MILWAUKEE For 16 straight games and 27 straight at-bats, Brooks Conrad looked up at the scoreboard and saw a zero next to his average.
He had been called up and sent back down and called back up again. After a difficult start and the frustration that followed his cold bat, Conrad had been given another chance, coming up 10 days after he had been sent down. Still, three games passed without a hit.
But it just didn't make sense. Conrad had been one of the best players in Triple-A baseball when he was sent down, tallying a batting average above .400 and hitting 10 home runs and 28 RBI in 21 games. Why weren't things working against major league competition?
He adjusted how he held his hands. He made plenty of small adjustments like that, while his average remained at .000. But in the lineup as the Brewers' first baseman on Saturday, Conrad stood at the plate and saw the zeros again. He wouldn't let it affect him.
"I can't say I was feeling good about what was going on, but you know, I thought my approach was okay and things like that," Conrad said. "It's never fun to go 0-for-whatever to start it out. All along, I stayed with my same approach and stayed as positive as I could and it paid off today."
He swung, but this time it was different. He slammed the ball to the right field fences, just over the wall. Miller Park stood and cheered harder than they had all game. Brooks Conrad's first hit as a Brewer was a home run.
Conrad rounded the bases as the rest of the Brewers lined up at the edge of the dugout to congratulate him. Every one of them could feel Conrad's frustration floating away.
"You feel for guys when they struggle," Brewers manager Ron Roenicke said, "and when they come through big it's a great feeling for everybody."
And Conrad wasn't done. On Sunday, at the plate in the bottom of the ninth, Conrad slammed a Joel Hanrahan pitch to a similar spot in right field. It went over the fence again, giving Conrad his second home run in two days ad bringing the Brewers within one run.
His home runs may only raise his batting average to .061, but with an 0-for-27 streak lifted from his shoulders, that was enough for Brooks Conrad.
"Finally doing something productive offensively feels great to help the team," Conrad said. "It felt great to get on the board."
MALDY MORE THAN JUST DEFENSE?
Brewers manager Ron Roenicke always knew what he could expect from recently called-up catcher Martin Maldonado when it came to his skills behind the plate. After all, Maldonado had always been classified as a superior defensive catcher, and since coming up to the major leagues, nothing had changed in that department.
"He's got some confidence back behind the plate," Roenicke said on Saturday. "You see the way he throws the ball, he's not hesitant. He's a very aggressive guy, he knows when he needs to make a trip out to the mound that's part of why we like this guy so much."
Offensively though, Maldonado was more or less a question mark at the back of the batting order, especially considering his subpar offensive performance at Triple-A Nashville this season. In 35 games, Maldonado was batting just .198 with four home runs and 13 RBI and 13 more strikeouts than hits (37 strikeouts to 24 hits).
"I know he wasn't swinging the bat that well this year in Triple-A, but last year, he had a real good year," Roenicke said. "And really, that was the first year he had a big number of at-bats. And he hit. He hit for .300 in AAA. Offensively, I think it looks like he sees the ball well I'm curious to see offensively what he's going to do."
That curiosity peaked on Sunday afternoon, as Maldonado took a 1-1 pitch from Pirates reliever Juan Cruz and deposited it over the fence in the Brewers bullpen in left field. The homer brought the Brewers back within one run, but it wasn't enough in a 6-5 loss.
And although the home run was a good sign, Maldonado is still batting just .158 in six games since being called up on May 29. But if Sunday is any indication, Maldonado's offense could be on its way up soon.
LONGER THAN EXPECTED
As if the Brewers' initial injuries weren't enough, Roenicke said on Sunday morning that several Brewers, most notably No. 5 pitcher Marco Estrada, will be out longer than he had initially hoped.
Estrada, shortstop Cesar Izturis, and first baseman Travis Ishikawa are all healing slower than Roenicke had hoped, as the Brewers manager said the trio is expected to be out longer than their initial trip to the 15-day disabled list may have suggested.
In reference to a question about future starts for newly called-up pitcher Michael Fiers, Roenicke said that the team may need Fiers for more than just a few starts, due to Estrada's quad injury, which he suffered on May 23.
"I don't know if there's a new timeline," Roenicke said of Estrada. "He's not close (to coming back). I think just what the injury was, it's taking longer."
Izturis injured his hamstring three days after Estrada, and Roenicke said earlier this weekend that the shortstop had not yet been working out on a treadmill, instead opting to do more strength-based rehab, which will likely push back his return date.
Roenicke will be cautious about bringing back any injured players too early, especially after center fielder Carlos Gomez was clearly not fully healed from his hamstring injury when he returned.
"I thought for sure after 15 days he'd really be ready to go," Roenicke said of Gomez. "But he's not. He's still not. Did we bring him back too quick? Maybe."
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