The Timber Rattlers got a big night from Jonathan Lucroy in the first game of his rehab assignment but it wasn't quite enough as they allowed three unearned runs in the sixth and lost 4-3 to Great Lakes Thursday night.
Lucroy, playing in a game for the first time since May 27, went 2-for-3 tonight with a single and a double and lined sharply into a double play. He said he felt "all right" in his rehab debut.
It's just a matter of getting my timing back really and getting good pitches to hit and putting good swings on the ball," Lucroy said. "I felt pretty good, a little rusty catching but other than that I felt pretty good at the plate. I think I missed some pitches that I usually feel pretty confident with just because I haven't seen live pitching like that in about two months."
Lucroy took all three of his balls in play to the opposite field tonight, hitting a single to right in his first at bat, a sharp liner to second that turned into a double play in the third inning and a fly ball double down the right field line in the fifth. He said that wasn't the plan, just a response to a familiar foe pitching him away.
"They were throwing me away. Greg Wilborn, the guy pitching for them, we went to college together so it was really kinda weird," Lucroy said. "He was actually at my wedding too, so it was really weird. I knew he was going to try to throw me away, I've caught him before, so I was just trying to have good at bats and hit the ball hard and hit them where they pitched me."
Wilborn, an 18th round pick out of Louisiana-Lafayette, allowed two runs on seven hits over five innings.
Wisconsin manager Matt Erickson was happy with Lucroy's performance at the plate.
"He looked real good at the plate, stayed inside the ball, hit two line drives to right, then showed a great two strike approach and dumped one into right for a double. So I thought he looked good," Erickson said.
Meanwhile, Wisconsin starting pitcher Matt Miller had a pretty good night pitching to Lucroy. The two worked five shutout innings together before the rehabbing catcher left the game.
"Anytime you've got a big league catcher behind the plate you feel a little more comfortable," Miller said. "We got into a rhythm early, it's definitely a confidence factor. He knows what he's doing back there, I think I shook him once and that's the last time I'll do that. So it was great. He controlled the game and was everything you want in a big league catcher. And I felt more confident throwing what I was throwing."
Unfortunately, things went south for the Timber Rattlers nearly immediately after Lucroy came out of the game. Wisconsin allowed three unearned runs on four hits and a pair of errors in the sixth inning, and committed four errors in the game. Erickson said defense was the difference in a one run game tonight.
"We didn't take care of the ball, especially in the sixth inning," Erickson said. "They made some nice plays, a clean game, made the routine plays. Their shortstop made a heck of a play up the middle. Yeah, defense won that game for them and you could say it lost it for us."
Some of those struggles in the sixth inning might be attributable to having to switch catchers in the middle of the game. Miller said there's a challenge involved in suddenly having a new player behind the plate.
"Obviously Rafael (Neda)'s coming in cold. We got off to a great start, striking out the first two guys. When you get in situations with a runner on second and you're going through a sequence of signs and he hasn't been in the game you have to constantly shake, shake, shake," Miller said. "You see the pause in the flow of the game. That's kind of the thing me and Lucroy had going early was the tempo. We got the ball and we went. We were on the same page. So you kind of have to establish getting back on the same page and whatnot."
All told Miller allowed four runs (one earned) on seven hits over seven innings, walking two and striking out five.
In a typical rehab assignment game a major leaguer will put in his innings, talk to the media, shower and be gone long before the game is over. Tonight, though, Lucroy fulfilled his media obligations and then immediately went back to the dugout to watch the end of the game.
"He's a fan of the game. It'll be a pleasure having him for the next few days here," Erickson said.
Lucroy is with Wisconsin for three more days. He's expected to catch the first five or six innings again Friday, serve as the DH on Saturday and catch most of the game on Sunday before taking Monday off and joining Nashville on Tuesday. He could rejoin the Brewers on July 26 if all goes as planned.
Follow the jump for a story on reliever Jacob Barnes' big night on Wednesday and another on second baseman Greg Hopkins, who is back in action this week for the first time after a concussion three weeks ago.
Big Night For Barnes
The Timber Rattlers picked up a 5-4 win in ten innings Wednesday night and a fair amount of the credit for the victory is due to relief pitcher Jacob Barnes. He was called into the game early when starting pitcher Chad Thompson left after three innings, and pitched 6.1 scoreless to keep Wisconsin in the game. He said the early start to his night caught him by surprise.
"Yeah, actually it was pretty funny. He (manager Matt Erickson) didn't even radio down to me until there was an out in the (bottom of the third) inning, and he just told me to get loose so I figured maybe I'd come in the following inning if he (starting pitcher Chad Thompson) got into trouble or anything, and then all of a sudden with two outs he was like, 'get hot,'" Barnes said. "So I threw four pitches and there was the third out, so I just came into the game after that."
Barnes was in the game when Wisconsin tied the game in the sixth, and was still pitching and could have picked up a win if they'd scored in the bottom of the ninth.
"I was hoping," Barnes said. "They asked me with one or two outs in the ninth, they asked me if I could go out for another one and I went out and got done with that."
Wisconsin didn't get a run for the win in the ninth, so Barnes took the mound again in the tenth.
"They wanted me to get one more, and I got an out from that and they pulled me," Barnes said. "I was just happy to keep us in the ballgame."
Barnes' 6.1 innings in the game was a new professional high. He has a 2.91 ERA in 55.2 innings over 17 appearances for the Timber Rattlers, and has collected two saves.
Hopkins back in action
Wisconsin got a big boost to their lineup to open the homestand last night when Midwest League All Star Greg Hopkins returned after missing most of a month with a concussion. Hopkins was hit in the head by a pitch on June 30, but picked up two hits and a walk last night in his first game back.
"I've just got to get my timing back a little bit, I was lucky for a couple of hits to fall my way last night," Hopkins said. "It's just a matter of getting the timing back and getting comfortable again."
Losing nearly three weeks of the season was difficult for Hopkins, but he realizes things could have been much worse.
"I've been a little bit antsy but it was definitely a blessing in disguise, that could have been a lot worse so I was very fortunate," Hopkins said. "It was one of those things. It was a freak accident but you can't dwell on it. And next time I'll try to duck. It was a fastball and I was looking for an off speed pitch. It's just one of those things. It just got away from him, trying to come inside."
Hopkins is in the top ten in the Midwest League with a .303 batting average, but said the possibility of winning a batting title isn't something he's thinking about.
"I try to have some good at bats and whatever happens happens," Hopkins said. "It'd definitely be an honor, but it's not at the top of my list of things to do. But if it happens it happens and the only reason why is because I'm having quality at bats here."