New batting stance yields results for Narváez

March 26th, 2021

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Omar Narváez has been around the game long enough to know that Spring Training stats aren’t worth much, but the Brewers’ second-year catcher is sure he’s seeing positive results from time spent with hitting coach Andy Haines over the offseason.

Haines traveled to Miami in mid-January to work with Narváez and Avisaíl García, both of whom were coming off disappointing debut seasons in Milwaukee.

“One of the things we spoke about when we met each other was everything before I start swinging, nice and tall,” Narváez said, referencing a taller stance that has benefited other Brewers hitters, including Christian Yelich. “It helped me to recognize better pitches. I think the big success that I’ve been having is not swinging at balls. It makes it a lot easier.”

Said Brewers manager Craig Counsell: “Hitting is about putting yourself in the best position to hit, to fire your best swing off. And he’s just far more consistent at that right now than he was last year. I think that’s what you’re getting on some good swings. I also think you take those swings, and they kind of go in your memory file and they go in your muscle memory and they’re easier to recall. At some point last year, Omar probably got into a position where there wasn’t a lot of good swings to recall, really. That’s just the way it went for him. Now, he’s in a position where he’s got a number of good swings in the vault.”

Here’s what the numbers say about that: After slashing .176/.294/.269 in 126 plate appearances during the shortened 2020 season, Narváez is slashing .321/.457/.750 in 35 plate appearances this spring, mostly against Major League pitching, because Narváez has been playing at the front of games.

It’s a small sample in an extremely hitter-friendly environment, with Arizona’s dry air and the wind blowing out most days. But Narváez’s confidence is nevertheless ticking up that he can be more like the hitter he was for the Mariners in 2019, when his 119 wRC+ ranked third among catchers who played at least 100 games.

“Now, I feel like I can really hit any pitch, but coming back in my mind is to try not to do too much,” Narváez said. “I’m trying to succeed at what I do the best, which is take pitches, which is put the ball in play and take a walk. That’s my main goal in Spring Training.”

Zimmermann, Boxberger status pending
The Brewers face a Saturday deadline with two non-roster invitees -- Wisconsin native Jordan Zimmermann and former Rays and D-backs closer Brad Boxberger, who could both request their release if they are not added to the 40-man roster or paid a $100,000 retention bonus.

Boxberger had a promising inning against the Rockies on Wednesday, in which he pitched with a live fastball and struck out the side. Of his eight outings so far, two have been tough (eight runs, including seven earned, in 1 2/3 innings against the Angels and Mariners) and the other six have been sharp (one earned run in 6 1/3 innings).

“The velocity was up [Wednesday], if you noticed,” Counsell said. “There was 94 [mph] in there. A bunch of 93s. It was a little tick up."

Zimmermann, meanwhile, began the spring as a candidate for the starting rotation, but he has pitched in shorter stints lately and has been in the running for a multi-inning bullpen role.

“We’re talking to Jordan Zimmermann right now and trying to figure out what’s going to happen,” Counsell said. “That’s as much as I can say.”

Boxberger and Zimmerman would each need a spot on the Brewers’ full 40-man roster if they make the team.

Last call
• Third baseman Travis Shaw exited Thursday’s 2-2 tie with the Giants in the third inning, but there were “no worries,” Counsell said. Shaw was hit on the leg by a pitch his first time up to the plate in the second and had some swelling, so the Brewers opted to give him one more plate appearance and remove him from the game.

• Reliever Ray Black, who is out of Minor League options, touched 99 mph in a scoreless inning in his first outing since March 5. He’d been sidelined by a sore right elbow. The Brewers won’t have much time to decide whether Black warrants an Opening Day roster spot, but a healthy and productive outing like Thursday’s, Counsell said, was “eye-opening.”

• Outfielder Jackie Bradley Jr. is tentatively scheduled to return to game action Saturday after missing time with inflammation in his right wrist. He last played Sunday against the Mariners and had some trouble gripping the bat.

• Left-hander Gio González announced his retirement on Thursday via an Instagram post, ending a 13-year career that included two partial seasons with the Brewers in 2018 and ’19. He was an underrated contributor for Milwaukee after being acquired at the Aug. 31 Trade Deadline in ’18, posting a 2.13 ERA in five regular-season starts down the stretch -- all Brewers victories -- and then making a pair of starts as an opener in the National League Championship Series against the Dodgers. González re-signed for ’19 and posted a 3.50 ERA in 87 1/3 innings.

González, who was in Marlins camp as a non-roster invitee bidding to pitch for his hometown team, thanked each of the clubs he pitched for.

“Milwaukee, OMG MILWAUKEE,” he wrote, “in a year and some change, TWO playoff runs with guys till this day I consider my brothers, btw best travel in baseball hands down!”