He does it all! Frelick hits, leaps and shows off speed in debut

July 23rd, 2023

MILWAUKEE -- Sal Frelick should have been here months ago. When Brewers center fielder Garrett Mitchell injured his shoulder on April 18 in Seattle, Frelick was the obvious next man up. But in a cruel twist of fate, Frelick was injured that very same night in Jacksonville when he tore a ligament in his left thumb on a slide into second base.

So, he had to wait, heal and earn his way up.

It was worth it.

Frelick put together one of the most electric debuts in franchise history in a 4-3 win over the Braves on Saturday after the Brewers selected the contract of MLB Pipeline’s No. 17 overall prospect from Triple-A Nashville. A player manager Craig Counsell calls "The Hit Collector" collected hits, RBIs and highlight-reel catches on national TV against the team with the best record in baseball, all while his father and siblings -- mom was at home with the family dog, set to join the party for Sunday’s series finale -- celebrated with the rest of a crowd of 39,707 at American Family Field.

“It's going to take a while to top that game in the big leagues,” Counsell said.

Frelick singled in each of his first three plate appearances against the Braves -- the first three-hit game for a Milwaukee right fielder all season. He scored a run in the fifth inning, made a pair of highlight-reel catches at the warning track and then drove in the tying run in the sixth, then drove in the go-ahead run in the eighth with a sacrifice fly to right field.

It wasn’t merely what a player dreams of his Major League debut.

It was better.

"I think this blew it out of the water,” Frelick said. “I was really hoping to get my first hit tonight, but I think the first at-bat kind of helped me settle in and I was able to kind of get comfortable with the rest of the game.”

It was Frelick’s full skillset on display. When he found himself in a two-strike count in his first MLB at-bat in the second inning, he put the bat on a changeup from Braves starter Allan Winans -- also making his MLB debut -- and sent a soft bouncer to an open third base for an infield hit. Frelick singled again leading off the fifth to spark a two-run rally while scoring his first run along the way, then singled home a run in the sixth to tie the game at 3-3.

In the eighth, after a Willy Adames double and a Braves defensive mistake put the go-ahead runner at third base with one out, Frelick needed a fly ball. Once again, he did the job. 

“He showed us everything tonight,” Counsell said. “He did the things that he's good at and the reason that he's here and the reason why he was a first-round pick. He put it all on display tonight.”

The 23-year-old Frelick, who is Milwaukee’s No. 2 prospect, has hit .252 with two homers, eight steals and a .697 OPS over 43 games in the Minors this season but he's done his best work lately. After slumping to the tune of a .590 OPS in his first 20 games for Nashville following thumb surgery and a six-week rehab, he went 9-for-22 over his last five games while reaching safely in 11 of 25 plate appearances.

For a Brewers team seeking every avenue to generate more offense, that was enough to earn a trip to Milwaukee.

“We're not getting production out of right field,” Counsell said before the game. "We're going to try to get more production out of right field, and Sal's going to get a shot to give us that."

Said Frelick: “I'm just really excited to show everyone the guy who they drafted two years ago -- kind of a little spark plug, pesky at the plate, dirty uniform, stuff like that.”

He sure delivered. 

“I told him today, ‘Just enjoy,’ and he did,” said fellow rookie Brice Turang. “Right now, it’s hit him, but not all the way. Probably tonight it will hit him a little bit. But man, it’s an awesome feeling. He’ll forever remember this. I’m so happy for him.” 

The Brewers have a 1 1/2-game lead over the Reds for first place in the NL Central, but outfield production has been lacking for the team outside of former MVP Christian Yelich. Even with Yelich’s .855 OPS included, the Brewers’ outfield entered Saturday with the seventh-lowest OPS (.705) in MLB.

To clear a spot on the 40-man roster for Frelick, the Brewers cut ties with one of the outfielders who hadn’t been producing. Outfielder Raimel Tapia was designated for assignment. 

Frelick will get a chance to provide a youthful boost like the one his former Nashville roommate, Joey Wiemer, provided early in the year along with Turang and Mitchell before his injury.

That it was all really happening, Frelick said, didn’t him in the ninth inning. He was standing in right field with fans over his shoulder chanting his name, watching Devin Williams pitch to Ronald Acuña Jr. in a matchup of All-Stars. Acuña eventually walked before Williams struck out another All-Star, Ozzie Albies, to finish the victory and a ninth consecutive game of scoreless relief for Milwaukee’s bullpen. Brewers relievers have worked 27 2/3 consecutive scoreless innings and counting.

“I couldn’t believe I was on the same field playing to win that ballgame,” Frelick said. “After, I think that’s when it settled in.” 

What could he possibly do for an encore?

“Tomorrow is a new day,” he said, “so I’m going to have to wake up and do the same thing.”