Brewers need Weeks to set the table
Second baseman will be back at the top of the order
PEORIA, Ariz. -- The Brewers are a bit reluctant to bat Rickie Weeks in the leadoff hole this season. That's fine, because Weeks was reluctant to go there in the first place.
"Honestly, last year, I hated leadoff," said the Brewers' second baseman, who moved up in the order because Brady Clark was struggling last summer. "But I had to get used to it. I figured out that I was going to be there for the long haul, and it kind of grew on me, I guess."
That is a very good thing, because the Brewers will count on Weeks to set the table again this season. They made a serious play for free agent center fielder and prototypical leadoff man Dave Roberts, who instead chose San Francisco, and also extended feelers to Juan Pierre. Both of those pursuits came up empty, so the team moved Bill Hall to center field and settled on Weeks atop the order.
"He has that element of speed, and he was going to score 100 runs for us last year before he got hurt," Brewers general manager Doug Melvin said over the winter. "He would have stolen 30 bases. He has the ability to hit in a number of different positions, depending on the makeup of your team, but he does have some of the qualities of a leadoff hitter [even though] his strikeout total is high."
Weeks was hitting .279 with a team-high 73 runs scored and 19 stolen bases before he suffered a wrist injury late in July that later required surgery. At the time, Weeks was on pace to score 111 runs.
He also struck out 92 times in 95 games.
But as the summer progressed, Weeks says he felt more comfortable at the plate. He batted .274 in 296 at-bats as the leadoff hitter. After going 1-for-3 against the Padres on Wednesday, Weeks was hitting .279 this spring.
"It's getting better," he said. "It definitely feels better than it felt when I first got here. You just have to force your way through it a little bit.
"It is what it is," he added. "I've always been a guy who is a two- or three-hole hitter, so the big thing is that the whole mentality changes."
Weeks was upset after a game last week. He batted with runners at first and third and less than two outs, and worked into a 2-and-0 count.
"It's an easy RBI situation, and it should have been easy just to lift a fly ball to the outfield," Weeks said. "But I took a pitch. I was still in that leadoff mentality. It was kind of weird, and I went back to the dugout mad at myself because of that.
"In that type of situation, I have to revert back to driving the ball. Taking pitches just becomes so routine."
Weeks says he misses the aggressive approach.
"There it is," he said. "I like being aggressive, and [leadoff] is all about taking pitches. The first at-bat of the game, that's my hardest at-bat, period. I hate that. First of all, you don't know the guy and you have to take pitches and then all of a sudden he's throwing slider after slider. I hate that part of it.
"But it's all right. This is what the team needs me to do, so this is what I'm going to do."
At least for now. The Brewers plan to send Tony Gwynn, Jr. to Triple-A Nashville, where Gwynn enjoyed a bit of an offensive breakthrough last season. He batted .300 there and profiles more as a leadoff man.
"It's perfect for me because I like to see a lot of pitches," Gwynn said. "But Rickie is kind of a run-producer. He's got a big swing, quick hands. But with the situation our team is in, he has to hit leadoff.
"We've talked about it, and I think you have to take your hat off to Rickie. I know that when they drafted him they didn't expect him to hit leadoff. But he's sucked it up."
Clark and Craig Counsell, two veterans who have batted all over the lineup, both encouraged Weeks to just be himself.
"You're going to have more success being yourself than trying to be somebody you're not," Counsell said. "You can't change your approach every day based on where you are in the lineup.
"I think sometimes guys hitting first think, 'Get on base, get on base, get on base' and they forget that you can get on base with a hit, too. If Rickie's 2-and-0, he should be swinging. You have to stay aggressive and realize that taking a bunch of pitches doesn't always result in getting on base."
Weeks found himself in another 2-and-0 situation on Wednesday, leading off the game against Padres starter Clay Hensley. He took a called strike right down the middle.
"A regular leadoff guy, you probably want him taking strike one there," manager Ned Yost said. "But a guy like Rickie, you probably don't. He's a different kind of leadoff hitter, and you have to understand that and work around that.
"I would rather have Rickie swing that bat in those situations than stand up there looking for a walk. When he swings the bat, he can do far more damage."
Adam McCalvy is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.