In his first appearance at Miller Park since his young son passed away just before the All-Star break, Jean Segura stepped to the plate Monday night and received a warm ovation from the Milwaukee crowd.
Four pitches later, Segura gave the fans something to really cheer about, showing off first his suddenly potent bat and then his always-dangerous legs to score the Brewers’ first run and give them a lead they would not relinquish in a 5-2 win over the Cincinnati Reds in the series opener.
At the plate and in the field, Segura had his best game in what has been a terribly difficult month. He had two hits and scored two runs, in addition to making a pair of excellent plays on defense, to help the Brewers win for just the third time in July.
"He swung the bat really well today and made two fantastic plays defensively," manager Ron Roenicke said after the game. "Great game for him. He looks really good out there."
In an exciting and unusual sequence that displayed some newfound power, as well as his usual speed and daring — plus a bit of luck — Segura laced a line drive to right-center field off Reds pitcher Mat Latos in the bottom of the third inning. The play easily could have ended with the shortstop standing comfortably at second, but, after initially hesitating going around the base, Segura put his head down, upshifted and surged for third.
The throw to the bag struck the sliding Segura on the leg and bounced away, the ball falling down into the Reds dugout. That resulted in the play being ruled dead and Segura being awarded the next base. So the grieving 24-year-old ambled home to tally the first of three runs Milwaukee would score in the third inning.
It was an encouraging performance for Segura, who has struggled offensively for most of the season and came into the game batting just .236. But in the Brewers’ first four games after the All-Star break — Segura’s first games back since his 9-month-old son Janniel passed away on July 12 in the Dominican Republic — the slender speedster has brought more power into the batter’s box.
"I feel better," he said after the game. "I feel good. I’ve been working out. It’s going to come."
After going 2 for 3 with the opposite-field triple against the Reds, Segura has five hits in his last 15 at-bats (.333 average). More impressively, three of those hits have been for extra bases. Before his current stretch of three consecutive contests with an extra-base hit, Segura hadn’t had even two such games in a row this season.
Roenicke said Segura has been showing more pop at the plate recently.
"The ball is coming off (his bat) well," Roenicke said after the game. "He’s hitting balls hard to both fields, and he has for the last few games. I don’t see too many of the bad swings, the ball that he flips over and hits straight down into the ground."
Roenicke said he thought Segura seemed mentally focused and not overly distracted by his personal tragedy, which — related or unrelated — has coincided with improvement at the plate.
"He’s still going to have those times when he thinks about it, but I liked when he first came back," Roenicke said. "I thought it was really important for him to know that the team was behind him. When (general manager Doug Melvin) and I sat down with him, I thought it was a really good conversation.
"I’m hoping he comes out of this thing and gets his swing back and gets his confidence back."
For his part, Segura said when he’s on the field he feels better and there was "not really" any added emotion when he came to bat for the first time at home in the third inning and heard the support from Brewers fans.
He added that it has been a "tough week for me and for my family too, but I come here, work, try to do the best I can to help the team win."
A half-inning before hitting the triple, Segura made a sparkling play on defense. In the top of the third, after Reds pitcher Mat Latos had gotten to third base with one out, right fielder Skip Schumacher sent a slow chopper to shortstop. Segura charged onto the infield grass, snagged the ball on the short hop and fired home to throw out Latos, who was trying to score on the fielder’s choice.
The play saved Peralta a run and the big right-hander settled down to work one of his best starts of the season. He would complete seven innings and allow just one run on three hits, striking out five and walking two, a performance where he said "everything was working."
"Yeah, he made some nice pitches when he got in trouble," he said. "Overall he had a real nice game. He gave us the innings, kept the ball down, had a real nice slider. He made some big pitches when he needed to."
In the top of the seventh inning, Segura made another nice defensive play to close out Peralta’s night. With two outs, Reds shortstop Zack Cozart sent a hard grounder to Segura’s right, into the gap between him and third baseman Aramis Ramirez. Segura made a smooth backhanded snare and fired to first to retire Cozart and end the inning.
"The one with the chopper where he came in and threw out Latos — great play," Roenicke said. "And the backhand, there aren’t many guys who can make that play with that kind of arm strength."
After scoring on his own triple in the third — an inning where a defensive miscue by Reds left fielder Chris Heisey allowed Ryan Braun to drive in two more Brewers runners with a frozen-rope double — Segura scored again in the fourth. He singled to right, went to second on Peralta’s sacrifice and crossed home plate on Carlos Gomez’s ground-rule double, another ball Heisey misplayed in left field — Roenicke said he lost it in the "twilight."
"There were a lot of guys with big at-bats," Roenicke said. "Brauny, a big at-bat to go down and get a really a good slider for a couple of runs. We did some good things. . . . We’re squaring up more balls lately."
And getting some good breaks, as the Brewers took advantage of both of the Reds’ errors.
"When you are not playing well you don’t get many, there’s no question," Roenicke said. "I think you get a couple of breaks when you are playing well. I thought we played a really good game today. We ran the bases well. Yeah, so I think you get some good things that happen to you."