Aggressive Villar 'running' fine line on bases

Aggressive Villar 'running' fine line on bases

MILWAUKEE -- How aggressive is too aggressive? The debate that used to dog Carlos Gomez now applies to Jonathan Villar, who took part in a frank discussion about baserunning on Sunday morning with manager Craig Counsell and first-base coach Carlos Subero.

Three times in a four-game span from Wednesday to Saturday, Villar made the third out of an inning at third base. The capper came in Saturday's extra-inning loss to the Padres, when Villar was out trying to steal third in the bottom of the ninth inning of a tie game.

"That was a mistake," Counsell told reporters afterward. The next morning, Counsell sat down with Villar to talk about it.

"A big part of his success is the way that Counsell has allowed Villar to be himself," said Subero, a longtime Minor League manager who joined the Brewers' big league staff this season. "Villar mentions this all the time: 'Now I can play my game.' This is the first time he has an everyday job with freedom.

"So go out there and play and be yourself until Counsell draws that line and says, 'OK, this is enough. This is what we want. We don't want this.' The teaching part continues. By making mistakes, you're going to learn."

Villar turned 25 on May 2, and he's having the best offensive season of his career. He has reached safely in nine straight games to drive his batting average up to .292 and his on-base percentage to .391. Those would be career bests. He is second in the National League with 11 stolen bases, but he's been caught a league-high five times. Villar has had the same sort of mixed results on batted balls, earning equal parts praise -- a daring first-to-third scamper on a single to left field on Thursday drew high marks from Counsell, for example -- and criticism.

Here are the three recent outs at third:

• On Wednesday in Miami, Villar tried to go first to third when Ryan Braun grounded an RBI single up the middle. Marlins center fielder Marcell Ozuna, however, made a perfect throw to third base to retire Villar, ending the inning with Milwaukee trailing, 3-2. The Brewers lost by that score.

Villar thrown out 1st to 3rd

• Two days later in Milwaukee, Villar tried to tag up and advance from second base to third on Chris Carter's sacrifice fly. Fortunately, Domingo Santana had hustled home to score what would prove the game's only run before Villar was tagged out.

Villar thrown out tagging up

• On Saturday, after the Brewers had rallied back from a 6-2 deficit to tie the game, Villar stood at second base with one out and Scooter Gennett at the plate against Padres closer Fernando Rodney. On a 1-2 count, Villar surprised everyone by breaking for third. Gennett chased a changeup for strike three, and Villar was thrown out at third, ending the inning. Milwaukee lost in 12 innings, 8-7.

Jonathan Villar thrown out at third base

"It's interesting," Counsell said. "We're getting some outstanding things from him -- he was on base five times [Saturday] night, think about that -- and he's got an on-base percentage that's been above .350 the entire season. I think he's a player who we want to stretch his limits. There's a fine line to that and understanding and learning from mistakes. That's the balance that we're facing."

The Brewers faced the same balance with Gomez, who finally became an All-Star when manager Ron Roenicke removed virtually all restrictions. Gomez still made his share of mistakes, but his positives outweighed them, in the Brewers' estimation. Now, Counsell believes the same is true of Villar.

"It's easy to say, 'Don't ever make a mistake,' but you get a different player when you say [that]," Counsell said. "Eddie [Sedar, Milwaukee's third-base coach] and Jonathan and myself have had really good conversations with him about when to push it, when not to push it; what can you take from what just happened and what you can learn from it. He'll continue to get better.

"There's an aggressiveness to his game, and you want that. It's disrupting for the other team. Nobody mentioned his first-to-third the other night. That was an incredibly aggressive, smart, impactful baserunning play, but nobody mentions it because he was safe. There is also a lot of good stuff going on out there. We have to balance all that and keep moving forward, because he's proving to be an impactful player.

"That's what we're looking for: Impactful players."

Adam McCalvy has covered the Brewers for MLB.com since 2001. Follow him on Twitter @AdamMcCalvy, like him on Facebook and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.