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Brewers put Central title hopes on Gio's left arm

Santana thriving as pinch-hitter; Yelich's Players' Tribune story inspires T-shirt
September 29, 2018

MILWAUKEE -- Giovany Gonzalez will try to treat it like just another game, even though it most definitely is not.After a 6-5 win over the Tigers on Saturday lifted the Brewers into a tie with the Cubs atop the National League Central, manager Craig Counsell announced Gonzalez would get the

MILWAUKEE -- Giovany Gonzalez will try to treat it like just another game, even though it most definitely is not.
After a 6-5 win over the Tigers on Saturday lifted the Brewers into a tie with the Cubs atop the National League Central, manager Craig Counsell announced Gonzalez would get the ball for Sunday's regular-season finale at Miller Park. Meanwhile, the Cubs will host the Cardinals at Wrigley Field, and the outcome of those games will either decide the division or force a Game 163 at Wrigley Field on Monday afternoon.
"Definitely take it as a normal day," Gonzalez said. "Just pitch. You have to focus on what you can control, because everything else is out of your hands."
• Two titles on the line today: NL Central, NL West
This is not where Gonzalez expected to be a month ago, when he was a struggling pitcher for a struggling Nationals club that fell out of contention. The Brewers gave up two prospects and took on Gonzalez's salary to get the veteran on Aug. 31, and Gonzalez has responded by going 2-0 with a 2.66 ERA in his first four Brewers starts. Milwaukee has won all four of those games.

"There were times when I was with Washington that we were celebrating on Sept. 5, which is unusual," Gonzalez said. "Now, we're fighting all the way to the end so we can celebrate. For me, this is exciting coming down to the wire. We're already in; this is just icing on the cake. For us, we have to keep playing the way we can and control what we can control. I'll be ready to go tomorrow."
Even with an expanded roster, the Brewers need innings, considering they have worked their A-list relievers hard of late and face the potential tiebreaker on Monday and the NL Wild Card Game on Tuesday if the Cubs wind up winning the division. Corey Knebel has pitched five of the past seven days, and Jeremy Jeffress has pitched three of the past four days. Both have pitched in each of the first two games against the Tigers. Josh Hader was unavailable Saturday after an ineffective outing in Friday's series opener against Detroit, his second appearance in three days.
• Postseason schedule
"We've got some decisions to make [Sunday] regarding bullpen use, for sure. That's how I'll say it," Counsell said. "Look, there's [the potential for] a game Monday, there's a game Tuesday, and you guys know what the usage has been. We're going to have to make some tough calls tomorrow."
Jeffress was asked whether the relief corps has enough left in the tank to get through.
"Most definitely. It's got to be," he said. "It doesn't even matter if there is. There has to be. We know what's at stake. We have been used a lot, but that's what we play for, man. That's why we are baseball players, to do what we've got to do when our name's called and just get outs. We want it, man. We know what's in our arm's reach, right there. We're going to fight to the end, fight until it's over."

Gonzalez is eager to take part however he can.
"I don't care how they use me, as long as we keep winning," Gonzalez said. "I want to be a part of what they've been doing here all year. Hopefully, I can help continue that process and keep giving us a chance."
The Cubs-Cardinals game was on clubhouse televisions while the Brewers went about their pregame preparations Saturday. When St. Louis closer Carlos Martinez retired Javier Baez to end the game, the celebration was muted.
"We did the silent golf clap," Gonzalez said. "[Cardinals first baseman Matt] Carpenter said it best, 'We all know what's at stake.' Just keep playing as hard as you can."
Coming through in a pinch
One of the unsung contributors during the Brewers' September surge is Domingo Santana, who returned to the Major Leagues as a September callup and, despite striking out in the sixth inning on Saturday, has been the Brewers' most effective pinch-hitter. Santana is 7-for-18 with two walks and two home runs in pinch-hit plate appearances this month.
His secret to succeeding in this unfamiliar role: Keep it simple.
"I just really try not to think about anything when I go up there," Santana said. "I tell myself, the less pressure I put on myself, the better."

Santana is part of the hitters' meeting before each series, in which players go over each of the opposing teams' pitcher.
But that's it. He watches little video and does not use the iPad in the dugout that is preloaded with video and scouting information available to players.
"I think a lot of hitters are like that, too," Santana said. "Sometimes, when we watch video, a pitch is extremely nasty, so then when you go up there, you're putting pressure on yourself. I would rather see a video of guys hitting homers off a pitcher than striking out. Why would I want to see a curveball in the dirt? I want to be confident going to the plate. And I'm the type of hitter that needs to go up to the plate and look for the heater and react to it."
It's worked.
"I think anybody who has pinch-hit will tell you that what he's doing is pretty darn remarkable," Counsell said. "The best thing about it is we've been able to get him into a regular role doing this. I think that's been helpful. If you're able to rack up at-bats like that … your heartbeat stays the same for each at-bat. His results have been outstanding, and the results have been very good. It's been a valuable part of this month."

Yelich swag for sale
It didn't take long for the parting words of Christian Yelich's essay in the Players' Tribune to make it onto a T-shirt. A merchandise stand had the shirt emblazoned with "Let's Goooooooooo!" for sale, under a sign saying portions of the proceeds will go to a charity of Yelich's choice.

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