Brewers aim to wake slumbering offense

Brewers aim to wake slumbering offense

MILWAUKEE -- Blame it on fatigue, the hole left by Rickie Weeks at the top of the Milwaukee lineup or an array of hitters slumping at the same time.

Whatever the reason for the Brewers' recent offensive struggles, manager Ken Macha thought Thursday's off-day would be just what the Brewers' bats needed before this weekend's three-game set against Cincinnati.

"[Thursday] is going to be a welcome day off," Macha said. "There are absolutely no excuses when you go out and play -- you go out and you lay it out there and your results are your results. [But] our travel and sleep [and] rest situations over these last nine games have been difficult."

The Brewers are hitting .225 during their last nine games after hitting .254 as a team prior to that stretch (the National League average was .258 entering Wednesday). Although Macha said the hassle of travel is part of the game, Milwaukee's recent stretch of 12 games in 12 days in four different cities was exceptionally tough. Early-morning arrival times -- the team landed in Houston at 3 a.m., Minnesota at 4 a.m. and back in Milwaukee at 2:30 a.m. before playing later each day -- are another reason why fatigue can be viewed as part of their struggles.

Aside from the travel, the loss of Weeks to a season-ending wrist injury on May 17 also has coincided with the Brewers' struggles. After knocking out eight runs against the Cardinals in the game after Weeks went down, the Brewers have been unable to score more than four runs without him.

"It's just the reality of what happens when you lose that kind of production," hitting coach Dale Sveum said of Weeks, who was hitting .272 with nine home runs. "Him getting on base, his intensity. But [Craig] Counsell has been doing well and [Casey] McGehee has been doing OK, too. The bottom line is that we haven't been hitting home runs. ... We win games if we hit home runs, and we haven't been doing that much lately."

Along with the loss of Weeks, the Brewers also lost J.J. Hardy (lower back spasms) for four games. While Counsell has picked up some offensive slack, hitting .323 while filling in for Weeks and Hardy, others have struggled to step up their production. Bill Hall (three hits in his last 42 at bats) and Corey Hart (.176 the past 17 games) have been mired in slumps. And while McGehee has filled in admirably at second base, both he and fellow youngster Mat Gamel went hitless in the series against St. Louis.

Macha said Hart would be back in the lineup Friday, adding that he simply needed a couple days off to relax mentally.

"He has been chasing some [balls] out of the zone," Macha said. "I've seen it worse, but it's more like he's not picking the ball up right away from the pitcher. He's gotten some breaking balls up in the zone and he's swinging right through them. ... [But], it's a variety of things."

The lineup created similar production on Wednesday, even with Hardy returning to the lineup with a 3-for-5 performance. Offensive improvement could come in this weekend's series against the Reds. Aside from getting their much-needed off-day, the Brewers have a number of players with solid numbers against the Reds. Hall is a .302 lifetime hitter against Cincinnati, while Jason Kendall (.316, 11 home runs) and Prince Fielder (.284, 12 home runs) also have good track records against Cincinnati.

With past success against the Reds and a fresh group of 25 players, Sveum isn't worried about the struggles of the past nine games hanging with his hitters through much longer than Wednesday.

"We'll be all right -- it's that time of year when everybody struggles for runs a little bit," Sveum said. "The weather [is cool], the excitement of Spring Training is over and you go through that little lull. It's that time where you find out what people are made of if they start struggling."

Pitching matchup
MIL: RHP Braden Looper (4-3, 4.47 ERA)
Looper's first Interleague start of the season was not a success. The right-hander did not have his best stuff, but he was able to complete six innings while getting touched for nine hits and five runs -- four earned -- in a 6-2 loss to the Twins on Saturday. Looper walked one and struck out one, and he also surrendered solo home runs to Joe Crede and Joe Mauer. He is 5-3 with a 3.86 ERA in 38 appearances -- eight starts -- over 81 2/3 career innings against the Reds.

CIN: RHP Johnny Cueto (4-2, 2.37 ERA)
In a 4-3 Reds win in 11 innings, Cueto received a no-decision after he pitched seven innings and allowed three runs -- two earned -- and six hits with three walks, two hit batters and seven strikeouts. He was effective at getting ahead and threw first-pitch strikes to 22 of his 29 batters. It was the seventh consecutive start in which the right-hander worked at least seven innings, but he's winless in his last two outings.

Tidbits
Ryan Braun played Wednesday after being removed from Tuesday's game after he was hit on his right wrist by a pitch in the third inning. He went 0-for-4. ... Frank Catalanotto made the most of his first start as a Brewer on Wednesday, going 2-for-3 with a two-run triple in the bottom of the fourth. He also made an impact in the outfield, beginning a 9-4-3 putout of St. Louis' Joe Thurston when Thurston tried to stretch a double into a triple in the top of the fourth inning. ... Reliever Seth McClung altered his warmup apparel Wednesday, when he wore a long-sleeve shirt with "Not Coffey" printed on the back. McClung was trying to help out the fans who sit behind the bullpen, who have been known to mistake McClung for fellow reliever Todd Coffey. ... Catching prospect Angel Salome missed his second straight start for Triple-A Nashville on Tuesday after he was struck on the right hand by a foul tip over the weekend. He is not expected to miss more than a few days, according to Brewers special assistant to the GM Dan O'Brien.

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On the Internet
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On radio
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Up next
• Saturday: Brewers (Dave Bush, 3-1, 3.92) vs. Reds (Aaron Harang, 5-4, 3.36), 6:05 p.m. CT
• Sunday: Brewers (Yovani Gallardo, 4-2, 3.32) vs. Reds (Micah Owings, 3-5, 4.78), 1:05 p.m. CT
• Monday: Brewers (Jeff Suppan, 3-4, 5.23) at Marlins (Andrew Miller, 1-2, 4.55), 6:10 p.m. CT

Cash Kruth is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.