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BIG BOPPERS HAVEN'T MADE A SMASH YET


BIG BOPPERS HAVEN'T MADE A SMASH YET
In assessing the first eight games of the Milwaukee Brewers' season a few hours prior to game No. 9 Wednesday night, manager Ken Macha simply pointed to the National League statistics and stated the obvious.

"We're near the bottom of the league in hitting, we're near the bottom of the league in pitching, we're leading the league in walking guys and hitting batters and (Monday and Tuesday) we played pretty solid defensively, but we were committing one error a night," Macha said. "So there's a whole bunch of things that need to get straightened out."

As poorly as the Brewers have played to open the season, however, the angst that accompanied their 2-6 start could have been erased by a timely bomb or two from Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder. Had their big boppers come through a few more times in the many RBI opportunities that were presented to them, the Brewers' other deficiencies wouldn't have been so glaring and they wouldn't have looked like a team in trouble just a week into the season.

That's not to pin Milwaukee's slow start entirely on Braun and Fielder, but when a team that isn't adept at manufacturing runs is getting little or no production from its third and fourth hitters, it's tough to win games.

The Brewers showed how important Braun and Fielder are to their fortunes Wednesday night, getting important contributions from both in a satisfying 9-3 victory over the Cincinnati Reds at Miller Park.

Though the big blows were struck by others - Mike Cameron had two home runs, Rickie Weeks one - Braun and Fielder each had a double that keyed a rally. Fielder also drove in a run with a line-drive sacrifice fly and Braun was robbed of an extra-base hit on a diving catch by Jay Bruce deep in right-center field, a play that caused Braun to slam his helmet to the ground in frustration.

It's easy to see why.

Going into the game, Braun was hitting .200, including 2-for-22 in his previous six games, and had yet to hit a home run.

Fielder was 3-for-24 in his previous seven games and had a .179 average with one homer.

That's not what the Brewers expect from their young power hitters, who have totaled 155 home runs the previous two seasons.

Asked why his dynamic duo has struggled, Macha said he thought Braun and Fielder, like most players early in the season, are pressing to get off to "a smashing start" and have been a little too aggressive.

Braun battled a rib injury that inhibited his swing late last season and again in spring training, but he insisted that it is no longer a factor. He said he just doesn't have his timing down yet - indeed, he's been late on many of his swings - and made the surprising admission that, except for short stretches, he hasn't felt totally comfortable with his swing since his rookie year in 2007. Still, Braun isn't worried.

"I'll figure it out," he said. "Let me get to 100 at-bats, then look where I'm at. I'll be all right."

The Brewers probably can't afford to wait that long, but Macha isn't worried about Braun, either.

"I think it's probably more pressing than anything," Macha said. "I spoke to him after the game (Tuesday) night and he says he's fine. I asked him if he wanted a day off and he said no, he just wanted to get back out there and get this thing straightened out."

Fielder has had a little bit of bad luck so far, having been robbed of a grand slam by Chicago Cubs right fielder Reed Johnson. But those are just a few of the many runners Fielder has left standing on the bases.

"I think he's a little anxious," Macha said. "If you look at the Cubs series, they fed him a lot of breaking balls."

It's not just Fielder, either. If there is one thing the Brewers have seen this season, it has been a steady diet of breaking balls and other off-speed pitches. Obviously, that is the new book on the Brewers , including Braun and Fielder.

"They're making the adjustment on us; they're not giving us fastballs," Macha said. "So we're going to have to make an adjustment."

Hopefully, they started making that adjustment Wednesday night.

Contact Tom Oates at toates@madison.com or 608-252-6172.


Author:Fox Sports
Author's Website:http://www.foxsports.com
Added: April 17, 2009

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