By HAL McCoy
CINCINNATI — They were known as Harvey’s Wallbangers during Harvey Kuenn’s short time as manager and for the most part they’ve carried the nickname of the Brew Crew.
They are the Milwaukee Brewers, the National League Central defending champions and they came muscle-flexing into Great American Ball Park Monday night to do the utmost damage against the Cincinnati Reds.
With Christian Yelich knocking everything lop-sided that he swings at and with Josh Hader striking out anything and everything standing in a batter’s box, the Brewers made a heavy-lifting statement in their opening series, taking apart the St. Louis Cardinals three out of four games.
Yelich homered in each of the team’s first four games and if he homers Monday he becomes the first player in MLB history to homer in the first five games of the season. And it wasn’t all home runs. He hit .500 with eight RBI in those four games, including a walk-off double to win Sunday’s game.
Reds manager David Bell did not break into a cold sweat or choke when asked about facing the Brewers.
“We know going into this that we’re in a really strong division and Milwaukee is right at the top, a very good team that seem to get better each year,” he said. “That’s what we’re looking forward to and I know it will bring out the best in everyone in this division, us included.”
Don’t ask the Cardinals about that right now.
Could the Reds have a slight edge over other teams facing the Brewers in that they hired pitching coach Derek Johnson away from Milwaukee over the winter and also signed Lee Tunnell as a bullpen coach after he was employed the last 10 years by the Brewers?
Inside information maybe?
“Yeah it does help to have those guys,” said Reds manager David Bell. “We communicate with those guys and all our staff before each series. Of course, they know the Brewers better, but their goal is to know every team just as well through preparation. It is important for me to not only do my own preparation but to talk to the coaches and make sure we share all information. This, though, is unique because Johnson and Tunnell know them extremely well.”
Since last August, Yelich has performed to almost mythic proportions en route to the National League Most Valuable Player award.
“Yelich has improved every single year of his career to the point where he is one of the best in the game,” said Bell. “It says a lot about him and his talent and that he has worked to get better,” said Bell.
WHAT THE REDS, or any other team, wants to do is avoid seeing long-haired Josh Hader walk to the mound out of the bullpen to pitch in relief for the Brewers.
The Reds remember him from last year when he struck out eight straight, a streak that was started when he fanned Joey Votto on three pitches.
And the whiff-a-thon continues this year. On Saturday, he struck out three straight St. Louis Cardinals on nine pitches.
So far this season, he has thrown 30 pitches, all fast balls, 22 for strikes. He has recorded nine outs in a row, seven via strikeouts.
A media person asked Milwaukee manager Craig Counsell why Hader is throwing all fastballs and Counsell said, “If you are (catcher) Yasmani Grandal sitting behind home plate what else would you put down?”
When Bell was asked if anybody came up with a method of attack at Hader, he smiled and said, “Oh…yeah…I know what you’re saying. This is what it is all about. We were talking inside and I was away from the field for a year but for him to go out there every night and compete that way at this level takes everything you have. To face him, you just prepare and if you don’t prepare you get exposed.”
REMEMBER ERIC THAMES, the Milwaukee hitter who hit home runs every other at bat in April against the Reds a couple of years ago?
So far this season, the man the Brewers signed out of Korea is 1 for 7 with six strikeouts. Said one Brewers observer, “Well, it’s April and it’s Cincinnati, so if he doesn’t do it now they might send him back to Korea.”
THE MOST NOTEWORTHY thing new Reds manager David Bell has done so far is bat Joey Votto second in the batting order after Votto nearly earned squatter’s rights on the No. 3 spot for most of his career.
“There are a few different reasons why I like him batting second,” said Bell. “He has been a great hitter a long time now. It is not only about what happens when the ball comes off his bat, but his ability to get on base. I do like that at the top of the order, in the second spot of the order.”
And Bell says there was neither a peep nor a whimper from Votto about the move.
“One of the great things about Joey, as great of a player as he is, he is prepared to do whatever he is asked. So it isn’t really something we’ve really talked about.”
WITH SATURDAY’S postponement, Bell and his staff was able to make a pitching switch this week, one they like.
Luis Castillo pitched Opening Day against the Pittsburgh Pirates and held them to no runs and one hit over five innings before giving up a run in the sixth when his pitch-count mounted.
He was originally scheduled to face the Pirates again Thursday in Pittsburgh, but he has been moved up to face Milwaukee Wednesday afternoon. Tyler Mahle was switched from Wednesday to Thursday.
Asked if that was because he didn’t want Castillo facing Pittsburgh twice in a row, Bell said, “Not facing Pittsburgh again so soon was a factor. It was important enough to us to make that adjustment.”