Prospect Escobar gets hit in first start
Heralded rookie slotted in nine-hole for Thursday's tilt
MILWAUKEE -- Much-heralded Brewers prospect Alcides Escobar made his first Major League start on Thursday, and it didn't matter where he batted in the lineup."I'll hit first, second, ninth," he said. "I don't care." Manager Ken Macha gave the youngster the nine-hole and batted the pitcher -- lefty Manny Parra -- eighth. The Brewers briefly used a similar configuration last season, when catcher Jason Kendall hit ninth, and the Cardinals routinely bat their pitcher in the eight-hole. But before Thursday, Macha had never done it. He didn't wait for reporters to ask about the lineup before offering up his explanation. "I thought about it last night," Macha said. "I want to utilize [Escobar's] speed. I think if I hit him eighth [and he reaches base], the pitcher up there will probably be bunting. I don't want to put undue pressure on him and bat him on the top of the order. "We need to utilize his strengths and score some runs. Right now, our lineup is down as far as power is concerned. ... We're going to have to be a little more aggressive and put some runners in motion."
Escobar ended his Thursday slate going 1-for-4 with a dribbler infield single down the third-base line in the bottom of the seventh. The Brewers went on to beat the Padres, 12-9.
The Brewers promoted Escobar amid a flurry of personnel moves on Wednesday. He replaced J.J. Hardy, who was optioned to Triple-A Nashville amid a deep slump.Considered, along with third baseman Mat Gamel, to be Milwaukee's top prospect, Escobar batted .298 at Nashville before his promotion with four home runs, 34 RBIs and 42 stolen bases. He made his big league debut last season as a September callup, appearing in nine games off the bench and going 2-for-4 with two runs scored, and then was a late addition to the playoff roster after second baseman Rickie Weeks suffered a knee injury. Escobar arrived at Miller Park just before game time on Wednesday, too late to join the starting lineup. General manager Doug Melvin told manager Ken Macha he would like Escobar to play at least four days a week. "There's going to be a lot of pressure on the kid because everybody has heard of him," Melvin said. "Right now, we need a jolt of energy." Escobar is ready to provide that jolt. "I'm excited for my first game," he said Thursday morning. "I'm excited for the opportunity and I'm ready. I want to make the most of my opportunity." The only bummer was that he replaced Hardy, a friend. Escobar signed as a non-drafted free agent out of Venezuela in 2003, two years after the Brewers took Hardy in the second round of the First-Year Player Draft. "I was surprised when I got the news," Escobar said. "But that's baseball. That happens all the time with other teams." Was he nervous about his first Major League start? "Right now, I'm not nervous," he said. "Maybe later." Macha didn't buy it. "Every rookie comes up and they're going to be trying hard to establish themselves," Macha said. "I guarantee you, when he gets up there the first time, his heart's going to be going 100 mph." Escobar and fellow callup Jason Bourgeois, an outfielder who stole 36 bags at Nashville, should help Macha comply with Melvin's request to be more aggressive offensively. That could mean more hit-and-runs, more stolen bases. But only when the situation is right. "I've heard all the complaints of our club being offensively stale, one-dimensional," Melvin said. "But you can't run when you're down in the game. I think the running game is sometimes overstated. You have to have the right personnel to do it, the right time of the game to do it."
Adam McCalvy is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.