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Slumping Hiura given 'mental break'

@AdamMcCalvy
September 22, 2020

In an effort to get the most out of second baseman Keston Hiura in the few games remaining, the Brewers decided that Tuesday was the right time for the 24-year-old to take a night off. Hiura was the only player who started each of the Brewers’ first 53 games. But

In an effort to get the most out of second baseman Keston Hiura in the few games remaining, the Brewers decided that Tuesday was the right time for the 24-year-old to take a night off.

Hiura was the only player who started each of the Brewers’ first 53 games. But he struck out three times in Monday’s loss to the Reds, his third three-strikeout game in four days, and was slashing .146/.263/.292 in his last 15 games.

“For Keston, I just thought he needed a mental break today,” Brewers manager Craig Counsell said. “There was some frustration. He doesn't generally outwardly show a lot of frustration, but he's had that puzzled look coming back to the dugout a couple of times. A day when you don't have to worry about getting hits, today was just one of those games that called for it.

“Obviously, we're in a big series and this is a big time, but what Keston needs right now and how he's going right now kind of outweighed that.”

The Brewers entered the day one half-game out of a postseason spot, with more crucial contests remaining Wednesday at Cincinnati (versus Trevor Bauer) and then Thursday-Sunday at St. Louis, where the Brewers and Cardinals are scheduled to play five games in four days.

The idea, Counsell said, is to see if a mental break helps Hiura hit the reset button. Last year as a rookie, he was an offensive force, hitting .303 with a .938 OPS in 84 Major League games, and belting 38 home runs between the Majors and Minors. But it appears pitchers may have adapted, which would explain a jump in Hiura’s strikeout rate from 30.7 percent last season to 34.4 percent this season.

More puzzling is the decline in Hiura’s contact within the strike zone, from 74.6 percent last season to 63.6 percent this season.

“It’s been alarming this year,” Counsell said. “It's more than it's ever been for him, but it's a sign that he's a little off. He's been trying to get back to getting right. Keston is a swinger. He's going to swing because he does damage when he swings. As much as anything for me, because he's a little off, some of the balls he's had to hit have been foul balls. That's another strike, and then you're down in the count.

“You can be very successful in the game not covering the whole strike zone, but when you get your pitch to hit, you have to hit it. That's what Keston did a great job of last year. Nelson Cruz is a great example of a hitter like that. When he gets his pitch, he hits it. When you make a mistake, he hits it. I thought that's what Keston did a really nice job of last year. This year, it's been a foul ball, and then the pitcher gets to make his pitch.”

Probable pitchers set
The Brewers announced their probable pitchers for the final regular-season series in St. Louis: Corbin Burnes on Thursday, Josh Lindblom in one of the games of a doubleheader on Friday and “TBA” in the other, followed by Brandon Woodruff on Saturday and Brett Anderson on Sunday. That TBA could be Brent Suter, who has already made a pair of three-inning spot starts for the Brewers. If he’s not available, it could be a callup, as both teams will bring in a 29th man for the day.

Counsell was asked whether the club considered pitching Burnes on short rest Wednesday at the Reds, which would have set them up to potentially squeeze one extra outing from a young pitcher who has been the Brewers’ best starter this season.

“Frankly, the way it lined when we started to look at it three weeks ago, we've been going on regular rest for these guys -- four days, no extra days -- for the better part of September with the off-days and skipping Josh Lindblom, so this is how it worked,” Counsell said. “We never considered going on three days' rest with any of our guys.”

Adrian Houser starts Wednesday and could be available on Sunday at St. Louis in relief if needed, Counsell said.

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