PHOENIX -- These were not the circumstances anyone envisioned for Keston Hiura’s latest attempt to regain a foothold in the Major Leagues, but Hiura was determined to make it work.
The Brewers promoted their former first-round Draft pick back to the big leagues early Wednesday, after first baseman Daniel Vogelbach went down the night before with a significant left hamstring strain that landed him on the 10-day injured list. This time, Hiura aims to bring his hot bat with him from Triple-A Nashville.
“Things have been feeling good the past couple of weeks,” Hiura said. “I’ve been telling people it feels normal, and normal is good. It’s not something that’s uncomfortable, something that I’m trying to do different. It just feels normal. That’s what I’ve been looking for the past year or so.”
The story of his struggles has been often told at this point. A breakout performer in 2019 -- when Hiura hit 19 home runs with a .938 OPS in his first 84 games in the Majors -- he slumped to a .707 OPS and a National League-worst 34.6% strikeout rate in the shortened 2020 season, and has slumped further to a .439 OPS and a 39.3% strikeout rate in ’21 as of his return Wednesday morning.
Hiura’s troubles this season have come in two stints. He was demoted to the Minors on May 24 and went 14-for-32 with six doubles and three home runs in nine games before returning to the Majors and going 2-for-29 with 16 strikeouts.
So, the Brewers demoted Hiura again on June 7, and once again he started raking in Nashville. This time, he was 15-for-40 with two doubles and two homers. His strikeout rate in the latest stint with the Sounds was a more manageable 25.5%.
“You know, last time I was doing well in Nashville and the numbers were good. But for me, personally, it didn’t feel normal,” Hiura said. “It didn’t feel as comfortable as I should have up there, the numbers aside -- which were a good thing. I wanted to feel normal and comfortable up there. That’s a huge difference for me, personally, when I realized that [change] from the first stint to the second stint.”
Were there any mechanical changes?
“Not necessarily,” he said. “There weren’t many tweaks. It was moreso understanding what I was up for, where I’m at now, and to be able to make those adjustments. I don’t think -- not that I know of -- anything too visible has changed up here.”
“Nothing at this point” on Braun
With Vogelbach down indefinitely, Hiura needing to prove he can hit Major League pitching and no top prospects at first base in Milwaukee’s Minor League system, it was inevitable that Ryan Braun’s name would come up Wednesday morning when Brewers GM Matt Arnold met the media.
Braun still has not formally closed the door on continuing his playing career, but he is also not banging on that door to come back. He’s been spending time at home in Malibu, Calif., with his wife and their three children.
“Nothing at this point,” Arnold said. “Obviously, Ryan has a great history of success here with the Brewers so it’s probably up to him whether he’s done playing or not. It’s something we haven’t really discussed too much at this point.”
So, the Brewers will push forward with Hiura -- “He deserves an opportunity,” Arnold said -- and will play left-handed-hitting Jace Peterson at first base on occasion. The Brewers have five weeks to make a determination about whether to pursue a bat at the position by the July 30 Trade Deadline. Miami’s Jesús Aguilar and Baltimore’s Trey Mancini are among the bigger names who could be available in time.
“I think we’re going to explore what we can there to some degree but at the same time, we’re looking forward to seeing what Keston can do,” Arnold said. “He’s done a really nice job at Triple-A and he’s also had success in the big leagues before. If he’s able to step up, that would be a great thing.
“Jace Peterson has also had some nice at-bats this season for us as well, and even this series. He’s had some really hard hits but has just been a little unlucky. We feel good about our group there but obviously, we’ll continue to evaluate the market over the next few weeks.”
Catching prospect Henry promoted
With Hiura back in the big leagues, the Brewers promoted catching prospect Payton Henry to Triple-A Nashville in that spot. Henry, No. 19 on MLB Pipeline’s list of Milwaukee’s top prospects, was hitting .315 at Double-A Biloxi and will get to catch some while fellow prospect Mario Feliciano remains sidelined by a right shoulder injury.
“Payton’s a great story,” Arnold said. “He’s a great kid, and a lot of really good tools honestly, so he’s definitely on our radar, and I’m excited to get him up to Triple-A and see what he can do there.
“He has tremendous power. He’s a great catcher. He has great intangibles, too. He’s a really good person. Works really well with our pitchers. Yeah, you make a great point. Payton’s been a really good asset. We’re looking forward to seeing what he can do in Nashville.”