Nieuwenhuis making case for increased at-bats

Brewers using 'trial and error' approach to center-field job

April 28th, 2016

CHICAGO -- In a Brewers outfield still in flux, it seems Kirk Nieuwenhuis is beginning to emerge.

Nieuwenhuis was slotted to start his fourth consecutive game in center field Wednesday before the game was postponed, and his four hits over the past two games is an encouraging sign for the Brewers.

For Nieuwenhuis, consistent appearances in the lineup is enough to make a difference.

"I think anybody would say that," said Nieuwenhuis, who is in his first year with Milwaukee after four seasons with the Mets and Angels. "It helps you get in a rhythm a little bit. Just trying to stay up the middle and not do too much has really been the key."

Manager Craig Counsell said the team's plan was always to let the outfield situation work itself out. Nieuwenhuis, Ramon Flores and Keon Broxton have all played in center this season, with Alex Presley also in the mix.

"We kind of went in at the end of spring taking three guys," Counsell said. "We didn't really commit to necessarily any one of those guys. We expected it to be a little bit of trial and error through the season."

Nieuwenhuis is hitting .276 with a home run and seven RBIs in 29 at-bats and could make himself a fixture in the lineup if his success continues.

"I do think Kirk has a role here, and that's what he's kind of fulfilling here, and he's doing a good job with it," Counsell said.

Flores, in particular, has struggled, hitting .128 in 39 at-bats and helping to open the door for Nieuwenhuis.

Flores, 24, had only 32 Major League at-bats before this season.

"We're trying to get Ramon going," Counsell said. "There's no question it's been a slow start. We're not going to give up on him, but it's been a slow start. We're trying to give him the best opportunity and the matchups that he can have success in. But you need production also."

Counsell said Flores still has value because he can play all three outfield positons -- and play them well.

"He's a good outfielder," Counsell said. "He tracks balls well, he gets good jumps on balls. I've been very pleased."

Jeffress adjusting to closer role

Jeremy Jeffress entered this season with one career save and was battling teammate Will Smith for the closer's job.

With Smith on the disabled list with a right LCL sprain, Jeffress has adjusted well to the closing duties. A former setup man, Jeffress has six saves and has not allowed a run in eight of his nine appearances this season.

"His temperament hasn't changed," Counsell said. "He got big outs in the eighth inning, he's getting big outs in the ninth inning."

Counsell said it's too early in the season to know exactly how often he feels comfortable using Jeffress, and the team could have two options to close when Smith returns.