Brewers fans let out a sigh of relief Thursday night after Christian Yelich hit what he called the “probably the luckiest home run in baseball history.” After sitting out in Milwaukee’s third game of the series against the Chicago White Sox at home on Wednesday, Yelich returned to the lineup Thursday night, batting third and looking more comfortable at the plate than he has all season. All in all, he drew four walks, scored three runs, drove in an RBI, and of course hit one of the most bizarre inside the park home runs in history, courtesy of Eloy Jiménez. “I needed that one. It’s been an absolute zoo. I’ve been awful all year…it was nice to be able to differentiate balls and strikes again instead of just blindly waving at things and hoping they throw something off your bat,” Yelich told MLB beat reporter Adam McCalvy after the game last night.
Indeed, it’s certainly been a slow start to the season for the 2018 National League MVP. Coming into Thursday night’s game, he had just three hits to 16 strikeouts all season. Thursday night’s inside the park home run sent his batting average over the .100 mark for the first time this year. Yelich ranks in the bottom percentile of all hitters in almost every stat at the moment. Of course in a 60-game season, a slow start could set an alarm off for some, raising the question: should we be concerned about Christian Yelich?
Short answer, no. With each game carrying more weight than the typical 162-game season, the pressure is high right out of the gate. Additionally, players have been sitting at home for months without any sort of formal training, waiting for the season to start up again after spring training was shut down in March. It’s natural that everyone would be a bit rusty, some more than others. Sure, guys like Aaron Judge seemingly have not missed a beat since the season started up again, but that does not mean Yelich has lost his star power. As a matter of fact, he predicted these kinds of struggles, not necessarily just for himself, but for any star player. “You’re going to see really good players have really bad years. It’s going to happen. Not only position-player wise but pitcher-wise. You don’t have that large sample size for everything to even out, so if you get off to a tough start or a bad start, you’re really behind the 8-ball,” Yelich told Adam McCalvy back in July.
Prior to Thursday night’s game, Yelich was 3-for-34 through his first eight games. He looked lost at the plate, something many fans noticed from the start of the summer training camp. While it’s normal for players to get off to a slow start during the preseason, many began to speculate as to what the root of his issue was as his struggles continued into the regular season. It’s important to remember Yelich signed his contract extension with the Brewers back in March, officially making him a Brewer for life at $215 million over nine years, keeping him in Milwaukee until at least 2028. It’s not uncommon to see players underperform in the season following signing a big contract — the organization put their money where their mouth is and showed they have long-term trust in a player to excel for a long time; naturally, there’s going to be some heightened pressure. Not only that, though it seems like ages ago now, but Yelich’s 2019 season also ended early i after suffering a fractured kneecap. Much of his offseason was spent rehabbing, not training for next season. Now add on to the fact he only got so many weeks of training in back in March and then was back at home not playing baseball again, and it’s really not shocking he’s struggling a bit. Perhaps he’s still trying to find his sea legs. Some even suspected he’s been trying to protect his knee while at the plate.
The good news is, he looked a lot more like himself last night at the plate. Whether or not that means his “slump” is over would be jumping the gun, but it’s certainly a good sign. Yelich sat Wednesday night for more of a “mental break than anything,” manager Craig Counsell told the media. Hopefully his performance Thursday night gave him the confidence boost he needs to return to his MVP form. Still, even if he continues to struggle a bit, not only is it still early in the season — because yes, even despite the shortened season it is still early — but slumps are natural for all baseball players! This is not Yelich’s first slump in his career and it will not be his last. Is this the worst slump of his career in Milwaukee thus far? Yes. Is it normal to be worried as a fan? Absolutely. However, at the end of the day, Christian Yelich is going to be absolutely fine. His teammates, coaches, managers, and the entire organization stand firm in that belief, and now it’s just a matter of Yelich finding his confidence once again.
Featured image by Justin Paradis (@freshmeatcomm on Twitter)
Photo credit by Ian D’Andrea