NEW YORK -- In Brewers manager Craig Counsell's mind, he knows who should hit leadoff for his club. Jonathan Villar has the best skill set to hit first in Milwaukee's lineup, Counsell says, but the 26-year-old has struggled this season, prompting Counsell to rethink consistently listing him at the top
NEW YORK -- In Brewers manager Craig Counsell's mind, he knows who should hit leadoff for his club. Jonathan Villar has the best skill set to hit first in Milwaukee's lineup, Counsell says, but the 26-year-old has struggled this season, prompting Counsell to rethink consistently listing him at the top of the order.
Villar has not led off since Friday, and he has hit seventh for his last three starts. He is batting just .212 with a .284 on-base percentage with five home runs and 24 RBIs through the first two months of the season. Villar wasn't in the starting lineup for the Brewers' 7-1 win over the Mets, but he struck out looking while pinch-hitting in the ninth.
"I think we're our best team when Jonathan's leading off," Counsell said before Wednesday's game. "But we gotta get him going. He's scuffling a little bit. That's why we put him down in the lineup a little bit. The plan is to keep him down there at least for a little while and see what happens. Until then, yeah, we'll see who's in there, and it'll probably switch off a little bit."
The primary candidates for this leadoff-hitter-by-committee setup, aside from Villar, are center fielder Keon Broxton and infielder Eric Sogard. Broxton hit leadoff for Milwaukee for the previous three games, but he had just one hit in 15 plate appearances with two walks and six strikeouts. But it's Sogard who has suddenly emerged on the leadoff scene and may leave Counsell with no choice but to keep him there.
Sogard, who was recalled May 12, led off Wednesday and produced (two runs on three walks and a single) enough that Counsell will have him leading off again Thursday. Counsell said part of Sogard's value at the top of the lineup can be attributed to simply reaching base.
"With Sogard, every time he's in there, he's on base," Counsell said. "We're in there looking at the top of the lineup, trying to find somebody to get on base a little bit. He's just done a great job of it."
Sogard boasts a .394 average and .545 on-base percentage overall, with 10 walks in 44 plate appearances.
"It just feels like quality at-bats," Counsell said of Sogard. "He's disciplined. He knows what pitches he can do something with. He still takes pitches and tries to drive them, but when he gets in certain counts, he's able to play defense but not be defensive, if that makes any sense."
That is exactly what Sogard did against Mets starter Jacob deGrom, walking in his first three plate appearances while working the count to 3-2 each time. He added a single in the fifth and lined out to left on a ball with a hit probability of 71 percent, according to Statcast™.
Sogard was hardly ahead in those counts, rather working those walks from behind. For Counsell, he saw it as Sogard showing the way for the rest of the lineup, which jumped on deGrom for seven runs over four innings.
"I like to see pitches up there," Sogard said. "That's my goal: wait until I get the right one.
Chris Bumbaca is a reporter for MLB.com based in New York.