Healthy Lucroy ready to rejoin Brewers' lineup
MILWAUKEE -- After nearly two months on the shelf, Milwaukee Brewers Jonathan Lucroy was all smiles in the Brewers clubhouse before Thursday's game — his first game back in the lineup since the end of May.
Lucroy was one of Milwaukee's best hitters before a bizarre injury involving a falling suitcase resulted in a broken hand, but Lucroy's return comes a bit too late to keep the Brewers in serious contention for a playoff spot. Before the injury, Lucroy was batting a team-best .345 with five home runs and 30 RBI. He also led all of baseball in batting average with runners in scoring position.
But considering the situation he enters with the Brewers in fourth place — losers of their last six and 13.5 games back in the NL Central race — Lucroy admitted he would've like to return sooner.
"I feel like I missed out on a lot, I do," Lucroy said. "I don't think I'm too late because, obviously, in baseball you never know what can happen. I'm forever optimistic, and I always believe in a positive outcome, and that's what I'm going to believe and think."
With Lucroy back behind the plate and the lineup slowly returning to form, the only remaining question involving the Brewers' backstop is how manager Ron Roenicke will handle the catching rotation from here on out. He solved one of those issues on Thursday by designating backup catcher George Kottaras for assignment, leaving Lucroy and breakout catcher Martin Maldonado as the only remaining backstops on the roster. In the 49 games since Lucroy's injury, Maldonado is hitting an impressive .275 with five home runs and 19 RBI.
Before the injury, Lucroy caught four of the Brewers' five starters -- everyone except Randy Wolf, who was caught by Kottaras. Roenicke said he didn't think the Brewers would operate under that same rotation, however, with Maldonado in Kottaras' place.
"No, we probably won't do it that way," Roenicke said. "Two or three (games for Lucroy), then put in Maldy — we'll switch off that way, I think, for a while. And then we'll see what happens."
The 26-year-old Lucroy spent six days on rehab assignment in the past week, including four games at Single-A Wisconsin and two games at Triple-A Nashville. With the Single-A Timber Rattlers, Lucroy hit 4-for-12 with two RBI and one stolen base, playing three games as the team's designated hitter and one as catcher. In Nashville, Lucroy was 3-for-7 in two games with three runs scored and one RBI.
He said the rehab performance made him feel confident that he could play the same everyday catcher's role that he left behind before being injured, even if Roenicke is a little skeptical.
"I don't know what they're planning on doing, but I feel like I can go out there and play every day right now," Lucroy said. "I played the last few days, and I felt great, felt strong. I did the same in Appleton and felt strong, so if I'm in there competing, I don't see any reason why I can't stay in there."
But even Lucroy agreed that it was best he didn't rush back into the lineup, even if his recovery process from the injury to surgery and back to the field on Thursday took a little longer than expected. Roenicke even ensured that the Brewers catcher didn't come back before he was ready.
"I think when you're dealing with an issue like bones in the hand, you have to tread on the side of caution a little bit," Lucroy said. "Easily, you'll hurt it more if you're not careful."
And while Lucroy's return is certain to be a boon for a lineup that was already doing well in his stead, Roenicke remained cautiously optimistic about his catcher's return.
"I wouldn't say it's a relief," Roenicke said. "I would say if Luc swings the bat the way he was swinging the bat before he got hurt, he's going to a huge help to our offense. But it's not really fair to say he's going to step in there and be that same guy. I know he felt good in Triple-A, he felt good in A-ball, but it's a little different here. We'll see how it goes with him."
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