Lucroy scoffs at gaudy early hitting statistics
PHOENIX – A cursory glance of the Milwaukee Brewers' Cactus League stats shows some gaudy numbers for catcher Jonathan Lucroy, who had the day off Saturday but leads the team with a .636 batting average (7-for-11) with a home run and two RBI in four games.
Lucroy is quick to dismiss those stats.
"It's spring training," Lucroy said. "We have a lot of guys raking right now."
That's somewhat true, but among Brewers regulars, nobody is having a better spring than Lucroy, who is preparing for his second full season as the Brewers' starting catcher. He's been lauded by his teammates and coaches for his abilities behind the plate and through his first season and a half in the major leagues, his offense has been a work in progress.
As a rookie in 2010, Lucroy hit a respectable .253 with four home runs and 26 RBI. His numbers improved last year when he hit .265 with 12 homers and 59 RBI but Lucroy, a career .298 hitter in the minor leagues, has long considered himself a plus-offensive player and is looking to build on his 2011 performance.
"You always want to get better," Lucroy said. "I don't think you're ever satisfied with what you're doing at the plate, you always look for ways to improve."
Like most of his fellow offensive teammates, Lucroy is using camp to work on his timing and approach. He hasn't made any major adjustments to his swing but his results have been impressive thus far.
Friday, in Milwaukee's 12-2 victory over Cincinnati, Lucroy went 3-for-4 with a home run, 2 RBI and two runs scored. Manager Ron Roenicke was happy with Lucroy's approach.
"He is really swinging the bat well," Roenicke said. "We weren't sure we were going to give him that last at-bat and then he goes deep. He's really seeing the ball. That's a good sign early."
Bullpen battle: Roenice figures that there are two spots to be won in the Brewers' bullpen, and right-hander Tim Dillard could find himself in the mix for one of them.
"He's got a good chance to make our pen," Roenicke said.
Dillard, 28, had three stints with the Brewers last season, posting a 1-1 record with a 4.08 ERA in 24 games (28.2 innings). Roenicke was asked Saturday about Dillard's switch to a sidearm throwing style, a change he made two springs ago.
The move has helped Dillard, who throws a fastball, slider and changeup.
"I think he was at a point where he wasn't going to keep progressing at the levels he was at," Roenicke said. "He had to do something different. You always have to do something. You give him something, maybe it's something like a split-finger, to try and get him to that next level.
Dropping a guy down is pretty drastic. He's a good athlete and I think because of that, he's able to keep his balance and command the ball down. The biggest thing is you have to command the ball down and it's not easy so when he's down here."
In two Cactus League appearances, Dillard has allowed a run on three hits in 2.2 innings of work. Roenicke has been especially pleased with the way Dillard can go after hitters on either side of the plate.
"He had some success last year against a couple good lefties and I was like 'wow'," Roenicke said. "You don't usually see that. But if you can command the ball here against lefties – usually it's always that sinker-away – if you can throw inside and do that, you're going to get lefties out, too.
"What I see of him, I really like what he's doing. He can get a strikeout on a really good hitter and that shows me something. He's really nasty if he can do that. As long as he commands the ball and maintains his velocity, he should be very good."
Marcum getting closer: Right-hander Shaun Marcum, shut down since earlier in the week with shoulder soreness, has been playing catch and could throw a bullpen session as early as Sunday.
Roenicke said that Marcum could be ready in time for opening day and if he gets back on a throwing program soon, could be ready to make his first start of the season.
"I talked to him this morning and he feels like he's actually, timing-wise, a little bit ahead of where he was last year," Roenicke said. "And last year it was close, we didn't know if he was going to be ready at the beginning or not and i think he'll probably be in the same boat again this year."
Hart keeps rehabbing: Right fielder Corey Hart's rehab following arthoscopic knee surgery last Tuesday is progressing well, Roenicke said. He's been walking around without crutches and receiving daily treatment.
"It's going better than OK," Roenicke said. His flexibility is farther along than what they thought it was going to be so he's coming along really good."