PHOENIX — New Milwaukee Brewers outfielder Christian Yelich struck out twice in his spring training debut Friday when the Brewers hosted the Chicago Cubs in a split-squad game.
He also singled before departing after the fourth inning.
Yelich, who arrived via trade for four prospects in one of the major leagues’ most notable offseason moves, played left field. That’s the spot where he figures to see most action in 2018.
Yelich was primarily a left fielder from 2013 to 2016 with the Miami Marlins, then played 155 games in center field there last season. He ran down a curling line drive off the bat of the Cubs’ Ian Happ on the first pitch of the game, then went 1-for-2 with two strikeouts and a soft single to left-center.
“Excited to get things under way. These guys have been awesome,” Yelich said.
Coming from the Marlins, who let their entire starting outfield from 2017 go in the offseason, the Brewers with their additions and better outlook for a winning season seem to be a happy destination. The rebuilding Marlins aren’t likely to contend, while the Brewers added Yelich and former Kansas City Royals star Lorenzo Cain to a team that went 86-76 a year ago and finished a game out of the second NL wild card spot.
“That’s all you can ask for,” Yelich said. “Now it’s about going out there and doing it.”
The Brewers have plenty of experienced outfielders in spring training, but Yelich is set for left, Cain in center field and Domingo Santana primarily in right field. The face of the franchise for a decade, Ryan Braun, is working at first base and might back up Yelich and Santana in the outfield.
Braun will play first base in games starting next week, manager Craig Counsell said.
“We’ve got to get through the unknowns, and there will be some anytime you tack on a new position,” Counsell said of Braun. “I kind of want mistakes to happen here ... he’ll correct them, I’m very confident in that.”
As for other Brewers outfielders, Keon Broxton played 143 games in the majors last season, and 23-year-old prospect Brett Phillips had four stints in the big leagues in 2017.
Yelich, Counsell has said, will also see time in right field, where he has never played in the majors. With his experience in center, he can also move there when Cain gets a day off.
“Trying to win. Help these guys win any way I can,” Yelich said. “I think that’s the most important goal.”
Yelich’s bat and defense should be a major asset. A 2014 Gold Glove winner as a left fielder, he hit .282 with 18 home runs and 81 RBI last season. He also stole 16 bases in 2017.
Counsell will have interesting daily lineup decisions to make as the season goes along with a number of players able to play different positions. Yelich hit second in the batting order on Friday.
“That versatility is so valuable in getting your best lineup out there every single day,” Counsell said. “Good defenders, which he is a really good defender, he can do it. He’s got a smile on his face and he’s ready to go and it’s kind of a fresh start for him.”
NOTE: Counsell said after two games Friday, a lot of main position players will get Saturday off when Milwaukee faces the Los Angeles Angels in the expected debut of Japanese two-way player Shohei Ohtani. He also looks forward to the buzz created by Ohtani’s arrival. “I’ll take atmosphere every time, so we’ll go to a fun atmosphere. I think the players will tell you the same thing,” Counsell said.