The Milwaukee Brewers have a lot of work to do in spring training.
Namely, some introductions might be in order.
Seven players who appeared in Milwaukee’s dramatic loss in the NL wild card game at Washington are gone, including catcher Yasmani Grandal and third baseman Mike Moustakas. Avisail Garcia, Omar Narvaez, Brett Anderson and Justin Smoak are in, part of a busy offseason for the Brewers.
While Milwaukee lost a couple key performers from last year, manager Craig Counsell isn’t interested in any excuses for his club.
”I think we always are going to have questions. Every season has questions,” he said. ”I think we are in a really good spot in our division, is what I think. I think we are set up really well.”
Having Christian Yelich sure helps. Yelich was working on a strong case for his second straight NL MVP award last year when he broke his right kneecap in September, sidelining the All-Star slugger for the rest of the season.
Yelich finished with 44 home runs, 30 steals and a .329 batting average, all career highs. He also drove in 97 runs in 130 games.
With Milwaukee going for a franchise-best third straight playoff appearance, Yelich said he is ready to go.
”Shouldn’t be any limitations this spring. Nice to be healthy again,” he said.
Lorenzo Cain also is feeling better after the Gold Glove center fielder was bothered by leg injuries at the end of last season.
”I didn’t feel right until maybe the beginning of December,” he said. ”That’s probably when I started to feel completely healthy.”
Cain and Yelich will be joined in the outfield by Garcia, who hit .282 with a career-best 20 homers for Tampa Bay last year. Narvaez steps in for Grandal behind the plate, and Smoak is in the mix at first base after he signed a $5 million, one-year deal in December.
The Brewers are hoping the reinforcements can help the team return to the playoffs.
”I think we’re going to be competitive,” Yelich said. ”We’re going to have a great team and I think that’s what we’re really excited about.”
The rotation might have three new members compared to the end of last year. Anderson agreed to a $5 million, one-year contract in December after he went 13-9 with a 3.89 ERA in 31 starts with Oakland last season. Josh Lindblom also signed with the Brewers in free agency after spending the previous two seasons in South Korea, and Eric Lauer was acquired in a November trade with San Diego.
ROOKIES TO WATCH
It’s a big year for Corey Ray, who turned 25 in September. The outfielder was selected by Milwaukee in the first round of the 2016 draft out of Louisville. He struggled with injuries last season and batted just .188 in 53 games with Triple-A San Antonio.
Second baseman Keston Hiura looked like a budding star during his rookie season. The No. 9 overall pick in the 2017 amateur draft made his major league debut in May and hit .303 with 19 homers in 84 games.
Luis Urias and Orlando Arcia were going to compete for the shortstop job during spring training, but Urias could miss the start of the season after he had surgery on his left hand. Eric Sogard and Jedd Gyorko are expected to share time at third base.
Milwaukee will see Grandal and Moustakas during Cactus League action after they left the Brewers in free agency. Grandal signed with the White Sox, and Moustakas joined the Reds. The Brewers begin the season on March 26 against the Cubs.
AP freelance writer Andrew Wagner contributed to this report.
Jay Cohen can be reached at https://twitter.com/jcohenap
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