GLENDALE, Ariz. -- The box score said one inning, two hits, two earned runs, one walk, one home run, 21 pitches. Eric Lauer said it felt better than that.
“It feels so much better to be back to full health and feeling good and feeling like I can go back out and prove what I was supposed to do last year,” Lauer said after starting the Brewers’ first game in front of fans in nearly a year, a 7-2 win over the White Sox on Sunday at Camelback Ranch in which Keston Hiura, Avisaíl García, Tyrone Taylor and non-roster invitee Dylan Cozens all homered.
“What I did early in spring last year, before the shoulder stuff happened, I essentially showed what kind of guy I was going to be for the team,” Lauer said. “That’s who I plan on being this year.”
The 2020 season was disjointed for everyone, but especially Lauer. Imported from the Padres in a Thanksgiving 2019 trade, he pitched promisingly against the Padres and Giants to begin his Brewers tenure before his Spring Training was cut short in early March. The Brewers called it a shoulder impingement, but it was actually much worse; Lauer said this week that additional imaging revealed a tear to the capsule in his left shoulder. Then his summer camp was delayed when he was forced into COVID-19 protocols because of close contact with an individual who tested positive.
Whether those stops and starts were a factor or not, the result was a tough year. Lauer bounced between the big leagues and the alternate training site, allowing 16 earned runs on 17 hits and nine walks in 11 Major League innings.
“Talking about Eric, it's really just consistency of being on the mound on his day is what we're after in the early part of this camp,” Brewers manager Craig Counsell said. “We've achieved that so far. It's really a foundational thing, just building that foundation up underneath him to get to that good place.”
Lauer is one of two lefties (with Brett Anderson) in the Brewers’ starting mix, and figures to pitch in a variety of rules as the team covers the jump from 60 regular-season games last year to a 162-game schedule in 2021.
He was first out of the gate for a spring rotation that continues Monday with Corbin Burnes starting at the D-backs; Brandon Woodruff at home against the A’s on Tuesday; and multi-inning reliever Brent Suter starting at the Padres on Wednesday.
Lauer is aiming to stay on schedule this time.
“It definitely didn’t help,” he said of his disjointed 2020. “That’s not really a recipe of success when you have to continuously ramp up and then get shut back down. There was a lot of things last year that couldn’t be controlled. It was a really weird year. … Hopefully this year we can find more consistency.”
The Brewers revealed Sunday that Dylan File, the right-hander who was added to the 40-man roster over the offseason and ranks No. 25 on MLB Pipeline’s list of Milwaukee’s top prospects, is not an active participant in camp. He had surgery on Feb. 4 to repair a stress fracture in his right elbow and was expected to be sidelined until late May or early June.
File, 24, is a strike-throwing machine who topped out at Double-A Biloxi in 2019 and has 4.56 strikeouts for every walk since the Brewers drafted him in the 21st round out if Dixie State University in '17. In '19, he struck out 136 batters versus 22 walks with a 3.24 ERA in 147 innings between Carolina and Biloxi.
He spent the summer of 2020 pitching at the Brewers’ alternate training site and impressed with increased velocity on a fastball that had been sitting in the low-90s mph. File’s penchant for filling the strike zone often draws comparisons to another right-handed pitching prospect added to the 40-man roster over the winter, Alec Bettinger.
“These are two pitchers who are ready to pitch in the big leagues,” Brewers president of baseball operations David Stearns said at the time of the 40-man moves. “They both have poise. They both can command the baseball. They can change speeds. To varying degrees they can change eye level. As we look forward to 2021, we see both of these pitchers as at least having the potential to help us at the big league level.”
• Back in right field after manning center for most of 2020, García had a productive spring debut. He threw out Chicago’s Danny Mendick trying to go first to third in the second inning with a perfectly on-target throw, then homered over the center field batter’s eye in the fourth. It was impressive proof that dropping 36 pounds over the winter did not sap García’s strength.
• Taylor homered a second straight day, following Saturday’s booming shot over the batter’s eye in an intrasquad game with another solo shot on Sunday against the White Sox. Taylor has Minor League options; his fellow bench competitors Billy McKinney and Derek Fisher do not.
“McKinney and Fisher were brought in with a really good chance to compete for a roster spot,” Counsell said. “Tyrone Taylor goes into that mix but McKinney and Fisher are both out of options so when the organization is trying to consider depth, that matters. We have three outfielder locks [García, Christian Yelich and Lorenzo Cain]. We can consider four, we can consider five outfielders. I think that paints the picture as best as I can do. I'm not going to make any evaluations yet but that's kind of the picture coming into this.”
• The last time the Brewers played with fans in the stands before Sunday, it was right here at Camelback Ranch against the Dodgers on March 11. They were back in a limited capacity on Sunday against the White Sox, with a sellout crowd of 2,347 on hand.
“In this stadium, you walk through this little tunnel in left field. I was walking with a couple of our players and it was a great feeling just walking on the field,” Counsell said. “It’s incredible how people put energy in a place. That’s what it felt like walking on the field today. It felt like a normal Spring Training game. It’s the fans that give us that.”