Counsell, Crew 'cannot wait' to see fans

Hiura to see time at second; 30 starts an 'exception,' per Stearns

March 30th, 2021

MILWAUKEE -- Brewers director of grounds Ryan Woodley is eager for real, live fans to admire his work on Opening Day. Those cardboard cutouts never expressed any appreciation.

“This is hopefully the greenest spot in Wisconsin right now,” Woodley said while showing off the field on Tuesday morning.

With temperatures dropping into the 30s by Thursday, the Brewers will have the roof and panels closed at American Family Field when the Twins come to town for an Opening Day game in front of a 25-percent capacity crowd. Fans will have to get used to a number of changes, from the name of the ballpark to restrictions on carry-ins to pod seating, but players on the field will be thrilled to see the stadium populated by people.

“Honestly, I cannot wait to see Brewers fans,” manager Craig Counsell said.

“Oh, we're really excited,” said first baseman . “I mean, just to be able to get a taste of that during Spring Training, to experience all the fans there. I first felt a little weird because you can hear some noise in the crowd now versus that loud crowd noise on the speakers. Not only that, just the interaction with the fans as well.

“Seeing the kids having a great time out there. Smelling the ballpark food. I think just the whole environment in general really helps you want to play the game a lot more and enjoy it a lot better.”

It’s more than atmosphere, however. Brewers hitters believe they were impacted by playing in empty ballparks during the pandemic-shortened 2020 season, citing the lack of buzz as one reason offensive numbers plummeted around the sport. The Brewers set dubious franchise records by hitting a club-worst .223, striking out every 3.76 plate appearances and whiffing on 30.3 percent of swings. Their 4.12 runs per game were sixth lowest in the Miller Park era.

“I think you can use last year, little tidbits of it, as a learning experience, but there really is a theme that we’re just moving forward here,” Brewers hitting coach Andy Haines said. “It’s like be the best version of you and last year is what it was: a really hard, challenging experience. It taught us a lot in some ways.”

The Brewers are currently selling tickets for games through May 2 at 25 percent capacity but hope to get approval from the City of Milwaukee Health Department for expanded attendance after that. For now, here are some of the amended policies fans need to know about for 2021:

• To expedite ingress and minimize touch points between security and fans, no bags will be permitted in the ballpark other than purses or wristlets, ADA/medical bags and manufactured diaper bags.

• No cash payments will be accepted in the ballpark (there will be kiosks for fans to exchange cash for a prepaid card if necessary) and it’s strongly encouraged that concessions orders are placed through the MLB Ballpark App.

• Just like Spring Training, fans must wear a mask except while eating or drinking in their seating pod.

• Once the weather warms a bit, the Brewers will err on the side of keeping the roof and/or panels open this season in the interest of air circulation. That means some cooler nights at the ballpark than in past years, and the club says it will post the roof stats daily via and social media.

Many more details are available at

Hiura sees second base
No, the Brewers were not abandoning Hiura’s move to first base when they started him at second in consecutive games against the White Sox and Royals late last week. The idea was to give Hiura a taste of his former position in case a need arises during the regular season when newcomer Kolten Wong isn’t in the lineup.

“That way, when he plays second base this year,” Counsell joked with reporters, “you guys can say he played second base in Spring Training. That was all for you guys.”

But seriously.

“There’s likely to be some second base,” Counsell said. “It’s a position he has played a lot. Kolten’s not going to play all 162 games. We understand that. We’re always looking at what could happen, so we just wanted to get Keston out there.”

Hiura was charged with a throwing error in each game, a reminder of what drew the Brewers to Wong during the offseason. At first base, they think Hiura will have above-average range and the hands to be a proficient picker of one-hop throws.

“Before even setting foot at first, I’ve always had a lot of respect for first basemen,” Hiura said. “Being able to be involved in pretty much every single play, always keeping your head on a swivel. There’s always somewhere to go. When you have a runner on base, being locked in for pickoff attempts or backpicks. And, obviously, you’re one of the closer guys to the ball as well. Just being able to stay focused the whole time, I think that really doesn’t get known much, that you’re constantly having something to focus on and you always have to be ready for every play, every single pitch.”

Stearns says 30-plus starts will be ‘exception’
After making his final exhibition start in Sunday’s Arizona finale against the Reds, Brewers right-hander Corbin Burnes said he was preparing his body to make the usual 30-plus during the regular season. Don’t bet on many Brewers starters taking the mound that many times, based on what president of baseball operations David Stearns told Milwaukee’s 105.7 FM The Fan this week.

“I think that would certainly be the exception,” Stearns said. “Look, we are not going to make blanket statements. We are not going to have blanket rules. We are going to try to treat everyone as an individual, monitor how each individual is feeling and doing. We’ve got some tools that allow us to do that, we think.”

Statcast is one of those tools, offering detailed data about pitchers’ performance. The Brewers and all 29 other clubs are cognizant of the strains facing pitching staffs this season as baseball reverts to a 162-game schedule.

The Brewers’ leader in starts (13) and innings (73 2/3) during the '20 regular season was Brandon Woodruff.

“I would probably be surprised if we have someone who is making your traditional 30, 32 starts,” Stearns told the radio station. “We’re not going to say never, but it would take someone feeling really good through the entirety of the season. The most likely outcome is we employ six-man starters at times, we give guys breaks during the season, we skip a start here or there, and we kind of spread the load out among a greater number of starters so that everyone is fresh and ready to go in September and October.

"If we have a pitcher or two who is just feeling so good through the entirety of the season that we can just let him go, that’s great. But that’s not really what we’re planning on.”

Last call
• The Brewers made a double dose of roster news during Tuesday’s spring finale -- first announcing that they had quietly designated for assignment in recent days, and then revealing that Black has already cleared waivers and has been assigned to the alternate training site.

Black missed most of the spring with a sore elbow but touched 99 mph with his fastball during an inning against the Giants last Thursday. He has not pitched since, but he’s healthy at this time, according to Counsell, who said, “His velocity is, obviously, the calling card with Ray and keeping him healthy has been the challenge. We just have to keep him healthy and get him out there.”

• Black’s exit appears to open a final Opening Day bullpen spot for non-roster invitee Brad Boxberger, who struck out all three batters he faced on Monday, or J.P. Feyereisen, who capped a stellar spring with two strikeouts in a scoreless inning in Tuesday’s 6-3 win over the Rangers to complete Milwaukee’s exhibition slate.

In the finale, Brett Anderson bounced back from a shaky start to deliver five innings while pitching for the first time in front of his 18-month-old son. “He probably won’t remember it, but that’s pretty cool,” Anderson said.