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CHICAGO -- Yuniesky Betancourt is swinging at the highest percentage of first pitches in his career, with very little to show for it. But instead of asking him to take a pitch or two, Brewers coaches are maintaining a relatively hands-off approach with the free-swinging shortstop.
As part of his offseason scouting, new manager Ron Roenicke spoke with some friends in the Mariners organization about Betancourt, who played for Seattle from 2005-09 before spending parts of two seasons in Kansas City. The reports said that when Mariners coaches tried to coax a more patient plate approach from Betancourt, his results actually suffered. When they let him simply react at the plate and swing away, he had some success.
The Royals reportedly used a similar hands-off approach, and Betancourt delivered a career offensive year last season, tying for the club lead in home runs and RBIs.
"He is a coachable hitter, but there is a feel to hitting," Roenicke said. "Some guys have good instincts on when to take pitches, they have a good idea of the strike zone. If you tell them to 'keyhole' a pitch, they know what to do. They know that there is only this little area that they are going to swing at a pitch.
"Well, probably there are only two [hitters] in your lineup that can do that. The other guys, you're telling them something that makes sense, but they can't do it. They can't go up there and say, 'I'm not going to swing at a pitch that's on the outside corner. I'm going to wait for that mistake.' That's always the ideal hitter, but they're not all that way in the big leagues. It's a fact. Most of them aren't.
"I think what Dave [Sveum, Milwaukee's hitting coach] is doing with him lately, trying to get him to go the other way, that's huge for Yuni. I think that's what he needs to do. When his mindset is on going the other way, I think he's going to get more hits."
Entering Tuesday, Betancourt had swung at a Major League-high 42.8 percent of first pitches, just above the Orioles' Vladimir Guerrero (42.6 percent) and the Cubs' Aramis Ramirez (42.3 percent). He was batting .228 with three home runs and 20 RBIs.
Asked during Spring Training about his habit of swinging early in the count, Betancourt explained, "It's in my blood. Latin people don't walk too many times. We just go up there and swing."
"There are times when it's smart for him to go up and take a pitch," Roenicke said, "but you have to have a feel for that stuff. It's hard to just dictate to a hitter exactly what he has to do every time, because then he loses that feel of, 'Hey, I'm 1-0, I feel really good against this guy, I want a good pitch and I want to hit it.'
"When he was hitting last year, there wasn't a whole lot of thought going on with him, as far as people making him do things. There was his last year in Seattle, and it caused problems. I don't want to do that."
Roenicke sticking with McGehee in five-hole
CHICAGO -- As long as he produces good at-bats, Casey McGehee will remain the Brewers' No. 5 hitter.
That was manager Ron Roenicke's endorsement, when McGehee entered Tuesday's game against the Cubs with four hits in his previous 47 at-bats. Roenicke and Brewers hitting coach Dale Sveum argue that those numbers do not tell the whole story, and point to at-bats like McGehee's first-inning lineout to right field on Monday night with runners at first and second base.
"Especially with runners in scoring position, he's been having better at-bats," Sveum said. "He's feeling that. He hasn't lost the emotion of feeling good about himself, it's a matter of getting the results now.
"His biggest problem through all of this is that he's been back on his heels hitting, instead of on the balls of his feet. Now he feels like his balance is better, he's covering [pitches] away and reacting better. He's feeling really good about things right now, and that's half the battle."
McGehee led the Brewers with 104 RBIs last season and is hitting in an important spot in the order, behind cleanup man Prince Fielder.
"This guy has done it over a long season," Sveum said. "It's not like we're panicking on a guy who hasn't had a lot of success."
Brewers no strangers to nailbiting finishes
CHICAGO -- The Brewers' 1-0 loss to the Cubs on Monday was their 27th one-run game, tied with the Giants for the most in the National League. Milwaukee manager Ron Roenicke expects that to change.
"I think we have a better offense than what we've been showing," he said. "I know our run totals are OK, but I really think our offense is capable of not having so many one-run games."
Not that he's complaining. Roenicke's club entered the week with 15 one-run wins, second-most in the NL to the Giants' 18.
"When you start winning those games, it's certainly a plus for your team if it hopefully is a contender," Roenicke said. "Early, we were losing a lot of those one-run games, which was not a good thing. Lately, most of the time we've been coming ahead, and it's good to play tight games because you have to do things right to win. One mistake, and it usually costs you the game. We've been doing a lot of things right."