Gruman: Expect the All-Star version of Brewers 2B Rickie Weeks this season.
By ANDREW GRUMAN FS Wisconsin
MILWAUKEE --Rickie Weeks will never fully admit it because he's as tough as nails.
Though he had every reason to use his gruesome ankle injury as an excuse for a forgettable first half of 2012 in which many called for him to be yanked from the lineup or even sent to Triple-A, he didn't say one word about it.
But in reality his ankle wasn't healthy in the first half of 2012, and that played a major role in why he hit only. 199 before the All-Star break. Getting healthier as the season wore on, Weeks slowly morphed into the player he was before the July 2011 injury. Now, with another offseason of healing, expect Rickie to be Rickie again.
"I'll tell you the first half was a beast," Weeks, 30, said while in Milwaukee recently. "I didn't like anything about the first half, from my standpoint and as a team."
As the fan chatter heated up and the media continued to run stories about what was and wasn't wrong with Weeks, some fans wanted him banished to Nashville. But he never made excuses, never let on that his ankle wasn't fully healed.
When Weeks suffered a severe left ankle sprain on July 27, 2011, he was playing the best baseball of his career. Less than a month earlier, he was voted in as the National League's starting second baseman in the All-Star Game and was hitting .272 with 19 home runs and 43 RBI at the time he went down.
If the Brewers had been out of the race, Weeks would have sat out the rest of the season. But Milwaukee was on the way to a division title and Weeks felt a natural pressure to get back as soon as possible.
It's honorable that Weeks sacrificed his body and health for the good of the team by coming back just two months later, but it was obvious he rushed back too soon. The injury impacted him. As an explosive and powerful player, Weeks couldn't push off or get the strength out of the ankle he needed to play his game. He hit just .243 with one home run in the final 14 regular-season games and batted just .146 in the postseason.
The same hampered player showed up in 2012. A full offseason of rehab and rest wasn't enough, and Weeks' batting average was a putrid .158 on June 1, .185 on July 1 and .199 at the halfway point of the season.
There's no other way to explain Weeks dropping from an All-Star to hitting below the Mendoza Line for 81 games. A healthy Weeks may have regressed, but not that far. He's too talented, too powerful and too established for a complete free fall. When Weeks is right, he's an impressive athlete, one you have to see in person to really value. He's big, strong and powerful.
At the plate, he's dependant like many hitters on his stride. He needs to get his lead foot down and use his powerful legs to explode through the baseball. When the left ankle was still tender, his stride was affected. His ability to drive a baseball wasn't the same, let alone tacking on the mental drain that a slump brings. Clearly frustrated, Weeks didn't use the ankle as an excuse because he knew it was going to get better. It was just going to take time.
Weeks hit .276 with seven home runs and 22 RBI in June and July and hit eight more home runs in September and October.
By Opening Day, it will be nearly 20 months since the injury, and Weeks should be fully healed, his confidence back after returning to form in the second half of last season. And as this July rolls around, Brewers fans won't be looking to replace him at second base. Instead they'll be casting their ballots to send him to another All-Star Game.
Rickie Weeks is going to look like Rickie Weeks again.