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Pina hoping to catch on with Brewers

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By Tom Haudricourt
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Monday, March 20, 2017

PHOENIX--Manny Piņa has never had an opportunity like this and he is determined not to waste it.

When the Milwaukee Brewers' spring camp opened five weeks ago, Piņa, Jett Bandy and Andrew Susac were gathered and told there would be a three-man competition for the two catching spots on the big league roster. For Piņa, it was a welcome challenge.

“With other teams (in the past), I knew I was going to Triple-A,” he said. “This is my best opportunity to be in the big leagues. I have never been on an opening day roster. That would be unbelievable for me.”

Piņa, 29, has two advantages over Bandy and Susac, the first being familiarity within the organization. Acquired from Detroit in December 2015 in the Francisco Rodriguez trade, he began last season at Class AAA Colorado Springs and played there until summoned Aug. 1 by the Brewers after Jonathan Lucroy was dealt to Texas.

That same day, Susac, 27, was acquired from San Francisco in the Will Smith trade but didn't get called up by the Brewers until September and played in only nine games for them. Piņa played in 33 games, batting .254 with two homers, 12 RBI and .346 on-base percentage.

“I was impressed with his (81) plate appearances last year,” manager Craig Counsell said. “It's not a big stretch, but it was impressive. He held his own and did a nice job.

“Offensively, his game seems to have developed late in his career, a little bit. He's a hitter.”

Bandy, 27, joined the organization in mid-December in a trade with the Los Angeles Angels. The Brewers showed what they thought of him by sending the Angels their established backup catcher, Martin Maldonado, a defensive stalwart.

The other advantage Piņa enjoys in this competition is that he is the only one of the three candidates without a minor-league option. If the Brewers tried to slip him through waivers at the end of camp to return to Colorado Springs, they fully understand he might be claimed by another team looking for catching help.

“Every time we look at decisions like this, on the roster, off the roster, options, no options—that's part of the decision,” Counsell said. “It's part of how you create depth.

“Manny is taking care of what he can take care of: that's playing really well.”

Wisely, Piņa is not focused on any perceived foot in the door he might have in the competition. He has taken a focused, day-to-day approach that has resulted in solid production in exhibition play.

In 35 at-bats over 14 games in the Cactus League, Piņa is batting .400 (14 for 35) with two home runs, eight RBI and 1.034 OPS. He has been particularly hot of late, going 8-for-13 (.615) with the two homers and five RBI in four games.

This from a hitter who says he hasn't felt particularly comfortable swinging a bat just yet.

“I don't feel really good right now at the plate,” he said. “I've been working with D.C. (hitting coach Darnell Coles) a lot in the cage. He helped me with a couple of things with my hands.

“(Getting hits) is what you're always working to do. You have to always keep your head up. If you do that, you will have good results.”

Piņa swung the bat quite well at Colorado Springs last season before being summoned to the majors. In 63 games with the Sky Sox, he batted .329 with 21 doubles, three triples, five home runs, 43 RBI and .877 OPS, earning Pacific Coast League all-star honors.

Piņa, Bandy and Susac—currently sidelined with a neck/shoulder issue—have not spent much time talking about the battle for spots on the roster. They have been challenged by Counsell and his coaching staff with a heavy daily workload and therefore don't have a lot of time for idle chatter.

“We don't talk too much about it,” said Piņa, whose big-league experience prior to 2016 consisted of only five games with Kansas City in 2011-'12. “We just go out and do our job. It's a good competition.

“When you get here in the morning, you don't have time to do anything. You go on the field and practice, hit in the cage, have meetings. Everything has to be quick. The catchers have to be ready.”

As much as this opportunity means to Piņa, he is determined to avoid getting caught pondering the big picture. He badly wants to be standing on that first-base line on April 3 at Miller Park when players are introduced on opening day but it isn't productive to stay awake at night wondering if it will happen.

“I don't think too much about making the team,” he said. “I just enjoy my day and my opportunity. I don't want too much in my head. I just want to relax.

“You have to stay strong mentally. Don't try to do too much. That's when you do bad things. Since we are kids, you want to play in the big leagues. Now, I have that opportunity. All I can do is go out and play hard.

“I feel I am doing my best. That's all I can do.”


Last updated: 11:25 pm Monday, March 20, 2017


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