Brewers puzzled by Lucroy's dip in production
MAY 28, 2013 6:12p ET
Around 2:30 p.m. Tuesday afternoon, the group of Brewers out on the field working with hitting coach Johnny Narron included second baseman Rickie Weeks and catchers Jonathan Lucroy and Martin Maldonado.
While Weeks' battle to end his slump has been well-documented, both Lucroy and Maldonado haven't produced as anticipated.
The Brewers were expected to have one of the best catching duos in baseball, but manager Ron Roenicke has gone from having two productive offensive catchers to hoping one of them can get hot at the plate.
"I expected those guys to hit," Roenicke said. "Every year somebody different has struggles. It's baseball. It's a very tough game, not just physically because we play every day, but the mental side of it. When you are going out there and having 0-fers and it just (keeps going) over and over, mentally it gets to you. The good ones, they are better mentally and they come out of it quicker. They are more talented a lot of times, but mentally there are guys that are just a lot stronger whether it's cockiness, confidence, whichever one it is, they come out of things earlier."
While Maldonado emerged when given an opportunity last season, Lucroy is the franchise catcher. Though a hand injury cost him two months in the middle of last season, Lucroy still finished with a .320 batting average, 12 home runs and 58 RBI in 96 games.
His breakout season earned him a spot as one of the three catchers on the United States' roster for the World Baseball Classic. Though it was an honor for Lucroy to be selected, he didn't see much playing time behind Twins catcher Joe Mauer and J.P Arencibia of the Blue Jays. Instead of getting his usual at-bats to prepare for the season, Lucroy was sitting out.
There's no way to prove the altered spring has had any impact on his early season struggles, but Lucroy is hitting just .230 with three home runs and 19 RBI in 41 games.
Though he's getting in extra work, Lucroy hasn't made any drastic changes to try and get himself going.
"I don't really try too much," Lucroy said. "There's a few things I try to do different. The most important thing you can do is just keep things simple. You don't want to try to do too much more than you always do. With myself, I'm putting a lot of balls in play. I'm not striking out. That tells me my hand-eye coordination is still there. All it is, is little tweaks here and there to figure out how we're going to hit the ball hard and get some more hits."
With Lucroy not hitting, Roenicke has admitted playing time is there for Maldonado to grasp, but he hasn't seized the opportunity. Known as a tremendous defensive catcher, Maldonado came up when Lucroy was hurt and exceeded offensive expectations.
By pairing his defensive ability with a final batting average of .266 with eight home runs, Maldonado appeared ready to force his way into the lineup a few times per week.
With playing time available at catcher and his second position of first base, Maldonado is hitting just .176 with just one home run in 85 at-bats this season.
"Both of them offensively are obviously down from where they were last year," Roenicke said. "Last year after a couple of months they were the best in baseball. They do a nice job defensively, but what's hard is - without a doubt it's the hardest position to play. Mentally, you effect what happens down there more than anybody. When you are worried about also what you are doing offensively and you are trying to call a game - you are trying to think through their lineup and you are trying to think which pitcher you have on the mound - it's a really difficult job.
"When half of the equation is good and you are going good offensively, now all you have to do is worry about one side. It's still difficult. They can handle worrying about one side. When you are trying to do both, it's hard."
Regression from last season is more explainable with Maldonado because he's never been a strong offensive threat in the minor leagues, but Lucroy's dip is puzzling. He was on his way to his first All-Star Game when he broke his hand in an off-field incident, but still hit .299 after returning in late July.
"I think it's important to take this game pitch by pitch, inning by inning, at-bat to at-bat and not try to think in bigger terms," Lucroy said. "If we can do that and keep things simple, things turn out a lot better.
"I'm not a guy that sets goals for myself. I think when you set goals for yourself - this is me individually, I think some guys can do it - I try to do too much. If I try to go pitch to pitch, at-bat to at-bat, I feel a lot better. On the defensive side, too, as far as calling a game and keeping guys from scoring runs."
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