Gantner a fan of Brewers' small-ball style

Gantner a fan of Brewers' small-ball style

Gantner a fan of Brewers' small-ball style
MILWAUKEE -- Count former Brewers infielder Jim Gantner among the big fans of the team's new, bunt-happy brand of baseball.

Gantner's playing career spanned 17 seasons, from the wall-banging Brewers power teams of the late 1970s and early 1980s to a team that manufactured runs under manager Phil Garner in 1992. The current manager, Ron Roenicke, is unabashedly reinstituting a small-ball style of play in 2012.

"We didn't have the power in '92, so we did a lot of first-to-thirds, squeeze [bunts]. I love that it's back," Gantner said Wednesday during batting practice.

The night before, Roenicke showed Gantner something he'd never seen before. With the Dodgers and Brewers tied at 2 in the seventh inning, Roenicke signaled for a squeeze on three consecutive pitches, with runners at first and third, one out and Norichika Aoki batting.

The first two were safety squeezes, meaning the runner at third -- Mat Gamel -- waited until contact to break for home. Aoki pulled the first attempt foul and pulled back the bat on the second for a called ball, leaving him in a 2-1 count.

That was a good count, Roenicke figured, to up the ante. Figuring Dodgers pitcher Matt Guerrier would want to throw a strike to avoid falling to 3-1, Roenicke called a suicide squeeze. Gamel broke from third with the pitch, Aoki executed the bunt and the Brewers took a 3-2 lead.

"I've never seen that -- safety, safety, squeeze!" Gantner said. "But you had a guy up there who could handle the bat and a pitcher who was around the plate, so go for it. I don't think [the Dodgers] knew what to expect. You keep the other team on its toes."

It's Roenicke's preferred style of play, but was used sparingly in his rookie managerial season partly because the Brewers featured so much power. Notable exceptions came from catcher Jonathan Lucroy, who executed a game-winning suicide squeeze to beat the Giants on May 28, and delivered another against the D-backs in Game 2 of the National League Division Series.

The 2012 Brewers will still hit their home runs, Roenicke figures, but minus Prince Fielder in the cleanup spot, there may be more room for improvisation. It comes down to personnel, Roenicke said.

There are also side benefits, Roenicke said. Now that teams know the Brewers are prone to bunt, their opponents will be more likely to call pitchouts, which can put hitters -- assuming they are up at the plate to hit -- in better counts. It can also disrupt a pitcher's rhythm or outright upset him, Roenicke said.

"That's a tough call," Roenicke said. "If you take [a pitch] away from him and he's upset, I don't know if it was worth the gamble."

Of course, a pitchout could also work, leaving a Brewers runner stuck between third and home.

Does Roenicke consider himself a gambler? Yes, he said with a smile.

"They're going to have to play a lot more small ball this year because Prince isn't here," Gantner said. "That will probably change as [Aramis Ramirez] gets hot and Nyjer [Morgan] gets on base, but right now, you've got to do what you've got to do. I think it's exciting."