Time may be running out for Nixon's bid
Veteran outfielder has struggled in his attempt to make Crew's roster
PHOENIX -- A new uniform number has done little to shake Trot Nixon out of his spring slump.The hard-nosed veteran outfielder switched from No. 3 to No. 93 on March 14, which he called an effort to "shake things up" in his bid for a Brewers roster spot. But Nixon went 1-for-9 in his first seven games after the move, a stretch that actually raised his spring batting average, from .107 to .108.
Nixon has not started a Cactus League game for the Brewers since March 15 and it appears he's a long shot for the big league roster. According to the team's general manager, the Brewers might not have a Triple-A job for him, either."We had a conversation and I let him know where he stood at this time," Brewers GM Doug Melvin said. "The tough thing about Spring Training is evaluating the numbers, but I told him that if he didn't make our big club, there wasn't a guarantee of anything at Triple-A at this point. "There's still a lot of time left, though," Melvin added. "The thing is, as long as you have a uniform on, you have a chance of making the ballclub. Trot is a real pro and he tries hard and he gives his best effort. In Spring Training, a couple of balls fall in for hits and the story is totally different." Melvin was asked whether it would take a series of injuries to other outfielders over the final two weeks of Spring Training for Nixon to make the cut. "I don't want to get into that," Melvin said. "I don't want to discourage any player." No one is accusing Nixon of a lack of effort. On Friday, he passed on an off-day and went over to Minor League camp for at-bats. Nixon has privately opened up to a handful of teammates about his struggle this spring. But when a reporter approached him over the weekend to ask how he was doing, Nixon was not in the mood to chat. "I really don't feel like talking about it, to be honest with you," Nixon said with his head down. The Brewers had hoped that Nixon would be this year's Gabe Kapler, a fellow former Red Sox player who excelled in a reserve role in 2008 before signing with the Rays over the winter. But now the Brewers are more likely to pick two backup outfielders from a group that includes fellow non-roster invitee Chris Duffy, plus rostered players Tony Gwynn Jr. and Brad Nelson. Gwynn and Nelson are out of Minor League options, and Duffy has been a camp standout, hitting .347 entering play on Monday. Other outfielders are ticketed for Triple-A over Nixon. Prospects Cole Gillespie and Brendan Katin are likely to play in Nashville and so is Jason Bourgeois, who is also in big league camp. If Gwynn or Nelson don't make the big league cut and then clear waivers, one of those players could also return to Nashville. It's obvious to others in uniform that Nixon is grinding. "I know him personally, and he's carrying a heavy load," said Brewers manager Ken Macha, who managed Nixon in the Minor Leagues from 1995-98 at two Boston affiliates. "He puts a lot of pressure on himself." Nixon's best years were in Boston from 2001-03, when he averaged 26 home runs and 90 RBIs. But he appeared in only 11 games in the Majors last season with the Mets, batting .171 (6-for-35) before going on the disabled list with a groin injury. Nixon did have Minor League success in 2008, batting .306 with 14 home runs and 44 RBIs for the Diamondbacks' and Mets' Triple-A affiliates. Arizona traded him to New York for cash before an "out clause" kicked in that would have made Nixon a free agent. He immediately got off to a slow start with Milwaukee, going hitless in his first five games and 12 at-bats before hitting a two-run homer against the Rockies on March 3. "Obviously, I know what I'm playing for out there," Nixon said that day. "I want to have really good at-bats all the time, and just like everybody else, I want to have some success. It's been a little rough going here so far, but that was a good at-bat [against Colorado] and I'll try to have some more. "It's like a perfectionist thing. Sometimes [being patient] is easier said than done when you're fighting for a job. You want to right the ship, and having success doesn't hurt." Like Macha, Brewers hitting coach Dale Sveum has history with Nixon. Sveum was the Red Sox third base coach from 2004-05, when Nixon was struggling with injuries. "I'm sure he would like to be hitting better than he is," Sveum said. "But he has faced a lot of left-handers, so it's not the easiest thing to judge. I also think he's hit a lot of balls hard, right at guys. There's a lot of tough luck right now." Macha sees a lot of little signs of Nixon's struggles. The manager remembers a morning not too long ago on which the Brewers worked on taking aggressive turns at first base. Two hours later, Nixon hit a sinking line drive to the outfield and watched it all the way, using his body English to help make the ball drop. When the baseball did drop and bounce away from the outfielder, Nixon was unable to advance to second base. "Emotions play a big part in it," Macha said. Did he worry that doubt was creeping in? "I think everybody has a small amount of self-doubt," Macha said. "If you're not being productive, that affects you, and it doesn't matter who you are. ... The guys who are the most successful are probably the ones who can slough off the [mistakes] and move on."
Adam McCalvy is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.