MILWAUKEE — Opportunity was supposed to be slim and playing time scarce for whoever Milwaukee’s backup outfielders were this season.
The Brewers were locked in with their starting outfielders, as all three were coming off good seasons. Ryan Braun, Carlos Gomez and Norichika Aoki not only were expected to be Milwaukee’s outfield trio for this season, but all three are under team control for the next few years.
For Logan Schafer, that meant breaking into the big leagues as a fourth outfielder who rarely got to play. Same with Khris Davis, who made the big league team out of spring training, but was sent down after struggling to adapt to a bench role. Caleb Gindl was stuck in Triple-A, his path to the big leagues blocked.
While nothing has changed with the future of Milwaukee’s main three outfielders, Braun’s thumb injury has created an opportunity for Schafer to prove he’s capable of playing everyday, while Gindl is getting his long awaited crack at playing in the major leagues.
It’s a shot neither of them can let slip away.
“It’s just opportunity,” Gindl said. “You hope to make the most of it, just come up here and don’t change the way I play the game. Down in the minors I played the game the same way, and (I plan to) give it everything I got.
“I’m not going to change anything. I’m going to do what got me here and be the same person. That’s my goal.”
With Braun expected to be out until after the All-Star break at minimum, Schafer and Gindl will fill left field for the time being. While Schafer has been with the big league team since the beginning of the season, he may only have a slight leg up right now.
Schafer was adapting to his bench role well, hitting .269 as a pinch hitter, a respectable batting average in such a difficult job. He’s hitting .213 when in the starting lineup, with 14 of his 17 hits coming in five games. Schafer has just three hits in his 17 other starts.
For the season, Schafer is hitting .228 with no home runs and nine RBI.
“He’s been a little streaky so far,” Brewers manager Ron Roenicke said. ” … The pinch-hitting stuff, he was doing fine with it. Started him a few times and he didn’t do so well. Then all of a sudden I started him a few times and he does great. Now he’s going back the other way again, but I’m still confident where all of a sudden he’ll have a game where he’ll get three hits for you and play great defense and you want him in there.”
One thing Schafer consistently brings is his defensive ability in the outfield. He can play all three positions well, and Milwaukee doesn’t lose much, if anything at all, when Braun is out of the lineup.
“One thing about him is if he’s not hitting we know he’ll do all the other things well,” Roenicke said of Schafer. “So it makes it easy to put him in there even if he’s not swinging the bat well.”
Schafer’s roommate throughout the minor leagues, Gindl’s path appeared blocked. Davis outplayed him in spring training, while Josh Prince jumped him for a promotion earlier this season. After a slow start in Triple-A, Gindl was hitting .346 with three home runs and 10 RBI in June before getting called up.
Now he’s the one learning to adapt to coming off the bench, something Davis and Prince struggled with.
“It’s been awesome,” Gindl said of his short time in the big leagues. “It’s definitely a lot better than being in the minors. I feel like I’m starting to settle down a bit, getting a little bit more comfortable as far as stepping in the box for at-bats. I’m just thankful for the opportunity.
“All the hard work and every thing I’ve done to get here, it pays off. It just makes it all that more special.”
Gindl admitted he was a little too excited during his first few at-bats. There were a lot of emotions running through his mind, but they all went away when he dove for a fly ball in the first inning of Thursday’s loss in Houston. He missed the ball, but the first mistake was out of the way and he could relax.
“I think that took the nerves right out of it,” Gindl said. “From then on, I was like ‘OK, I dove for one and didn’t make the play, I can relax.’ Ever since then I’ve been a lot more relaxed, and I feel comfortable in the box, anyway.”
The 24-year-old is no stranger in the Brewers clubhouse, as he’s been with the team for the past few spring trainings. Gindl has opened eyes in previous springs, but has always been returned to minor league camp where he’d go down and put up solid overall numbers.
“Being in spring training with all these guys and seeing the faces, it’s not like a big, huge culture shock,” Gindl said. “You know some of the guys, and you have a feel for some of them. It makes things a lot easier when you know some of the people when you get called up.”
Gindl picked up his first major league hit Saturday against Braves right-hander Tim Hudson, but that’s been his only hit in nine at-bats. Roenicke is faced with the dilemma of finding a guy who will give the Brewers some production in left field while Braun is out.
The skipper wished he had better reasoning as to why he started Gindl over Schafer on Sunday against Braves left-hander Paul Maholm, but all he had was a gut instinct. As both guys are left-handed, a platoon is hard to manage.
Schafer is likely to see more playing time than Gindl, but he must hit consistently or he could see his time decrease. If Milwaukee wasn’t hurting for runs as badly as it is, Roenicke wouldn’t hesitate to play the plus-defender in Schafer.
“I guess the thing that’s bad about having to put him in there is you know you’re missing your No. 3 hitter,” Roenicke said. “But if it wasn’t for Ryan and covering that three spot, I’d have no problem with Logan playing every day.”