05/01/12 3:10 AM ET
Brewers visiting tough venues for power hitters
By Adam McCalvy / MLB.com
Spring work helps Brewers on key DP
SAN DIEGO -- The Brewers were still buzzing Monday afternoon about the defensive stop that saved Sunday's win over the Cardinals.It was a "strike-'em-out, throw-'em-out-the-hard-way" double play, engineered by catcher Jonathan Lucroy and executed by shortstop Alex Gonzalez that gave closer John Axford his 48th consecutive save and spared the Brewers from a three-game sweep in St. Louis. "It was awesome," said Brewers first-base coach Garth Iorg, who instructs the club's infielders. The inning began poorly for Axford, who was in a tight jam with runners at first and third, nobody out and the Brewers clinging to a 3-2 lead. Axford struck out the dangerous David Freese, then had to face the equally dangerous Yadier Molina. Knowing the Cardinals could put a running play on, Lucroy stepped in front of the plate and signaled the plan to the Brewers' defenders, who'd worked on a series of plays in the early days of Spring Training. "He can be signaling a throw to second, a throw to third, an arm fake, or, 'We're holding.' There's so many variations of what can happen on that play," Iorg said. "It's one of those plays where, if you don't do it right, you can look silly." "When [Lucroy] was giving the signs, I remember not looking at him," Axford said. "I didn't want to know. I just wanted to focus on the hitter to make sure I threw the pitches where I needed to." On an 0-2 pitch, the Cardinals put their play in motion. Molina swung at a pitch up and away for a strikeout. Lucroy fired to Gonzalez at second base, who ran Carlos Beltran back toward first base while keeping an eye on the runner at third, Tyler Greene. When Greene broke for home, Gonzalez threw back to Lucroy, who applied the game-ending tag. "As a defense, you're reacting to the offense," Iorg said. "Whenever Alex Gonzalez has the ball in his hand, you feel very confident. He's a pretty special guy." The Brewers signed Gonzalez in December to man shortstop. He's been better than advertised on defense, manager Ron Roenicke said. "Great hands, great arm, great head," Roenicke said. "He's really good. [My appreciation of Gonzalez] has increased. When you see somebody on the other side, you don't see the whole picture. ... When you're around him more, you appreciate him."
Braun looking to settle into a rhythm
SAN DIEGO -- At some point, Brewers left fielder Ryan Braun expects to settle into a rhythm. So far, his season has been a collection of streaks.On Monday, he appeared back on the upswing. Braun became the first player to hit three home runs at roomy Petco Park in the Brewers' 8-3 win. It was also the first three-homer game of his career. He had a chance for a Major League record-tying fourth home run in the ninth inning, but "settled" for a two-run triple and six RBIs. "My approach has been really inconsistent," Braun said. "I've felt great, but I knew coming into the year I was going to try too hard, and I was going to be battling that all year. Certainly, I've swung at some pitches I don't typically swing at. For me, the biggest challenge offensively is always plate discipline. As long as I'm swinging at strikes, I know that I'll have success, eventually." He had success in April, but only in short doses. After an 0-for-5 Opening Day, the first hitless opener of Braun's career, he entered a 12-for-30 stretch in which he had as many extra-base hits (five) as strikeouts. Then he slipped into an 0-for-16 slump that included nine strikeouts, followed by a 7-for-20 surge in which he belted three home runs and had more extra-base hits (five) than strikeouts (four). That was followed by a 2-for-11 series in St. Louis in which Braun didn't work a walk, struck out four times and chased more pitches out of the strike zone than manager Ron Roenicke would like. Then came Braun's Monday night. Overall, Braun's numbers are no cause for concern. He boosted his batting average to .294 with his four-hit effort on Monday, and leads the Brewers with 25 hits, seven home runs, 17 RBIs and 55 total bases. Still, player and manager have talked about a more consistent plate approach, Roenicke said. "It's that whole confidence thing," Roenicke said Monday afternoon. "Why do you go on hitting streaks and why do you go in slumps? It's hard to explain what happens. But he knows. He knows what he's doing and what he's doing wrong, and it's hard to stop it. "Take your walks, and when you start seeing the ball better, then you also don't miss that one mistake they make. He's fouling off a lot of pitches that he usually hits. He'll get it going."
Brewers manager Ron Roenicke is again mulling how to line up his starting pitchers after Thursday's off-day. He's had a series of conversations with pitching coach Rick Kranitz and general manager Doug Melvin, but seems disinclined to skip No. 5 starter Marco Estrada."We may sit and watch what happens this series and decide after that," Roenicke said. "It's hard. I think if you have four guys pitching great and your fifth guy that you slip in there isn't the same quality, then you try to skip him at times. But Marco, I really like what Marco does. That's why the decision is tough." Roenicke conceded that Estrada could help in the bullpen, but argued that, "Marco has pitched really well for us -- better as a starter than a reliever." Reliever Brandon Kintzler will begin a Minor League rehabilitation assignment on Tuesday at advanced Class A Brevard County, a coastal Florida destination common for Brewers pitchers coming off injuries. Kintzler missed all of Spring Training and April with a nerve issue in his right elbow.