Brewers’ Keston Hiura getting crash course at first base

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Milwaukee’s Keston Hiura couldn’t ever remember playing first base during a game in high school, college or the professional ranks before this year.

Yet that’s where he’ll be most often this season.

Hiura had been Milwaukee’s starting second baseman for the last two years but is moving to first as the Brewers make room for newly acquired Kolten Wong at second.

“A lot of people have been giving me tips and I’ve just constantly been asking questions because I’m just trying to figure out where to be in every single position, whether it’s fielding a ground ball or taking a cut-off,” Hiura said from the Brewers’ spring training site at Phoenix. “It’s just to keep your mind working for every single situation that could come up.”

The first step was finding a mitt. Hiura didn’t want to start the season with a brand-new first baseman’s mitt that hadn’t been broken in. For now, he’s borrowing the first baseman’s mitt of teammate Travis Shaw, who has played both third and first.

“When you get a new glove, it takes a while for it to break in, especially with a first-base glove, you’ve got a lot of leather going into that,” Hiura said. “Obviously with me never breaking in a first baseman’s glove in my life, that definitely is going to take some time, kind of understanding how I want it to be broken in, how I want to form it in my hand, how I want it to close.”

Plenty of players have shifted from second base to first base.

Hall of Famer Rod Carew made that transition midway through his career. Pete Rose started at second base but moved to third and the outfield before landing at first. Colorado’s Ryan McMahon and D.J. LeMahieu of the New York Yankees are active second basemen who also have played first at times.

Hiura’s situation is unusual because he’s making this switch so early in his career. He’s only 24 years old.

The Brewers are giving him plenty of opportunities to adjust to the demands required of his new position. Monday marks the ninth time in 15 exhibitions that Hiura has been the Brewers’ starting first baseman.

Hiura noted that “it’s kind of been all hands on deck” as plenty of Brewers officials instruct him about what to expect. That list includes manager Craig Counsell, bench coach Pat Murphy, third-base coach Jason Lane and Matt Erickson, the manager of the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers who serve as Milwaukee’s Single-A Midwest League affiliate.

“We are throwing something very new at Keston,” Counsell said. “He is diligently working at it and doing really good at it from our perspective.”

Generously listed as 6 feet, Hiura isn’t as tall as the typical first baseman. But the Brewers believe his background at second base will give him exceptional range.

The Brewers are counting on this move to make them better even with Hiura adjusting to a new position.

Wong, a Gold Glove winner each of the last two seasons with St. Louis, represents a defensive upgrade over Hiura at second base. Moving Hiura to first base keeps his bat in the lineup.

Although Hiura batted just .212 with an NL-high 85 strikeouts last season, he hit .303 with a .938 OPS as a rookie in 2019. He has 32 homers in 531 career at-bats.

Hitting coach Andy Haines expects Hiura to bounce back.

“I don’t want to put too much pressure on him, but he’s really an elite hitter,” Haines said. “So, with that being said, sometimes it can be really simple. When Keston’s right, the way they’re attacking him is not of the utmost importance more than him being right and dialed in. He’s learned more than any other player can learn in the last year and a half.”

Notes: CF Lorenzo Cain is expected to play Saturday as he works his way back from a quadriceps injury. Counsell said Cain is still on track to be ready for the start of the season. … Counsell said RHP Adrian Houser will remain on his normal schedule. Houser left Sunday’s game early with what the team described as right thumb discomfort. … OF Derek Fisher injured his left hamstring Sunday and probably won’t play this week.

RHP Fairbanks, Rays agree to 3-year, $12 million contract

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ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Reliever Pete Fairbanks and the Tampa Bay Rays avoided arbitration when they agreed Friday to a three-year, $12 million contract that could be worth up to $24.6 million over four seasons.

The deal includes salaries of $3,666,666 this year and $3,666,667 in each of the next two seasons. The Rays have a $7 million option for 2026 with a $1 million buyout.

His 2024 and 2025 salaries could increase by $300,000 each based on games finished in the previous season: $150,000 each for 35 and 40.

Tampa Bay’s option price could increase by up to $6 million, including $4 million for appearances: $1 million each for 60 and 70 in 2025; $500,000 for 125 from 2023-25 and $1 million each for 135, 150 and 165 from 2023-25. The option price could increase by $2 million for games finished in 2025: $500,000 each for 25, 30, 35 and 40.

Fairbanks also has a $500,000 award bonus for winning the Hoffman/Rivera reliever of the year award and $200,000 for finishing second or third.

The 29-year-old right-hander is 11-10 with a 2.98 ERA and 15 saves in 111 appearances, with all but two of the outings coming out of the bullpen since being acquired by the Rays from the Texas Rangers in July 2019.

Fairbanks was 0-0 with a 1.13 ERA in 24 appearances last year after beginning the season on the 60-day injured list with a right lat strain.

Fairbanks made his 2022 debut on July 17 and tied for the team lead with eight saves despite being sidelined more than three months. In addition, he is 0-0 with a 3.60 ERA in 12 career postseason appearances, all with Tampa Bay.

He had asked for a raise from $714,400 to $1.9 million when proposed arbitration salaries were exchanged Jan. 13, and the Rays had offered for $1.5 million.

Fairbanks’ agreement was announced two days after left-hander Jeffrey Springs agreed to a $31 million, four-year contract with Tampa Bay that could be worth $65.75 million over five seasons.

Tampa Bay remains scheduled for hearings with right-handers Jason Adam and Ryan Thompson, left-hander Colin Poche, third baseman Yandy Diaz and outfielder Harold Ramirez.