MILWAUKEE — If a player can play shortstop, he has a good chance at being able to play anywhere on the infield. At least that’s what the Milwaukee Brewers are hoping for.
When Jeff Bianchi was reinstated from the disabled list last Thursday, he made five shortstops on the roster. Josh Prince was sent back to Triple-A Nashville the next day, so Milwaukee currently has four shortstops of its seven infielders.
“I think that’s a good thing,” Bianchi said. “We have a lot of guys who can play a lot of different positions. We’ve seen the injuries happen. You just never know. For a guy to be able to play a couple of different positions, that’s a good thing.”
Yuniesky Betancourt and Alex Gonzalez have covered for Aramis Ramirez and Corey Hart at the corner infield positions, while Jean Segura has held down the fort as the starting shortstop. With Ramirez back, Betancourt gets the start at first base for the time being, meaning Gonzalez can return to more of a utility role.
The same can be said for Bianchi, who is even more versatile than Gonzalez. A natural shortstop, Bianchi played second base and third base for the Brewers last season and can play left field if needed.
“The more versatile he is it’s going to help us and it’s going to help him in his career,” Brewers manager Ron Roenicke said. “If teams are looking for a guy who can do both, it’s nice when you can say ‘Yeah, I’ve done it.’ “
Because of all of the injuries, Bianchi probably would have made the Opening Day roster if it wasn’t for a couple of nagging injuries suffered during spring training. Just a day before going out to play for Italy in the World Baseball Classic, Bianchi strained his left groin and had to pull out of the tournament.
Just a short time later, Bianchi was slowed by hip bursitis, causing him to start the season on the disabled list. After using the maximum amount of time on a minor league rehab assignment, the Brewers decided to bring Bianchi back up to fill the super utility role and give the younger Prince a chance to play every day in Triple-A.
“I didn’t think it would go from a groin to the hip and that I wouldn’t be able to break camp,” Bianchi said. “But that’s part of the game and at this point I’m feeling good. I’m just ready to get out there between the lines and help us win.”
As of right now, both the groin and hip aren’t bothering the 26-year-old.
“I’m feeling pretty good,” Bianchi said. “It’s a long season, I’m sure things are going to come up but right now I feel good.”
Claimed off waivers from the Cubs prior to last season, Bianchi made his big league debut with the Brewers in 2012, hitting .188 with three home runs and nine RBI in 33 games. He made 13 starts at shortstop and one start at second base and third base.
In order to increase his value, Bianchi has been getting work in the outfield, though he’s never played there before. He finally got his first professional game experience in the outfield on May 1, as he started in left field for Nashville.
“No flyballs,” Bianchi said of his one game in the outfield. “(It was a good night) not to get any. The wind was swirling at about 25 to 30 mph. We were at Oklahoma City and they got some wind (that) night.
“I’ve been getting reads out there dating back to last year when I was here and in Nashville. This spring and in (Double-A) Huntsville and Nashville I’ve been getting my reads. I was definitely ready. It was just a matter of getting out there.”
Though he’s the team’s fifth or sixth outfielder, Roenicke has comfort knowing Bianchi has put in the work to at least feel comfortable filling in for a few innings in left field.
“If I’d start somebody it’s going to be (Logan) Schafer, that’s who I’m going to start,” Roenicke said. “But if you get into some games where it gets out of hand or somebody gets nicked up and you need somebody to finish the game, it’s nice to have somebody to go out there.”
Last year Bianchi found playing time because the Brewers were searching for somebody to step up and play shortstop with Gonzalez out for the season with a torn ACL. Now, Segura is entrenched as the team’s starter, while Gonzalez is the primary backup.
That means playing time could be scarce for Bianchi, but he’s going to stay ready and do whatever is asked of him when his number is called.
“Whatever the team needs from me,” Bianchi said. “Whether it’s in the infield, outfield or a utility guy that can come in and play any position they need.”