Notes: Two-strike approach working
Brewers responding to hitting coach Skaalen's philosophy
PHOENIX -- New Brewers hitting coach Jim Skaalen started preaching a two-strike approach from the first day he stepped foot on a field at Maryvale Baseball Park. To say he is pleased with the results so far is an understatement.
"I love the way our guys are really battling when they get to two strikes," Skaalen said during the Brewers' 11-4 over the A's on Saturday. "They're buying into the philosophy of not trying to do too much."
The Brewers strung together six consecutive hits to start Saturday's game at Phoenix Municipal and took an early 5-0 lead on Joe Kennedy and the A's. Two of those hits stood out to Skaalen: Prince Fielder's soft single up the middle that plated Milwaukee's first run and Johnny Estrada's opposite-field poke that plated the third and fourth runs of the frame.
Both of those hits came with two strikes.
"That's been my main focus this spring," Skaalen said. "There's a lot of ugly hits out there, and you can win ballgames with them."
The Brewers padded their already strong offensive numbers. They entered the game leading the Majors in spring batting average (.330) and total bases (326) and second in runs scored (125). Shortstop J.J. Hardy and outfielder Kevin Mench have combined for 66 at-bats without a single strikeout.
"We're not striking out near as much and we're having great, quality at-bats," manager Ned Yost said. "Our guys will take a swing and get out of their approach, but then they'll get right back in it."
The 2006 Brewers went 75-87 while ranking near the bottom of the National League in runs scored (13th of 16 teams), walks (12th), slugging percentage (12th), on-base percentage (13th) and strikeouts (15th). The team has posted the league's second-worst strikeout total in each of the last four seasons.
How low can he go? Sidearming lefty reliever Brian Shouse is experimenting with an even lower arm angle this spring in an effort to keep pitches down in the strike zone. He believes it is proving especially effective for his two-seam, sinking fastball.
"For the most part, it's been working decent," said Shouse, who has a 6.00 Cactus League ERA. "I've really been working on keeping it in on right-handed hitters to get them out better. I guess now I need to focus on getting lefties out, too.
"But everything feels good. My arm feels good. My body feels good. I'm ready to go."
Heat wave: The high temperature flirted with triple digits in the Valley again on Saturday, the fourth straight day of record heat. It's having an effect on teams like the Brewers.
"My wife is here at Spring Training for the first time, and she's all excited to go out at night, but Ned and I are so tired that we want to go to bed at 7:30," Yost said, referring to his son, Ned IV, who is in Minor League camp. "The sun just drains you."
Yost is altering the schedule this weekend to give his regulars a break, and he's shortened some batting practice and fundamental sessions. Most of the starters played five innings of Saturday's game against the A's before calling it a day.
Miller continues comeback: Catcher Damian Miller caught Carlos Villanueva's 4 2/3-inning start in a Minor League game on Saturday afternoon. Miller went 0-for-2 but reported "feeling good," according to assistant general manager Gord Ash.
Miller has yet to appear in a Cactus League game. He suffered a moderate left calf strain in an intrasquad game Feb. 27.
Last call: Lefty Joe Thatcher pitched one-third of an inning with one hit and one strikeout on Saturday in his first appearance in a Major League game. He was promoted from Minor League camp on Thursday. ... Vinny Rottino saw his first action at catcher on Saturday. Rottino has been used mostly at third and first base this spring because of injuries to other players. ... Reliever Dennis Sarfate pitched a scoreless ninth inning, but Yost was not pleased with the performance. "Really, really good stuff, but he threw 20-something pitches and too many of them were 'up,'" Yost said. "It's still not what we're looking for. You're going to get killed with that." ... Right-hander Ben Sheets, coming off his best start of the spring, is scheduled to start on Sunday against Felix Hernandez and the Mariners at Maryvale Baseball Park. Greg Aquino, Luther Hackman, Jose Capellan and Francisco Cordero were also on the list to pitch.
Adam McCalvy is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.