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Brewers beat 5/30

May 30, 2010

Powerful Hart winning back fan’s hearts

MILWAUKEE — It’s no surprise to see the Brewers among the top three in the National League in nearly every offensive category — not with Ryan Braun, Prince Fielder and NL RBI leader Casey McGehee in the lineup.

But it’s the resurgence of another big bat that has the Brewers on a three-game winning streak, with four wins in their past six games and a 6-4 record over their past 10.

Corey Hart, who on Saturday became the first Brewers hitter since 2003 to homer in three consecutive at-bats, has given his team a fourth power hitter in the middle of the lineup.

“The more guys you can stack in there, it makes it tougher for them to pitch around people,” manager Ken Macha said. “That makes the lineup pretty solid there.”

Hart’s popularity among fans has soared over the past week after taking a couple of big hits in the offseason. Fans were not happy with Hart after he won his arbitration case despite a down year in 2009. Then, with a poor Spring Training performance coming shortly thereafter, Hart was far from popular in Milwaukee.

But keeping his past performances in mind, including an All-Star appearance in 2008, Hart’s coaches and teammates never doubted him.

“I’ve been saying it from the beginning of the year — he’s the kind of guy that when he gets going, he’s the kind of player that can carry a team for an extended period of time, not just a day or two,” McGehee said. “He’s certainly shown that the last day or two. When he’s going well, he’s a game-changer.”

Macha’s machinations with lineup continue

MILWAUKEE — As the Brewers continue to excel on the field, manager Ken Macha continues to tweak the club’s lineup.

After batting George Kottaras second on Saturday because of the catcher’s high on-base percentage, Macha made another move on Sunday to get more guys on base. Macha moved his entire batting order up one spot after Rickie Weeks with the exception of shortstop Alcides Escobar, who was in the ninth spot, behind pitcher Randy Wolf.

“We’ll try this out,” Macha said. “We tried something out yesterday, and I think that had some fruits to it. I think it’s just an interesting look. I thought about putting Kottaras there, and I thought about this a little bit, too.”

As a result, left fielder Ryan Braun became the ninth Brewers hitter this season to bat second. It’s just the third time Braun has hit second and the first since he was a rookie.

Behind Braun, Prince Fielder batted third for the third time this season, Casey McGehee became the team’s third cleanup hitter this season and Corey Hart batted fifth for the second time this year.

McGehee is the first Brewers hitter other than Braun or Fielder to bat cleanup since Hart did so on July 1, 2008. The Brewers won that game, 8-6, in Arizona.

Wolf is the first pitcher this season to be in the lineup anywhere other than in the No. 9 spot. The only time a position player batted ninth was during the three-game Interleague series with the Twins at Target Field.

With Escobar batting ninth, Macha and McGehee were quick to point out, the lineup looks a bit different after the first time through. In fact, it looks a lot more like the team’s usual lineup.

“Looking at the lineup, at the beginning of the game, it’s like, ‘Oh, you’re batting cleanup,’ ” McGehee said. “But it’s really the same. I’m still hitting in front of and behind the same guy. Then, hopefully, you get Escobar on base, and all of a sudden, Rickie’s basically hitting second after the first go-round. So I think it’s going to be interesting to see how it all shakes out.”

As with the Kottaras move on Saturday, the thought process behind Macha’s decision came down to on-base percentage.

Fielder (.402) and Braun (.393) rank fifth and ninth, respectively, in the National League in on-base percentage.

“If we score first, we’ve got a high percentage of wins,” Macha said. “In the first inning, they’re going to have to face Prince and Brauny. That gives us a chance to score early. I just want those guys to get on base. Corey’s hot right now, McGehee’s up in the league leaders in driving in runs — I just want the guys to get on base.”

Axford adds depth to Brewers’ bullpen

MILWAUKEE — With John Axford getting the call in the ninth inning of the Brewers’ 8-6 victory on Saturday, many assumed it meant he is the team’s closer.

Not so fast, manager Ken Macha said in his postgame news conference.

“I’m not eliminating Trevor,” said Macha, referring to all-time saves leader Trevor Hoffman. “I want to give [Hoffman] a few more innings, but it’s going to be nice if we have coverage like that.”

Axford, a flame-throwing 27-year-old right-hander, is 2-for-2 in save opportunities this season. Add those to his save at the end of the 2009 season, and he is a perfect 3-for-3 in his short big league career as a closer.

Though his career total is still 593 behind that of Hoffman, Axford doesn’t let the pressure of the situation get to him.

“It’s a tough situation to be in, I guess,” Axford said. “I don’t hold a flame to Trevor Hoffman. So I’m not thinking about that, really. I’m just trying to get my job done.”

Though Macha has been impressed by Axford’s recent performance out of the bullpen, he sees greater value in having several pitchers who are comfortable with pressure situations in the late innings.

“There’s no problem having a couple,” Macha said. “My last year in Oakland, we had six guys with saves. I’d like to get Trevor back. … The more guys you can bring in pressure situations and they’re able to get outs, that makes your bullpen that much stronger.

“I’d like to get [LaTroy] Hawkins back, too. When all those pieces get back together, it starts to give you a lot of options. … I’m not selling any of those guys short.”

When asked about his bullpen in his morning session with the media, Macha said that he hoped to get Hoffman in the game on Sunday. He did not, however, specify an inning in which that might happen.

But with the way Axford has pitched lately, Macha admitted after Saturday’s game that “it’s hard not to bring him in.”

“He has the stuff,” Macha said. “There’s no doubt about that.”

Worth noting

With 12 home runs, Corey Hart is tied with three others for the most in the National League. … The Brewers’ pitching staff gave up its first home run in nine games on Saturday after tying a 34-year-old franchise record. … Entering Sunday’s series finale with the Mets, no Brewers starter had allowed a home run in 13 consecutive games, a franchise record. The longest previous streak was 12 games, from May 7-21, 1976. … With nine home runs and 19 RBIs since May 15, Hart leads the NL in both categories over that stretch. … The Brewers’ three-game home winning streak is a season high. … David Riske, who is on the 60-day disabled list, picked up his second win for Triple-A Nashville on Saturday night, giving up two unearned runs with one strikeout in two innings pitched. Lefty Mitch Stetter also threw one shutout inning in relief, with two strikeouts.

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

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