The Brewers broke camp with one rookie on the Opening Day roster — shortstop Alcides Escobar. Now, they’re everywhere.
“It feels like half the team!” Escobar said.
Not quite, but the Brewers have certainly skewed younger since the start of the season. On a given day in August the Brewers could start Escobar at shortstop, Jonathan Lucroy behind the plate and Lorenzo Cain in center field, with Zach Braddock ready in relief to face the opponent’s toughest left-handed hitter and John Axford on hand for a save opportunity.
When rosters expanded on Wednesday, right-hander Jeremy Jeffress joined the group. He’s only 22, and when he trotted in for the bottom of the eighth inning against the Reds, he threw his first pitch above Double-A.
This is not necessarily the way general manager Doug Melvin drew it up in Spring Training. Cain and Lucroy, in particular, probably could have used more Minor League seasoning considering they both began the year in Double-A. But as needs arose, Melvin reacted.
And the kids responded.
“When we came up, we knew we had a job to do,” Braddock said. “There was going to be a learning period, but we also needed to do the job that was asked of us.”
Braddock and Axford — along with non-rookie Kameron Loe — were crucial in the Brewers’ midseason makeover of a bullpen that cost them dearly in April. Braddock has a 2.76 ERA in 36 games and, while he allowed a couple of inherited runners to score on Wednesday, is unscored upon in all but four of his outings. Axford claimed the closer’s role brilliantly from Trevor Hoffman, going 19-for-21 in save chances including seven saves of four or more outs.
Lucroy was summoned in May after the Brewers lost starting catcher Gregg Zaun to a season-ending shoulder and top catching prospect Angel Salome to personal issues. Lucroy has proven serviceable, hitting .265 with four home runs and showing improvement in his game-calling and defense.
The Brewers promoted Cain briefly in July and then recalled him for good in early August when center fielder Carlos Gomez went on the disabled list with a concussion. Cain has taken hold of the position, flashing some surprisingly spectacular defense while hitting .300 with a .351 on-base percentage in 70 at-bats.
Escobar has had the ups and downs the Brewers expected during his rookie season. He’s hitting .251.
It will take some time for them to really settle in.
“They’re coming along,” manager Ken Macha said. “But my experience is that normally it takes about three years for guys really to settle into the Major Leagues. You know who’s pitching, how they pitched you, you start to learn the hitters, what they do, all that kind of stuff.
“You’re comfortable with your surroundings. You know what to expect when you come to the ballpark. It takes some time for guys to make that leap forward to being a Major League player.”