Brewers believe Villar will return to '16 form

Counsell planned to have 2nd baseman bat 6th before Saturday's rainout

Brewers believe Villar will return to '16 form

CHICAGO -- The Brewers tried letting leadoff man Jonathan Villar swing his way through a slow start. They tried days off. On Saturday, they were going to try something altogether new before wet weather prompted a postponement of their game against the Cubs.

Villar was going to bat sixth for the first time in his two-year Brewers tenure, a fall down the order that manager Craig Counsell attributed to Eric Sogard's recent run of success. Sogard, who has reached safely 17 times in 28 plate appearances since a promotion from Triple-A, was supposed to bat leadoff for the second straight day.

But maybe a new home would help Villar get going again. After posting a career-best .826 OPS last season, Villar is on pace for a career-worst .603 OPS through his first 185 plate appearances of 2017.

"The consistency of work that he's put in is quality, but it's not translating, at least of yet, to consistent at-bats," Brewers hitting coach Darnell Coles said. "Now, it's a matter of getting consistent of what you're swinging at.

"... It's tough when you're leading off, because especially in your first at-bat, you're trying to give our guys a look at what [the opposing pitcher] has. When you're struggling, any questionable pitch is a strike, and he's hitting in a lot of 0-1, 1-2, 0-2 counts where pitchers are not forced to throw a ball down the middle of the plate. Then you 'expand' a little, you think a little too much, that sort of thing. I think it's a matter of him getting in a better spot mentally."

Counsell remains convinced Villar will eventually get there.

"I anticipate eventually that Johnny is going to be back in the leadoff spot, because that's where we need him," Counsell said. "Johnny hasn't gotten to his good groove yet. I think he struggled with contact, certainly, early in the season; now, I think he's just missing pitches to hit. I don't think his plate discipline has been poor. He just has put balls in play and has not put them in play hard.

"There's still a big chunk of the season left where he can get it going again, and I fully anticipate he will."

Marinez claimed by Pirates
The Brewers lost reliever Jhan Marinez to a division rival Friday afternoon when the Pirates claimed him off waivers. Milwaukee had designated Marinez for assignment four days earlier after the right-hander's WHIP rose to 2.04.

"I loved having him around," Counsell said. "He's a good person, a good teammate. He just got off to a rocky start a little bit, struggled throwing strikes. That was concerning. I think he can get that back. I'm not happy to lose him, that's for sure."

Counsell added: "I feel like we got all the Pirates' relievers, so they took one of ours. We're playing a strange game of swap with the Pirates."

The Brewers have three former Bucs in the bullpen: Neftali Feliz, Jared Hughes and Rob Scahill.

Guerra bumped up
The Crew moved right-hander Junior Guerra's rehab assignment to Albuquerque, N.M., for a scheduled start for Triple-A Colorado Springs on Saturday. The last-minute shift, Counsell said, was prompted by an ominous weather forecast for Double-A Biloxi, for whom Guerra already had made one start earlier in the week.

Guerra was under no pitch limit for Saturday's outing, according to Counsell, an indication that the right-hander might be ready to return to the Brewers for his subsequent start. He has been on the disabled list with a right calf strain since Opening Day.

Adam McCalvy has covered the Brewers for 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.