets me going the most,” he said. “From the time I was eight years old, I was constantly playing. Taking a huge amount of time off and focusing on getting stronger and your diet and doing all those things, once games get going, it’s a rush I feel. It’s being back with the game I love.”

Up next

After taking Monday off, the Brewers are back in action Tuesday against the Rockies in Scottsdale. Corbin Burnes gets the start with first pitch scheduled for 2:10 p.m. CT.