Brewers’ Yelich seeks health, return to 2018-19 form

Michael McLoone-USA TODAY Sports
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PHOENIX – Christian Yelich has been through highs and lows in his four seasons with the Milwaukee Brewers. He’s ready for another high, and even with the lockout feels ready to get back to his old self.

“This year feels more like a regular spring training,” Yelich said Thursday before the Brewers played the Arizona Diamondbacks in Phoenix.

The 2018 MVP and 2019 runner-up was on a run to greatness. He hit 36 homers in 2018 and 44 more in 2019 before a broken right kneecap ended his season after 130 games.

The last two seasons have been a struggle. In 2020, a 60-game season, Yelich hit just .205 but did have 12 home runs, commensurate with his previous full-season totals. Last season, his batting average bounced back up to .248, but in 117 games the left fielder managed only nine home runs. He was out five weeks with a back injury and his slugging percentage, a major league-leading .671 in 2019, fell all the way to .373.

Still, the 30-year-old Yelich has maintained the same, steady personality on the field and in the clubhouse, and his goals remain relatively simple.

“Stay healthy, help our team win, and get back to the postseason,” said Yelich, who has become used to playoff baseball since the Brewers acquired him from Miami before the 2018 season.

The Brewers have reached the postseason four years in a row, though Milwaukee was eliminated in its first series in each of the past three years.

One of Yelich’s new teammates knows all about what he’s facing and expects him to rebound. Like Yelich, Andrew McCutchen has won an MVP award.

“I look forward to him having a really good season, and I look forward to us challenging each other to be better every single day,” the veteran outfielder said Thursday.

WOODRUFF DEBUTS

Brandon Woodruff pitched for the first time this spring. The Brewers right-hander started, was removed with two outs in the second and returned to the mound for the third and fourth innings under the spring-only, re-entry rule.

In all, Woodruff went three innings, giving up six hits and four runs, including a home run to Arizona’s Josh Rojas. He posted a 2.56 ERA last season, striking out 211 batters in 179 1-3 innings and finishing fifth in voting for the National League Cy Young Award, which was won by teammate Corbin Burnes.

“I kinda stunk,” Woodruff said after the outing. “The execution comes along as you get some more game reps. I think with the different type of spring training, in terms of the shortness, you’re ready for multiples, three, four innings. The game competition gets the rhythm going.

He said he has no concerns and particularly noted the new slider he’s working on, but still: “I don’t like to stink.”

ADDRESSING THE TROOPS

At the midpoint of the shortened spring training, Brewers owner Mark Attanasio talked to the team Thursday. He said his address was part of baseball’s aim to avoid future situations such as the 99-day lockout that kept spring training from beginning until two weeks ago.

Two weeks from now, Opening Day arrives with Milwaukee heading to Wrigley Field to play the Cubs.

“The most important thing is we want to try to improve the product on the field,” Attanasio said. “But we want to do it constructively.”

Attanasio, who bought the Brewers in 2004, served on the owners’ labor-relations committee.

“We gotta do better than having a skirmish every five years,” Attanasio said. “It was so great when it was over,” he added, referring to the flurry of deals and free-agent signings that preceded the return to the field.