Lucroy, Brewers happy to have Aramis back at cleanup

Lucroy, Brewers happy to have Aramis back at cleanup

MILWAUKEE -- Brewers catcher Jonathan Lucroy won't blame the World Baseball Classic or the added pressure of occasionally batting cleanup.

He was simply not happy with his numbers entering Friday's start against the Cardinals: a .233 average with three home runs and 13 RBIs in 24 games.

"I'm not going to make any excuses," Lucroy said. "I have enough at-bats to where I should be feeling it. I just have to figure out whether it's the mental approach or what the deal is. I have to figure out how to be consistent because I'm a much better hitter than what I'm showing now. I know that for a fact."

Last year, Lucroy was one of baseball's most productive April and May hitters. He was hitting .345 with five home runs and 30 RBIs in his first 43 regular-season games before breaking his right hand and spending two months on the disabled list.

This year has been more of a struggle, beginning with the time he spent sitting on Team USA's bench in the World Baseball Classic. Lucroy hit a winning sacrifice fly on Opening Day and a winning home run on April 14 in St. Louis, but in his nine starts batting cleanup in place of injured third baseman Aramis Ramirez, Lucroy hit .194 with three RBIs. Rickie Weeks had no better luck.

"I've been trying to get that point where I was last year, where I was putting the ball in play with two strikes, and being consistent," Lucroy said. "It could be a product of the fact we were down two guys -- Corey [Hart] and 'Ramie.' It could be a mental thing where I'm trying to do too much. It could be a lot of things.

"I think a lot of it has to do with us putting a lot of pressure on ourselves to carry the burden. That's not an excuse, but I think it's definitely contributed to it."

Good news: Ramirez returned to the lineup on Friday.

"It's like picking up a free agent," said Lucroy, who slid down to sixth in the order.

After Ramirez suffered a sprained left knee on April 5, Brewers hitters in the four-hole combined to bat .154 with seven RBIs in 23 games. As of Friday afternoon, the Brewers and Royals were still the only two teams without a home run from a cleanup hitter.

"Those guys, Rickie and Luc, they weren't used to doing that," Ramirez said. "That's a big challenge, to protect a guy like [three-hole hitter Ryan Braun], maybe one of the top 3-5 players in the game. Even when he has somebody real good behind him, there's going to pitch around him in some situations. It's just tough, that's a big challenge, and I guess they weren't used to doing that."

Adam McCalvy is a reporter for Read his blog, Brew Beat, and follow him on Twitter at @AdamMcCalvy. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.