Unable to face his brother, Contreras still shines in Brewers' win

May 10th, 2024

MILWAUKEE -- is hurting that the Cardinals came to town without his brother, who is back in St. Louis recovering from surgery for the sort of injury every catcher fears as they creep closer and closer to home plate in search of called strikes.

“It’s hard for me, hard for him, hard for our family because he plays hard every day and he loves to play,” William Contreras said of big brother Willson, who suffered a broken forearm earlier this week on a J.D. Martinez swing. “But that happens in baseball.”

And so baseball rolls on for the younger Contreras, a budding star who continued to show a mastery of every little nuance of the game in a 7-1 Brewers win over the Cardinals at American Family Field on Thursday.

What stood out wasn’t a pitch Contreras called (the 26-year-old calls every pitch when he’s catching) or a batted ball (he ranks fourth in the Majors in batted balls north of 95 mph behind the likes of Juan Soto, Shohei Ohtani and Bobby Witt Jr.) on his latest three-hit night.

It was a little shimmy on the basepaths in the first inning, as Contreras eluded the tag of Nolan Arenado on what was shaping into an inning-ending double play, and opened the door for a three-run Brewers rally that sent them on the way to a ninth victory in the last 10 games between the teams.

After making it to third, Contreras scored the game’s first run on a wild pitch. Then Rhys Hoskins made it 3-0 with a two-run home run.

Jake Bauers and Joey Ortiz also homered as the Brewers hung six earned runs on Cardinals starter Sonny Gray, who has been one of the stingiest starters in baseball. In six starts, Gray has surrendered nine earned runs. Eight have scored in Gray’s two matchups against Milwaukee.

The brothers Contreras were supposed to get together again this week in Milwaukee, like they did when the Brewers visited St. Louis in mid-April. But Willson suffered his brutal injury on Tuesday in St. Louis and underwent surgery on Wednesday.

It highlights the dangers of one of baseball’s little-noticed adjustments in recent years. Ever in search of called strikes as pitch-framing becomes entrenched in the art of catching, catchers are moving closer and closer to home plate because the data says they can “steal” strikes at the bottom of the zone.

Twice in one game against the Dodgers last year, William Contreras was called for catcher interference when Martinez’s swing clipped his glove. With Willson Contreras behind the plate Tuesday at Citi Field, Martinez got a lot more than the glove.

“That’s what we do for the framing stats for the catchers,” William Contreras said. “We need to get close to the batters but we need to know who has the long swings, too. J.D. I think has one of the longest in baseball. For J.D., we need to move back.

“And hitters are back in the batter’s box. I think the umpires need to [watch] that, too.”

Coaches are also watching. It’s become one of the jobs for men like Nestor Corredor, a former catcher who served as the Brewers’ bullpen catcher before moving to the bench in 2023.

The night Willson Contreras was injured, William was catching against the Royals and had creeped too close against Kansas City first baseman Vinnie Pasquantino. Corredor and others in the dugout quickly alerted him to scoot back.

“It’s different for every hitter,” Corredor said. “So, [catchers] need to understand that there is risk and value, too. You can ‘steal’ some of those pitches. That’s how you can become one of the best.”

It’s another example of baseball being a game of inches.

“You want to steal as many of those inches as you can get,” Corredor.