Cardinals must find a way to corral Brewers, Aguilar

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MILWAUKEE — Four months ago, Milwaukee Brewers manager Craig Counsell was trying to figure out how to fit Jesus Aguilar onto his roster. Now, Counsell is having a hard time taking the hard-hitting first baseman out of his starting lineup.

Aguilar has been Milwaukee’s hottest hitter over the last month, batting .283 with 12 home runs, 34 RBIs and a .964 OPS. Five of those home runs along with 12 RBIs have come over his last five games and he’s driven in multiple runs in five straight starts, tying a franchise record.

“He’s certainly been one of the most pleasant surprises (this year),” Counsell said. “He was last year as well, and he’s taken it up a notch this year. You need those kind of performances you weren’t expecting. You need that kind of stuff.”

All that from a player who came to spring training not sure if he’d have a job when the regular season opened.

Acquired off waivers ahead of the 2017 season, Aguilar split time at first with Eric Thames last year, forming a potent right-left platoon combo. But after the Brewers acquired outfielders Christian Yelich and Lorenzo Cain over the winter, the team planned to transition outfielder Ryan Braun as an occasional right-handed option at first, which seemingly diminished Aguilar’s role.

He played his way onto the roster with another strong spring training and established himself as a dangerous pinch-hitting threat before taking over first base on a more regular basis when Thames was lost to a thumb injury April 25.

“I’m confident in myself. When I get a chance to go, I’m going to give my 100 percent. That’s how I think.”

Thames, who’s spent the majority of his playing time in the outfield since returning June 11, is still adjusting to the position but is happy for his teammate.

“I mean, hey, the team is winning,” Thames said. “It was the same thing for him the first half of last year when I was going off. It’s great because we’re winning and today, he pretty much did it himself and it was awesome. I’m happy for him. He works hard. He’s such a smart hitter, smart player. He’s a great team guy, so you can’t help but root for him.”

His bat and defensive ability have been a source of comfort for Brewers pitchers this season and will be Saturday for Chase Anderson, who takes the mound for Game 2 of the Brewers’ four-game series with the Cardinals at Miller Park.

Anderson has yet to find the consistency that led to his breakout season a year ago. He’s 5-6 with a 4.54 ERA through his first 15 starts and has struggled keeping the ball inside the park.

He’s allowed 15 home runs this season — one more than he gave up in all of 2017 — with 13 of those coming at Miller Park, where he’s 3-3 with a 5.70 ERA.

He gave up two home runs in the opening inning his last time out, upping his first-inning ERA this season to 8.36.

“It’s just one of those deals,” Anderson said. “That’s kind of been my thing since I was a kid. Obviously, I need to correct it and work on it and get better at getting guys out quicker. Something to work on.”

The Cardinals answer with right-hander Miles Mikolas, who’s 1-0 with a 6.00 ERA in two career starts against the Brewers, both at the beginning of this season.

He allowed four runs over 5 2/3 innings but took the victory April 2 at Miller Park but didn’t factor in the decision after giving up another four runs, this time over 6 1/3 innings, in a 5-4 Cardinals loss April 9 in St. Louis.

“He pounds the strike zone and uses multiple pitches,” Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said. “It’s just not every day you come across starters who can do that … and then to have durability and consistency to stay in the game as long as he has.”

A victory Saturday would mark Milwaukee’s second series victory over the Cardinals in three tries this season.

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