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Brewers choose to avoid hot Pujols

Brewers choose to avoid hot Pujols

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Brewers choose to avoid hot Pujols
ST. LOUIS -- Brewers manager Ron Roenicke has made it clear he prefers not to intentionally walk opposing hitters, both through his words when asked about it and by giving out fewer intentional free passes than all but two teams this season.

But when a guy is beating you with his bat like Albert Pujols has been over the first two games of the National League Championship Series, the only logical choice is to put him on first and take your chances with the guy batting behind him.

"He's scary when he's hitting everything, and we make good pitches and he's still hitting them," Roenicke said. "He's done a lot of damage against us."

Pujols batted in the first inning of Game 3 with first base open, but with none out, Milwaukee starter Yovani Gallardo pitched to him. Gallardo threw one pitch, a curveball just below the zone, and Pujols hit it for a double, scoring Jon Jay from second and making it a two-run game.

Each of Pujols' next two plate appearances also came with first base open, and the Brewers then decided to put Pujols on first and take their chances with Matt Holliday.

"[Pujols] kind of half-swung at it and hit a double in the gap. Whenever you're going hot, that kind of stuff happens," said catcher Jonathan Lucroy. "We're going to pitch around him; we're not going to let him beat us. We didn't let him beat us after that, and it still didn't work out for us. But we kept him from hurting us even more."

Milwaukee pitchers sent 16 batters to first base intentionally during the regular season, tying them with Arizona for second-fewest intentional walks behind Boston, which put 11 men on first intentionally.

Even in the postseason, the Brewers entered Wednesday's game tied with the D-backs and Rays for the fewest intentional walks with just one. And that one backfired on Roenicke, as Shaun Marcum surrendered a game-changing grand slam to the next batter he faced in Game 3 of the NL Division Series.

But after giving out three in Game 3, Milwaukee moved to the front of the pack with its four intentional walks being the most so far in the playoffs. And it has worked a lot better for Roenicke to put Pujols on first than let him swing away.

Including his first-inning double Wednesday, each of Pujols' past three hits -- all of which are doubles -- have come with first base open. Holliday has gone 1-for-2 with a walk in his at-bats following those three Pujols hits.

Following each of Pujols' intentional walks, Holliday struck out swinging. But while the strategy worked, Cardinals right fielder Lance Berkman doesn't like the Brewers' odds if they continue with it in the long run.

"I have a hard time walking anybody to get to Matt Holliday," Berkman said. "He's won a batting title. He's been an LCS MVP [with Colorado in 2007]. You might get him a couple of times, but you'd better be careful. If they keep doing it, he's going to absolutely make them pay."

Jordan Schelling is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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