Without Fielder, Brewers will run more

Since he was first introduced as the Milwaukee Brewers’ manager, Ron Roenicke has made no secret of his desire to run.

Roenicke prefers an aggressive approach on the base paths, a philosophy that didn’t work too often during his first season in Milwaukee, when the Brewers’ lineup consisted of sluggers Prince Fielder, Ryan Braun, Rickie Weeks and even Casey McGehee.

This year, though, with Fielder and McGehee gone and Braun possibly out of the lineup for 50 games, the Brewers may be running much more often.

That’s the plan, at least, for now.

“We’ll probably play a little more small ball this year because we have to,” Roenicke said during the Brewers’ annual fan fest, adding that the team would need to be “creative” at times when it comes to scoring runs. “We think the offense, the more creative we get, the more opportunities we have to score runs without home runs, the better off we’ll be.  

“I think some areas, we’re definitely going to focus on trying to get better in. Some things may not be as good. But our goal is certainly to do whatever it takes to get to the playoffs.”

In 2011, the Brewers finished 12th in the National League with 94 stolen bases, their highest total since stealing 108 bases in 2008. During the playoffs, Milwaukee stole just three bases and were caught once. Braun led the team with career-high 33 steals, and Carlos Gomez and Nyjer Morgan were second and third, with 16 and 13 steals, respectively.

Though neither fits the traditional mold of a leadoff hitter, either Weeks or right fielder Corey Hart will again sit atop the Brewers’ lineup. Both have shown an ability to get on base consistently, advance and score.

The addition of Japanese outfielder Norichi Aoki is expected to help the Brewers’ cause, especially if Braun is suspended. He was an excellent hitter in Japan, and if he’s hitting third in place of Braun he will be an ideal candidate to move runners over. Plus he has 164 career stolen bases.

With a greater emphasis on pitching and defense guiding the Brewers, manufacturing runs will be all the more important in 2012.

“I think when you have that, you’re going to play close ball games,” Roenicke said. “We’re going to have to try to figure out, even better than last year, how we grind out runs in those close games. I think our bullpen will hold the other team down to give our offense a chance to score another run.”

The players know, too, that it will be up to them to generate more offense instead of simply setting the table for Braun or Fielder. There is plenty of speed on the roster in Morgan, Gomez, Weeks and Hart. Each player has stolen at least 18 bases twice in his career.

“I think you can see it’s going to be a little more speedy this year,” Morgan said. “We’re going to have to rely more on stealing bags and stuff like that, and not worrying about trying to hit those gaps all the time.”

Still, Roenicke doesn’t expect his offense to be completely punchless. Assuming the lineup still contains Braun, the Brewers have six players who hit at least 12 home runs last season.

“We’re still going to hit home runs,” Roenicke said. “I’m not worried about that. We’ve got a very good lineup.”