Wong, known for elite defense, previews pop

2-time Gold Glove Award winner homers in back-to-back spring games

March 19th, 2021

PHOENIX -- “There’s some power in there,” Craig Counsell said Friday morning, only a few hours before showed exactly what the Brewers’ manager was talking about.

Wong, the second baseman signed largely on the strength of his defense, has smacked a leadoff home run in consecutive starts for the Brewers. Wong went deep against Dodgers left-hander Clayton Kershaw on Tuesday before homering again off D-backs left-hander Caleb Smith on Friday at American Family Fields of Phoenix.

“We’re hoping that coming into a different park, frankly a park where it’s easier to hit home runs, that can show up a little bit,” Counsell said, referring to the Brewers’ home in Milwaukee at American Family Field, which is particularly friendly to left-handed hitters. “Not by anything he’s necessarily going to do differently, just by a park that’s different. When that ball goes out of the park instead of getting caught at the warning track, it’s a pretty good feeling. It’s a confidence booster. It’s good feedback. I’m optimistic about that happening.”

Sure enough, Wong has done some of his best work at American Family Field -- the former Miller Park. His .855 OPS there is Wong’s best mark at National League Central ballparks.

“It’s just the confidence level of knowing that when you hit a ball good there,” said Wong, referring to Milwaukee, “there’s a good chance it’s going out. Busch [Stadium in St. Louis], as we all know, it’s a pitcher’s park. It’s one of those things where the gaps are big, but the balls really get caught up in the gaps, and down the line’s basically all you have. Where at Miller Park, or American Family Field, you kind of have that ability to go to any part of the field. And then the big backdrop in the back with the black screen makes it a lot easier to hit, as well.

“It’s just a comfortable place to play at. You know you’re going to play every day. With the dome, it just makes it that much more special.”

Wong set his career high for home runs -- 12 -- as a rookie with the Cardinals in 2014 and hit 11 in each of ’15 and ’19. His career-high slugging percentage is .423 in ‘19, when Wong hit 25 doubles, four triples and also won the first of his back-to-back Rawlings Gold Glove Awards.

It’s that defense that first drew the Brewers to Wong when the Cardinals declined his 2021 option. By installing Wong at second base and shifting Keston Hiura to first, and by adding Jackie Bradley Jr. to an outfield mix that should also be boosted this season by the return of Lorenzo Cain, the Brewers dramatically improved their up-the-middle defense.

Counsell, who spent plenty of time on the middle of the infield during his own playing career, said he’s enjoyed watching Wong so far.

“Probably the thing that sticks out on the practice field is how lively his feet are,” Counsell said. “It’s really fun to watch. His feet are magical, how they move around the infield. He’s not, like, a speed burner as far as pure running speed, but he’s got incredible feet and that’s what makes him such a great infielder.”

Latest camp cuts
Eric Lauer’s disappointing showing in Spring Training has earned him a ticket to the alternate training site to start the season.

Lauer was one of three players, with left-hander Angel Perdomo and catcher Luke Maile, optioned to the Triple-A Nashville roster on Friday in the latest round of cuts in big league camp. A left-hander acquired with infielder Luis Urías in a 2019 trade with the Padres, Lauer was credited with five Cactus League innings -- two of those innings were “rolled,” with Lauer recording no outs in one and two outs in the other -- and he was charged with eight earned runs on six hits, including three home runs. He walked seven and struck out three.

Perdomo has fared much better. By closing the Brewers’ come-from-behind, 9-3 win over the D-backs with three more strikeouts, Perdomo has eight strikeouts in five hitless outings.

Last call
padded his resume for a bench job with the Brewers by hitting two more home runs Friday, including a go-ahead, three-run homer in Milwaukee’s seven-run eighth inning. McKinney, who is out of Minor League options, also homered against the Angels on Thursday and leads the Brewers with four home runs this spring.

“Credit to him,” Counsell said. “He comes into a camp and knows he has to show his best to make a club, and that’s what he’s doing.”

• After what the club called “careful consideration,” the Brewers announced the postponement of the ninth annual Brewers Mini-Marathon to 2022, citing conflicts with other events in the city. All participants who had their 2020 Brewers Mini-Marathon event registration deferred to ‘21 will receive an email in the coming days with options for a ‘22 race registration credit or refund.

• Reds right-hander José De León starts for Cincinnati on Saturday night, snapping a streak of five consecutive left-handed opposing starters. They were the Mariners’ Yusei Kikuchi, the Padres’ Blake Snell, Kershaw, the Angels’ Andrew Heany and the D-backs’ Smith.

• With injuries thinning their Triple-A pitching (Alec Bettinger, Dylan File, Zack Brown and Thomas Jankins), the Brewers reportedly have agreed to sign 30-year-old right-hander Zack Godley to a Minor League deal that includes an invitation to Major League camp, according to Steve Adams of the website MLB Trade Rumors. The Brewers didn’t immediately confirm the deal. Godley, a regular starter for Arizona in 2017 and ’18, pitched for the Red Sox in ’20 and had an 8.16 ERA in eight games, seven starts.