MILWAUKEE -- If there was one true path out of a deep, dark hitting slump, no one would get stuck in them. More batting practice? Less batting practice? More focus? Less thinking? Each of those paths have their merits, and Brewers slugger Jesús Aguilar was advised to try them all
MILWAUKEE -- If there was one true path out of a deep, dark hitting slump, no one would get stuck in them. More batting practice? Less batting practice? More focus? Less thinking? Each of those paths have their merits, and Brewers slugger Jesús Aguilar was advised to try them all and then some by countless caring coaches and teammates during his brutal, homerless, early-season slog.
On Monday, Aguilar finally found the light. The breakthrough came with a three-run home run in the first inning of the Brewers’ 5-1 win over the Rockies at Miller Park, the first of Aguilar’s two homers and three hits. Hitting coach Andy Haines almost kissed Aguilar after the first home run, he was so happy. The dugout celebration lasted so long that it was still raging when the next batter, Mike Moustakas, blooped a single.
So, what was it that finally led Aguilar in the right direction?
“I can say 20-25 people tried to help me in a good way,” Aguilar said. “But I got a call today from a really good hitter from Venezuela, so that helped me a lot. I don’t want to say the name. Not yet.”
Spoiler: It was Andres Galarraga, and you can understand Aguilar’s discretion because Galarraga hit more than half of his 399 career home runs for the Rockies, the team Aguilar and the Brewers had just beat.
What did they talk about?
“About mental things,” Aguilar said. “He didn’t even talk to me about hitting stuff. That was the call.”
And that, it turned out, was the answer.
“That’s not only huge for him, but huge for the team as well,” center fielder Lorenzo Cain said. “We definitely need him to get going.”
Brewers manager Craig Counsell made that much clear earlier in the day, before Aguilar delivered some breathing room for Zach Davies, who carried a shutout into the sixth inning of another solid start that lowered his team-best ERA to 1.38, and before relievers Alex Claudio, Jay Jackson and Donnie Hart finished the four-hitter, in which the only Rockies run was unearned.
Had Aguilar looked up as he strode to home plate in the first inning of the opener of a homestand that will take the Brewers well into the month of May, he would have seen a .123 batting average, no home runs and five RBIs. But he didn’t look up. Aguilar, whose power-packed first half a year ago sparked a “We believe in Jesús” campaign that carried him to the All-Star Game via MLB’s Final Vote, and then on to a team-best 35 home runs for the year, has consciously avoided looking at scoreboards.
When he connected with a 1-1 slider from Rockies left-hander Kyle Freeland, Aguilar could finally look. His three-run home run hit the batter’s eye at the base of the scoreboard in center field for an early lead in what became a four-run opening inning for the Brewers and an opportunity for Aguilar to exhale.
Two innings later, he did it again. Aguilar took a changeup from Freeland to the opposite field, a staple of his game last season, for his second homer of the season to extend Milwaukee's lead to 5-0. It gave Aguilar his first multi-hit game all year, and he made it a three-hit night with a single to right field in the eighth.
“Look, we have to perform. There’s no question about it,” Counsell said before the game, just as Aguilar & Co. took the field for batting practice. “This is the right spot again today for him, it is. Eric [Thames] is playing well, and that’s definitely going to factor into this -- we have options at that position. …
“Against these lefties, it’s a good chance for him to try to get going, and that’s really as much as we can do. He’s attempted to make some physical changes. We’re at the point where we need results.”
Counsell and the Brewers had tried everything else. Aguilar entered the season as Milwaukee's regular first baseman in a reverse of roles with Thames from last year. After Aguilar’s slump persisted into mid-April, Counsell tried giving him the bulk of the Brewers’ last homestand off. The idea was to let Aguilar work on things in the batting cage without the pressure of four at-bats each night, then work him back into regular duty in favorable pitching matchups.
Mets lefty Steven Matz was supposed to represent one of those matchups on Sunday in New York. Aguilar went 0-for-3 and grounded into a double play.
“We need results,” Counsell reiterated Monday afternoon.
A little more than two hours later, Aguilar delivered.
“Once you get that result, you kind of take a deep breath and relax,” Counsell said. “Hopefully, we’re getting the Aggie we saw most of last year.”
First, Aguilar was looking forward to some shut-eye.
“I think this is going to be the first night where I’m going to sleep good,” Aguilar said. “There [have been] a lot of nights when I come back home and think about hitting, watch video and all that stuff. Tonight is going to be one of those nights when I can relax.”
Adam McCalvy has covered the Brewers for MLB.com since 2001. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram and like him on Facebook.