After a lengthy soft pitch session on the field Friday afternoon with batting coach Andy Haines, Christian Yelich showed he hasn’t lost his sense of humor in what was a first-half. Grueling time with the Brewers.
When asked what he was trying to accomplish, Yelich replied, “I just learned how to strike again.”
It hasn’t been so bad for the two-time batting champion, but it was different in many ways in 2021. It certainly didn’t help that Yelich was sidelined for about five weeks with a problem. back that persisted longer than any other. previously experienced in the major leagues.
But Yelich ensured that his back wasn’t what kept him from regaining – or at least approaching – the form that made him one of the game’s most feared hitters in 2018-19. And the key word is “slugger” because the power component is what was lacking in his game this year.
Coming into the Brewers’ game against the Cincinnati Reds at American Family Field, Yelich had a percentage on base of .401, mainly because he had walked 46 in 227 appearances at home plate. He was only beating 0.237 in 56 games, but the real issue was a 0.373 shot percentage, well below his previous career standard of 0.488 and not within earshot of his numbers of 0.598 and 0.671 in 2018-19.
Yelich had just five homers and 24 RBIs but was having even bigger issues with late handling of the ball, with a 0.217 hitting percentage in eight July games, no homers and one RBI, which came on a HBP loaded with bases in New York.
Even in the pandemic-shortened 2020 season, when Yelich came out of a broken kneecap and looked cranky from the start, he had a 430-shot percentage with 12 homers in 247 home plate appearances.
As for what he was focusing on Friday, Yelich said, “I’m just slowing down, trying to figure things out. Get back to basics. Try not to suck anymore. I think I was pretty terrible but there is a lot of season left. Keep grinding and try to help the boys, contribute to a winning team. We played well.
Yelich said it helped his morale that the team did well despite their main contribution coming from their base percentage.
“We played well; we have received contributions from everyone, ”he said. “Seems like someone different every night comes along with a big hit. Just really find a way. We don’t win the same way every time. It was funny.”
Yelich’s 20.3% walk rate is the highest of his career, so opponents always throw him carefully, and to his credit, he hasn’t chased a lot of bad throws. But he hits at a 28.6% rate, the second-highest after his 30.8% mark in 2020, and his soft-touch percentage of 18.6% is by far his highest.
When asked to summarize the situation, Yelich said, “It has really been a lot over the past couple of years. It’s hard to explain quickly. I’m just trying to figure it out. Me and Andy talked about it. I know what I want to do. It’s just a matter of being able to do it.
“I don’t even look the same up there anymore. Literally, we are starting from square one and trying to figure it out. It was a mess. But it’s part of the game. It’s part of the game; you have to grind. In the grand scheme of things, it’s been two years but (only) 400 batting appearances. It was a really crappy 400 batting, but I think it’s been a positive day today. Just try to build on it.
When asked if he ever got lost on the plate in Miami before being traded to the Brewers in January 2018, Yelich replied, “I wouldn’t say so badly. It’s baseball, man. It’s a tough game. It’s been flashes, but I really know I’m capable of playing better.
“We have a great team. I just want to contribute to it and help these guys win as many games as possible. It’s fun to win. We have a great group of guys and we are lucky to have a special year.
Manager Craig Counsell said he believes the all-star break comes at the right time for Yelich, giving him “four days off with no responsibilities and no time for himself.”
“I think he’s about to do what he did in the first half of 2018, but he’s doing it a little differently. He rides the base to an elite level. He doesn’t drive the ball like we saw in the second half of ’18 and ’19, but he can throw that play very quickly. I still think he’s been very productive for us.
“The break is going to be good for him for sure, but most importantly, we’re in a great health position. I know he can’t wait to finish this strong half and start the second half well.
The plan for Kolten Wong
Counsell said a plan will be in place on Sunday for the return of second baseman Kolten Wong from left calf strain who put him on the 10-day injured list on July 2.
“He’s going to be training hard over the next few days and as we get to Sunday we’ll figure out what’s next for him,” Counsel said. “He’s doing really well. This is why he is training aggressively and we will determine what happens next.
“It’s going to be strong workouts the next three days, test it hard enough. Everything is fine. The anticipation will be if it is not the first day after the break (return to action), it will be very soon after.
Wong, who spent time on IL twice earlier in the season with oblique tension, said after his field practice Friday that he felt confident to return after the break.
“I’m definitely pushing right after the star break,” he said. “I feel good where I am now. There is no more pain in the calf.
Wong said he thinks he can return to action without a rehab assignment in the minor leagues.
“I know what it takes to prepare myself for the big league hitters,” he said. “And with the four days off (at the break), everyone will be a little behind the 8-ball. I want to be there for my teammates. We’re playing so well right now.
Peterson was the ultimate replacement
The good news for the Brewers during Wong’s absence was the play of substitute Jace Peterson, who hit .386 with two homers and 12 RBIs in his last 18 games on Friday. He also did 12 steps on this stretch, earning him an OBP of 0.509.
Which begs the question: When Wong returns, how will Peterson be at bat?
“We will find places where Jace can play,” said Counsell. “I’m sure.”
“That’s what it takes to have a good baseball team. You need a surprise. You need someone to step in when they get the chance and do something you didn’t expect. You don’t know who it’s going to be at the start of the season but that’s why these players are really important.
“Jace, I give him a lot of credit. The game has not always been easy for him. He moved around a lot and was often told ‘no’, but he stuck to it. You don’t know when this opportunity will present itself and when it will click when you get it. This is why you keep grinding every day. You are happy for a player who does that and when it clicks when they have that opportunity. “