Brewers outfielder continues to mash at Miller Park with two-homer game
By Curt Hogg
MILWAUKEE -- The Journey song "Any Way You Want It" wasn't playing in the Brewers' clubhouse following a 6-1 win over the Cubs on Saturday at Miller Park, but it may need to become the theme for Kirk Nieuwenhuis on the team's next road trip.
Nieuwenhuis entered the game with pronounced home/road splits on the season, and following his two homers Saturday, there was an even starker contrast between those figures. Now, to get Nieuwenhuis' performance on the road up to the same level that it is at Miller Park, he may get things any way he wants to make sure he feels at home.
Nieuwenhuis went 3-for-3 and drove in four runs to snap an 0-for-18 skid at the plate. He squared up a delivery from starter John Lackey and cleared the center-field fence for a solo homer to put the Brewers up 3-0 in the fourth.
"Last couple of days I've just tried to change my mentality a little bit," Nieuwenhuis said. "I've just been pressing the last three, four weeks. It seems like longer than that. I've really just tried to take it one pitch at a time the last couple of days and see where that takes me."
Then, with two outs in the eighth, he sliced a 3-1 two-seamer from lefty Mike Montgomery inside the left-field foul pole for a three-run shot to crack the game open.
"I wanted something I could handle to drive [Ryan Braun] in from second," Nieuwenhuis said. "[Montgomery] kind of comes across his body a little bit, but most of these lefties do. It's really just a matter of seeing a pitch up, something you can handle on the plate."
With his two-homer performance, the outfielder has hit six of his seven homers at Miller Park and improved his OPS at home to an impressive .981. Away from Milwaukee, Nieuwenhuis has a .116 batting average and a .452 OPS.
Neither Nieuwenhuis nor manager Craig Counsell can quite make sense of the eye-catching difference in performance.
"It's pretty impressive, the numbers at home," Counsell said. "They're mind boggling, really, the differences. It's a hard one to explain, and I'm not going to be able to explain it. But certainly tonight he had a huge night."
It isn't a surprise to see a batter's splits be better at home if his team plays at a park that lends itself more to hitters, as does Miller Park. But Baseball-Reference's stat sOPS+ shows how extraordinary Nieuwenhuis' situation is.
sOPS+ measures a player's OPS for a particular split (such as home/away, versus lefties/righties) and places it relative to the league's OPS in that category. The figure is then weighted on a scale, where 100 is league average. Nieuwenhuis entered Saturday with a meager 28 sOPS+ on the road compared to 136 at home. That number surely skyrocketed after his multihomer performance against the Cubs, likely to the 160-170 range (for reference, Prince Fielder had an sOPS+ of 171 with an OPS of .981 in 2011 with the Brewers).
All of this is why Counsell joked after the game about catering to every one of Nieuwenhuis' requests on road trips.
"I mean, we're at the point where we're going to have to figure out something to accommodate any road request he makes that makes him feel at home, that's for sure," Counsell said. "It's pretty incredible. ... We'll do anything right now."
For Nieuwenhuis, the options on those room service menus may have never looked so appetizing.
Curt Hogg is a reporter for MLB.com based in Milwaukee. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.