Counsell: Pina edges Kratz for Brewers backup catcher as camp begins

It’s not often there’s depth chart news on the first day of spring training with just pitchers and catchers in camp. Milwaukee Brewers manager Craig Counsell, however, didn’t get that message.

On Thursday, the first workout for Milwaukee’s batteries, Counsell gave his catcher depth chart, and it’s not good news for veteran Erik Kratz.

The Brewers signed Yasmani Grandal to a $16 million contract this offseason, which includes a mutual option and $2.25 million buyout, so it’s not surprise that the seven-year veteran is tabbed to be Milwaukee’s main man behind the plate.

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Milwaukee also has Manny Pina and Kratz, also both re-signed this offseason to one-year deals. Counsell said Thursday in his first meeting with media members that “right now” Pina, who played in 98 games in 2018, is the No. 2 catcher and Kratz, who was acquired in late May last season and played in 67 games, is the No. 3.

In last year’s postseason, Kratz had 26 plate appearances and Pina just 12.

“It’s a tough spot for Erik, and we understand that because (he) made a very meaningful contribution (in 2018),” Counsell said.

Nothing, of course, is set in stone on Feb. 14. While Kratz could certainly overtake Pina, his $1.2 million contract is also not guaranteed (he also got a $300,000 signing bonus). Pina’s contract guarantees him $1.75 million.

Pina had a slash line of .252/.307/.395 during the regular season and had a 41 caught stealing percentage. Kratz, who turns 39 in June, batted .236/.280/.355 and threw out just 30 percent of attempted base stealers, but became a fan favorite thanks to some timely hits.

“Acquiring Yasmani put us in that spot,” said Counsell in explaining his rationale behind the depth chart at catcher. “You can’t surprise Eric Kratz with news. He’s playing and he’s 39 years old, he’s seen a lot, experienced a lot, capable of handling a lot and that’s what he’s still going strong at age 39, because he’s able to adapt.”

As far as Grandal, he’s happy to be with the Brewers and knows it will take time to gel with the pitching staff.

But he’s been through this before, having gone from the Padres, where he played form 2012-14, to the Dodgers.

“I need to know their tendencies and how there ball’s moving, and then we need to start working. What’s your plan heading into the year and how do we execute that plan to make you successful?,” Grandal said. “The better we can do behind the plate to help them out, the better the whole team will do and the more successful we’ll be.”

Later he added, “This is not going to be an overnight thing. Let’s become friends first, let’s gain that trust between each other. As time comes we’ll start figuring out what we need to do and how we’ll get on the same page.

One thing is for certain — Grandal will be happy to be behind the plate when Milwaukee’s pitchers are on the mound instead of facing them with a bat. He noted the pitching staff as a big reason he signed with the Brewers.

Grandal hit .241/.349/.466 with 24 home runs in 2018. However, he struggled against the Brewers in the NLCS, going 2 for 11 with six strikeouts.

“(It’s) a group of guys you don’t really wanting to be facing too much,” Grandal said. “By me knowing that, and knowing the ability I have to help a starter get into the bullpen, I felt like that was an easy decision for me. The pitching staff overall stood out for me.

“And then obviously throughout the whole lineup, seeing the capability these guys have to hit and sting at-bats together and kind of just have fun.”

Notes

— Counsell said that Junior Guerra is going to be moved to the bullpen, but also be stretched out where he could be used as a starter or a multi-inning reliever. After splashing on the scene in 2016 with a 2.81 ERA in 20 starts, injuries affected Guerra in 2017 (5.12 ERA in 21 games with 14 starts). He made 26 starts in 2018 and had a 4.27 ERA in those games before being used as a reliever. In five games out of th bullpen he pitched six scoreless innings, allowing three hits and no walks with eight strikeouts.

— For those used to the Brewers of September and October, with an “opener” and a lot of relievers being used every game, Counsell assured things will look different come the start of the season. He noted there’s no expanded roster as in September and unlike the playoffs, teams are playing virtually every day “We’ve got to get pitchers that are going to get a whole lot of outs in a game and that’s the best way for us to be successful, is the guys at the start of a game get us a whole bunch of outs,” he said.