MILWAUKEE — With Ryan Braun slumping and Jesus Aguilar swinging one of the hottest bats in the National League, Milwaukee Brewers manager Craig Counsell had no choice but to make the change.
And so, for the first time since 2014 — and just the 16th time in his career — Braun found himself hitting fifth in Counsell’s lineup Monday against St. Louis and likely will be in that spot again Tuesday night when the three-game series with the Cardinals continues at Miller Park.
“Jesus has been probably as hot as any hitter in baseball for the last couple of weeks. Ryan’s just off the DL. So, right now this is kind of, to me, the best construction for us. Quite frankly, Ryan had the same idea because of what Jesus has been doing. So, he was very cool with it.”
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Braun was even more cool with it after going 3-for-3 with a double, a walk, an RBI and three runs scored in Milwaukee’s 8-3 victory Monday afternoon. His three hits tied a season high, set April 25 — which also marked the last time Braun recorded a multi-hit game.
“It doesn’t change much but the innings you’d typically get your at-bats in are a little bit different,” Braun said. “I’ve been really unlucky hitting third this season, so maybe moving to fifth changed my luck a little bit.”
Braun has reached base in five straight games since returning from the 10-day disabled list. He has five home runs and 22 RBIs this season but is batting just .245.
“I know I swung the bats a lot better than the numbers would indicate to this point,” Braun said. “My batting average on balls in play is way lower than it’s been at any point in my career even though I’ve been hitting balls hard. At some point, you have to change something up and your luck changes a it. It was a good start today.”
A victory Tuesday would mark the Brewers sixth consecutive series victory and their second in a row over the Cardinals, who now sit five games behind front-running Milwaukee in the NL Central.
Michael Wacha will try to cut into that deficit Tuesday night.
Wacha threw a season-high 102 pitches his last time out and recorded his first walk-free game of the season by holding the Royals to just an earned run (two total) with six strikeouts over 6 2/3 innings.
The 26-year-old has held opponents to two runs or less over his last seven starts, posting a 1.94 ERA during that stretch thanks to an improve curveball to complement his arsenal.
“I’ve definitely gained a lot more confidence in it,” Wacha said. “It’s becoming a lot better pitch with the spin and break on it. Early on in my career, it wasn’t an effective pitch. I was able to throw it for strikes every now and then. It really wasn’t a swing and miss pitch. Over the last couple years, I’ve been able to throw it more and get some more spin on it and able to locate it a little bit better. It’s definitely one of my go-tos now.”
Wacha is 4-0 with a 4.60 ERA against the Brewers with a 1-0 record and 4.91 ERA in four lifetime appearances (three starts) at Miller Park.
He faced Milwaukee three times last season but did not earn a decision in any of those contests while allowing nine runs over 14 innings of work.
The Brewers answer with Zach Davies, who’s still trying to settle in this season. Davies took the loss last week against the Mets, allowing four runs over four innings of work in his first outing after a stint on the disabled list.
Davies is 2-1 with a 4.22 ERA in seven career starts against the Cardinals. He’s faced them once this season, allowing seven runs (six earned) on eight hits over 5 2/3 innings April 2 in Milwaukee’s home opener.