Milwaukee Brewers star Christian Yelich looks to bounce back

PHOENIX – The 2021 season has been a nightmare for Christian Yelich.

His back was an issue early on, his power lacked in action throughout and his mystique as one of the game’s great hitters was gone just three years after being named National League MVP and two years after being named finished second.

Yelich then capped off the Milwaukee Brewers season with a three strikeout with two strikeouts and the game on the line in a 5-4 loss to the Atlanta Braves in Game 4 of the LA Division Series. National League at Truist Park – a bitterly disappointing ending for player and team alike.

Many players could have crumbled under the accumulated pressure – and that’s understandable.

But Yelich told reporters ahead of the Brewers’ first official practice Monday at American Family Fields of Phoenix that despite the seemingly endless negativity about his performance and lack of results, he never wavered in his belief that he would be able to break. of his funk and once again becomes a creator of difference.

“The confidence was still there,” Yelich said. “I always thought I was going to be fine, I was going to contribute. I can honestly say that I never really gave in and I really thought things were going to change until the season was almost finished.

“Even in the last game of the season I thought everything would be fine. It didn’t turn out that way, but in that situation you’re like, ‘Cool, I went through all that (shit) to this moment here and it’s going to be great. Of course, that was not the case.

“But I think, until the end, I ground every game, I kept working with (the batting coaches) and I was just trying to do what you can do. As soon as you give in, It’s over. It’s a wrap. It’s not going to be okay. So no matter if it’s good or bad, you have to fight until the end. I can say that I did this. .

“Obviously it didn’t work out for me. But you can’t give in to this game. You have to keep fighting. I used this as a learning experience, I realized that this would be difficult at times. Some years you do well, other years you don’t.

“Let’s hope this year is one of those good years.”

For the Brewers to realize their full potential and succeed in breaking through and winning a postseason series for the first time since 2018, getting 30-year-old Yelich back to being an offensive difference maker has to rank very close to the top of the organization’s 2022 to-do list.

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Starting spring training late thanks to the 99-day lockout is not ideal.

But Yelich’s work ethic was never in question. And between the hours he’s spent in the offseason and how he feels physically at the start of camp, Yelich believes the arrow is pointing up at a time when, okay, almost everyone is saying the same thing. thing.

“I feel really good,” he said. “I’m not going to hit you with the, ‘The best shape of my life or my career.’ But, I feel really good, I feel like I’m in a good position, I’ve learned a lot about my body and how I want to approach an offseason, approach a season, and that takes time.

“You have to do things right, do things wrong, feel good, not good. But I feel like I’m in a good situation and I hope we can continue like this throughout training. spring and season and see what happens.”

Truth be told, Yelich hasn’t appeared to be a game changer in his first two years with the Brewers since the 2020 pandemic season.

That year, he hit .212 with 12 home runs and 22 RBIs while compiling a .786 OPS in 58 games. But given he was coming off the broken kneecap that prematurely ended his 2019 season and just the general weirdness of the two-month sprint, there were no major concerns.

The tone changed last season, however, when Yelich cut .248/9/51/.736 in 117 games. Then in four games against the Braves in the NLDS, Yelich had three singles and two walks in 17 plate appearances, didn’t drive in a run and struck out eight times.

Questions about Yelich’s health and performance persisted throughout, but a concrete explanation for the slowdown was never uncovered. Or, offered publicly.

“Obviously a tough year. It’s not how I wanted it to go for a lot of reasons,” he said. “That’s how it goes sometimes. They don’t all sail smoothly. Even when you have good years, it’s not easy to sail. There are ups and downs with and through.

“You just learn from it. You learn to be better. And you use everything as a learning experience. You can learn a lot when things don’t go your way and don’t go as well as you can when the things are going well.”

During Yelich’s five seasons with the Miami Marlins and first half season with the Brewers in 2018, he was a ground heavy hitter.

That all changed in the second half of 2018 when he had a huge surge to his MVP award and in 2019 he increased his stealth rate to a career-best 28.1%. .

Then in 2020 he started hitting ground balls again 55.7% of the time and in 2021 the rate was almost unchanged at 54.7%. His weak hit percentage increased to 3.1 and his hard hit percentage dropped to 48.8%.

Hitting third as he does, Yelich’s job is to get on base and drive points. So the Brewers would definitely like to see more slugging from him this year.

“It’s not a conscious effort to do that. It’s just what happens,” Yelich said of the ground balls. “If you’re hitting ground balls in the big leagues, it’s just not going to go well for you. There was just a lot of stuff going on. You can figure out what’s going on, but be able to fix it and stopping it is a whole other thing. It’s hard to really explain.

“It wasn’t something I was consciously trying to do or Andy (Haines) or (Jacob) Cruz making me do. Sometimes it’s just baseball. Sometimes it’s hard. isn’t going well or you pick up bad habits playing every day and it’s really hard to get out of it no matter what you do.

“So that was kind of the goal of the offseason – just let my body reset and let the bad habits and things that I was doing go out of the system and really from day one just start slowly coming back and to understand. “

Yelich then recalled his first two seasons with the Brewers.

“It’s not easy as it looked, the first two years,” he said. “Even when you’re playing really well, you’re still working really hard. It’s not automatic. You just don’t wake up. There’s a lot of stuff that goes into a baseball season.

“For the players, for the teams, so much happens over six, seven months. You go through good periods as a player, as a team, and you go through bad periods. You just have to overcome them.”

Haines and Cruz have since been replaced by Ozzie Timmons and Connor Dawson, but Yelich said they haven’t really thought about formulating a plan for 2022 yet.

“I think I learned a lot about myself and what’s going on and tried to get back to playing at a high level,” Yelich said. “They’re both great guys and I’m sure we’ll have a lot of discussions in the future about what we want to do and what we want to achieve, what I do well, their thoughts, and we don’t have really didn’t have the opportunity to do so yet.

“But it takes time.”

Yelich was asked what would be a solid season for him going forward.

“I don’t know, in terms of the numbers,” said Yelich, whose contract jumps to $26 million this year. “Like, it’s hard to give numbers, ‘That’s what I would consider a good season. You just want to contribute to a winning team and be part of a really good team. Do things that bring us back into the playoffs and hope to make a run in the playoffs.

“That should be everybody’s goal here, just contributing to another good Brewers team and another good season, and hopefully, getting that step into the playoffs, getting to the bottom of it and who knows what. I think that would be considered a good And if that happens, your numbers are what they are.

“Is it an MVP season, an average season, who knows?”

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