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Perez gets back into action

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By Tom Haudricourt and Todd Rosiak
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Monday, March 20, 2017

SCOTTSDALE, ARIZ.--Hernán Pérez wasted no time getting back to work for the Milwaukee Brewers.

One day after playing in his final game with Venezuela in the World Baseball Classic, the utility player was back in the starting lineup Sunday for the Brewers in their 6-4 exhibition victory over the San Francisco Giants. Pérez celebrated his return by blasting a home run to left in his second at-bat against Jeff Samardzija and adding a two-run single next time up.

Pérez didn’t see a lot of action in the WBC, but it certainly didn’t hurt his swing.

“He was anxious to play,” manager Craig Counsell said. “He wants to get at-bats. He’ll play a significant amount over the last two weeks.”

How anxious was Pérez to get back in action? After Venezuela played its last game Saturday against Puerto Rico in San Diego, he slept in the back of the car as his brother-in-law drove across the desert to Phoenix, arriving at 11 p.m.

“I didn’t play too much in the WBC, so I texted (Counsell) to see if I can be in the lineup today,” said Pérez, who went 0 for 7 in his first participation in the international tournament. “I like to compete, so I wanted to play.

“I knew we had ‘show and go’ (no morning workout) today and a day off tomorrow. I want to get ready for the season. I was able to put a good swing on the ball today.”

Of getting to play for his home country in the WBC, Pérez said, “I enjoyed getting to play against teams with all-stars. It was a lot of fun. I tried to do my best. We didn’t do great but it was a good experience. I enjoyed it.”

With two weeks to go before opening day, Pérez said to bring on the at-bats.

“If I’m in the lineup every day, then I’m happy.”

Catching fire: Barring an injury or unforeseen turn of events, Kirk Nieuwenhuis is locked in as the Brewers’ No. 4 outfielder.

That knowledge, coupled with the way he’s been swinging the bat, leaves the 29-year-old in a good place with opening day fast approaching.

Nieuwenhuis extended his Cactus League hitting streak to eight games Sunday with a fourth-inning homer off Samardzija, and is hitting an even .500 (10 for 20) with three homers and 10 RBI over that span. All told, Nieuwenhuis is hitting .306 with an OPS of 1.138 through 15 games.

Last spring—Nieuwenhuis’ first with the Brewers after being claimed off waivers from the New York Mets—he hit .263 with a homer and seven RBI in 25 Cactus League games, but also struck out 24 times. He’s fanned just 11 times this spring.

"I feel all right. I’m really just trying to see the ball better than last spring," he said. "I’m a little bit more comfortable up there. It’s been a lot of fun so far."

Nieuwenhuis wound up being a helpful piece for the Brewers in 2016 as they started their rebuild. He played good defense in addition to hitting a career-high 13 homers and driving in 44 runs in nearly 400 plate appearances, but also hit .209, struck out 39.7% of the time and had some extreme home-road splits (.290/11/31 at Miller Park, .127/2/13 away from it).

This year he’s seeking more consistency across the board.

"I think last year I was just kind of searching," he said. "Maybe trying to put some swings on balls that I probably shouldn’t have. Trying to make my swing what I thought it should look like instead of understanding how different stuff works mechanically.

"Really, just being more comfortable and putting added focus on seeing it better has helped (this spring)."

Under the radar: Because he is not considered one of the top prospects or on the 40-man roster, Kyle Wren flies under the radar for those outside the Brewers organization. But he is a nice player and has fared well in camp when given a chance to play in exhibition games.

Wren, 25, who started in center Sunday against the Giants and collected two hits, is batting .385 (10 for 26) in Cactus League play with two doubles, a triple, home run, five RBI and .435 on-base percentage. Because outfield prospects Lewis Brinson, Ryan Cordell and Brett Phillips were optioned to the minors and won’t return for exhibition action, Wren has played more lately.

The son of former Atlanta general manager Frank Wren split the 2016 season between Class AA Biloxi and Class AAA Colorado Springs, batting .322 with a .412 OBP, 14 doubles, eight triples, two homers, 39 RBI and 29 stolen bases.

How it will work out for Wren in Colorado Springs with Brinson, Cordell and Phillips expected to play regularly remains to be seen, but he has made an impression on Counsell.

“Kyle has played well,” Counsell said. “He knows the situation (in Colorado Springs) with the players and the prospects that are slated for that level. It’s March 19th. Things change really fast. If you take care of your part, which is playing well, you’ll have a good season."

Wren said he has one goal this spring: "Make an impression" every time he gets a chance to play. As for the outfield overload in Colorado Springs, he is trying not to worry about it.

"It’s going to be a crowded outfield, that’s for sure," Wren said. "I’ve just got to go out there and play my hardest, and show what I can do, and hopefully make a good enough impression."



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