MILWAUKEE — Kolten Wong was back in the leadoff spot for the Milwaukee Brewers on Saturday, showing no ill effects from being hit by a pitch on his right hand late in Thursday’s season-opening victory against the Minnesota Twins.
It’s a spot Wong will see plenty of this season. Manager Craig Counsell thinks Wong’s style and approach of working pitchers deep into counts makes him an ideal fit.
After getting a taste of the role last season with the Cardinals, Wong is on board with getting things started for his new teammates.
“I’m very excited about it,” Wong said. “Last year was kind of a test for me. I’d never really done it before, even in the minor leagues, I was always batting second or towards the end of the lineup. Now that I kind of have an understanding, it’s fun making it my own, realizing how important it is to get on because the guys we have behind us, there’s a stack of them that can really drive you in. For me, I’m just trying to find a way to get on base as much as I can and just score runs for the team as much as I can.”
Counsell used 10 players atop his order last season, even experimenting with catcher Omar Narvaez at one point. With Wong all but a fixture in that spot now, getting the rest of the lineup into ideal positions becomes easier.
“You’re the table-setter at the top,” Wong said. “You’re trying to figure out a way to get your team going, put your guys in good situations to drive you in and get in those advantage counts. I’m always trying to pay attention to that, see how the pitcher’s starting off the game. If he’s wild, I’m going to work him. If he’s trying to attack us, I want to be on the attack as well. It’s really getting a vibe on how he’s throwing and try to set that vibe for the guy behind you.”
Wong got off to a good start Thursday, reaching base three times in five plate appearances and scoring a pair of runs in the 6-5 victory. There was a nervous moment in the ninth, when a cutter from Twins closer Alex Colome caught his right hand. But Wong stayed in the game and scored later in the inning.
“It was just one of those where it clips you enough where you feel it and just the reaction kind of took over at that point,” Wong said. “The pinkie’s good, a little stiff, but it’s my bottom hand so it won’t affect me too much.”
Change is good
The Brewers didn’t have to wait long to get reacquainted with baseball’s rule putting a runner at second base to start extra innings. It may be unpopular with baseball purists, but Counsell is a fan of the rule.
“I like it because it shortens games,” Counsell said. “It also saves players’ jobs and needless roster maneuvering, often times with players who perform well in the game, which I think is really unfair. We were at four hours going into the 10th inning (on Opening Day). That was enough. That’s as simply as I can state it.”
Counsell has been consistent in his support of not just that rule change but most of the tweaks Major League Baseball has put in place over the past year. Some have come as a response to the COVID-19 pandemic while others are attempts to speed up or add action to games.
Whatever the reasons, Counsell believes it’s important not only for MLB to try different things but also for fans to give those things a chance.
“I think we’re getting there, getting our head around that it’s OK for us to change some rules,” Counsell said. “The game will still go on and we can improve it, actually. The game’s not going to fall apart by making some changes to it. I think our nature in this game is we’re so cautious with this stuff. It’s hard to believe we’re gonna make a mistake because we’re so cautious with how we approach change.”
Counsell said Major League Baseball “made a good decision” in moving the All-Star Game from Atlanta and also was in favor of the league moving the Mid-Summer Classic to Milwaukee.
“I think it would be a thrill for the city, for sure,” Counsell said. “It’s not a good thing for the city of Atlanta and some people who have lost some economic opportunities but if it’s going to be somewhere else, it would be a thrill for the city to have it here.”
Milwaukee has been mentioned by several observers as a potential replacement because it’s the city where baseball great Hank Aaron, who died earlier this year, began and finished his career.
Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett sent a letter to MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred suggesting the city as a replacement host.