Pina close to full strength with sore hip flexor

Pina close to full strength with sore hip flexor

CHICAGO -- Brewers catcher Manny Pina said he was inching back to full strength after seeing only limited playing time in the first week of September, good news for a team struggling to score runs.

"Every day, a little bit better," Pina said Friday, when Stephen Vogt was behind the plate for the start of the Brewers' three-game series at Wrigley Field. "Running, it's still a little sore, [and] when I squat. But when the game starts, with every inning, it feels better."

A healthy Pina could boost the Brewers both in run prevention and run production. He ranks second among Major League catchers in FanGraphs' measure of defense, while ranking 12th of the 25 catchers with at least 300 plate appearances this season with a .754 OPS.

Pina estimated he was at about 90 percent Friday. He originally aggravated his right hip flexor during the Brewers' series in Colorado from Aug. 18-20, then exited an Aug. 29 game against the Cardinals when it flared up as Pina dove for a pitch in the dirt. He's been limited to parts of four games since then.

The Brewers have plenty of coverage at the position thanks to expanded rosters. Besides Vogt, manager Craig Counsell has Jett Bandy and Andrew Susac at his disposal.

"I would say that we're taking advantage of who we think the best matchups are with our catchers," Counsell said. "I anticipate that happening for the rest of the season."

Eyeing Irma
Florida residents Jacob Barnes, Keon Broxton, Brett Phillips and Anthony Swarzak were among the Brewers players keeping a close eye on Hurricane Irma's path toward their home state. A clubhouse television on Friday afternoon, typically tuned to MLB Network, carried the Weather Channel instead.

"I've got some family down there, and they're all riding it out," said Swarzak, who is from Ft. Lauderdale. "I think that it's not very wise, but at the same time, if I was down there, I would probably ride it out, too. You make sure you've got supplies, and you hold it down."

Swarzak moved into a new home on the banks of the Intracoastal Waterway just two years ago, and he worries about storm surge. He said the home is less than a mile west of the mandatory evacuation zone.

"It's not the first hurricane to roll through there while the baseball season is going on," he said, "just the strongest."

Barnes, from the St. Petersburg area, was relieved to hear that his young daughter was safely en route to stay with family in Mississippi. Other family members from the area were headed north.

"Most of the time, people wait until the last minute to go, or they don't go at all. People stay and have hurricane parties," Barnes said. "But this one, it's so big that it's like, 'OK, we're going to get hit.'"

"Right now, I'm starting to get nervous," said Broxton, a Tampa resident whose family moved further inland in advance of the storm. "I wanted to move everybody out, but they're like, 'No, we're going to be OK.' It's still something that's scary."

Wilkerson makes his mark
Brewers Minor Leaguer Aaron Wilkerson enjoyed a memorable Triple-A season debut on Thursday night, pitching seven scoreless and hitless innings with one walk and 11 strikeouts in Colorado Springs' win in Game 2 of a playoff series against Memphis. It was the 28-year-old's first appearance of this season for the Sky Sox after he went 11-4 with a 3.16 ERA at Double-A Biloxi during the regular season.

Acquired in July 2016 with fellow Minor Leaguer Wendell Rijo in the trade that sent Aaron Hill to the Red Sox, Wilkerson will have to be added to Milwaukee's 40-man roster before December's Rule 5 Draft or be exposed to the 29 other teams.

"He doesn't [light up the radar gun], but he was obviously a guy we targeted and were excited to add from the Red Sox," Brewers general manager David Stearns said. "He put on a big-time performance last night in a pressurized environment at a level above where he had been pitching the majority of the year. We think he's a legitimate pitching prospect. We're excited to have him in the organization. We think he has the potential to be a big league pitcher, and when you see outings like you saw last night, you certainly take note of that."

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