MILWAUKEE -- Count former Brewers infielder Jim Gantner among the big fans of the team's new, bunt-happy brand of baseball.Gantner's playing career spanned 17 seasons, from the wall-banging Brewers power teams of the late 1970s and early 1980s to a team that manufactured runs under manager Phil Garner in 1992. The current manager, Ron Roenicke, is unabashedly reinstituting a small-ball style of play in 2012. "We didn't have the power in '92, so we did a lot of first-to-thirds, squeeze [bunts]. I love that it's back," Gantner said Wednesday during batting practice.
The night before, Roenicke showed Gantner something he'd never seen before. With the Dodgers and Brewers tied at 2 in the seventh inning, Roenicke signaled for a squeeze on three consecutive pitches, with runners at first and third, one out and Norichika Aoki batting.The first two were safety squeezes, meaning the runner at third -- Mat Gamel -- waited until contact to break for home. Aoki pulled the first attempt foul and pulled back the bat on the second for a called ball, leaving him in a 2-1 count. That was a good count, Roenicke figured, to up the ante. Figuring Dodgers pitcher Matt Guerrier would want to throw a strike to avoid falling to 3-1, Roenicke called a suicide squeeze. Gamel broke from third with the pitch, Aoki executed the bunt and the Brewers took a 3-2 lead. "I've never seen that -- safety, safety, squeeze!" Gantner said. "But you had a guy up there who could handle the bat and a pitcher who was around the plate, so go for it. I don't think [the Dodgers] knew what to expect. You keep the other team on its toes." It's Roenicke's preferred style of play, but was used sparingly in his rookie managerial season partly because the Brewers featured so much power. Notable exceptions came from catcher Jonathan Lucroy, who executed a game-winning suicide squeeze to beat the Giants on May 28, and delivered another against the D-backs in Game 2 of the National League Division Series. The 2012 Brewers will still hit their home runs, Roenicke figures, but minus Prince Fielder in the cleanup spot, there may be more room for improvisation. It comes down to personnel, Roenicke said. There are also side benefits, Roenicke said. Now that teams know the Brewers are prone to bunt, their opponents will be more likely to call pitchouts, which can put hitters -- assuming they are up at the plate to hit -- in better counts. It can also disrupt a pitcher's rhythm or outright upset him, Roenicke said. "That's a tough call," Roenicke said. "If you take [a pitch] away from him and he's upset, I don't know if it was worth the gamble." Of course, a pitchout could also work, leaving a Brewers runner stuck between third and home. Does Roenicke consider himself a gambler? Yes, he said with a smile. "They're going to have to play a lot more small ball this year because Prince isn't here," Gantner said. "That will probably change as [Aramis Ramirez] gets hot and Nyjer [Morgan] gets on base, but right now, you've got to do what you've got to do. I think it's exciting."
Aramis eighth all-time for HRs by third baseman
MILWAUKEE -- Aramis Ramirez hit his first Brewers home run on Wednesday and made a bit of baseball history.It was Ramirez's 313th career homer as a third baseman, giving him sole possession of eighth place on Major League Baseball's list of sluggers at that position. Ramirez had been tied with former Dodger Ron Cey. Next up on that list for Ramirez is Gary Gaetti, who hit 332 homers at the hot corner. Then comes Ron Santo (337), Matt Williams (359), Graig Nettles (368), Chipper Jones (378 and counting), Eddie Mathews (486) and all-time leader Mike Schmidt (509). Ramirez, who connected against Dodgers starter Chris Capuano, had been waiting for some time to separate himself from Cey. Ramirez's first 2012 home run came in his 42nd at-bat and 46th plate appearance, though he insisted he had not been sweating a slow start with the Brewers. He signed a three-year deal in December. "I've been through it before," Ramirez said. "I've been around a while -- this is my 14th year in the league. It happens. It's just unfortunate that it happened with a new team." Did he make up for his drought with distance? "It felt pretty good, I'll tell you that," Ramirez said of the 444-foot drive. "I got a first-pitch fastball and I hit it pretty hard." Said manager Ron Roenicke: "The look on his face, and the way the guys reacted, that was really nice to see." Ramirez actually has 316 career homers. He hit two as a pinch-hitter and one as a designated hitter.
Brewers trying to get Morgan going at the plate
MILWAUKEE -- Play on or give him a break? That is the decision the Brewers will make regarding slumping center fielder Nyjer Morgan.
"We'll see how that goes," manager Ron Roenicke said Wednesday, unwilling to tip his hand. "I want to get him going, and whatever we feel is best to get him going, we'll try to do."
Morgan, an emotional engine of the Brewers' club-record-setting 2011 season, is sputtering to start 2012. He went 4-for-32 with eight strikeouts, no walks and no extra-base hits in his first 10 games. Last season, Morgan batted .304.He was out of Wednesday's lineup because the Brewers faced a left-hander in Chris Capuano. With righty Aaron Harang starting for the Dodgers on Thursday, Roenicke and his coaches will face a decision. Go back to Morgan and try to get him going, or give Morgan another day of mental rest and start Norichika Aoki instead. "Yes, [Morgan] is frustrated," Roenicke said. "He had such a good year last year. He really didn't have any major slumps that he went into. He had, maybe, a week where he wasn't swinging the bat well. ... To start off, his Spring Training was a little bit off, and he hasn't found it. It is frustrating to him. He wants to help us win, and he knows he needs to do his part. That's never easy."
Shortstop Alex Gonzalez arrived at Miller Park about 20 minutes before the team took the field to stretch Wednesday afternoon and returned to the starting lineup. He missed three games while his wife, Johanna, gave birth to the couple's third child. Roenicke said both center fielder Carlos Gomez and left fielder Ryan Braun were lobbying to play shortstop on Tuesday night, after it became clear Roenicke was going to pinch-hit for Cesar Izturis. But had the game gone to the 10th inning, Aramis Ramirez would have manned shortstop for the first time in his long career, with first baseman Mat Gamel moving over to third and either George Kottaras or Travis Ishikawa taking over at first. It never came to that; Gamel scored the winning run when that pinch-hitter, Kottaras, delivered a two-run double in the ninth.