Last night, Brewers infielder Keston Hiura entered the game against the Dodgers in the 7th, flying out as a pinch hitter. He would stay in the game and finish 0 for 3, dropping his season average to .160, though he would end up scoring a game-tying run in the bottom of the 10th inning.
Saturday night was actually the first time Hiura has gotten to play an inning in the field in the team’s series against the Dodgers. And no, it’s not because MLB commissioner Rob Manfred suddenly decided to institute the universal DH midseason (though would you put something like that past him?).
It’s because Hiura hasn’t started a game for the Brewers since last Tuesday.
Hiura did go 1 for 3 while scoring a run that day in a Brewers win over the Marlins. But he also added another strikeout to his total, which now sits at 31, tied for 7th most in the National League.
You would think, with the ridiculous amount of injuries the Brewers have compiled in the early part of the 2021 season that it would be even harder for a team to sit one of its most talented players. So then struggles aside, why would Hiura be riding the pine so often in recent games?
Has Keston Hiura been benched for the time being by the Brewers?
Nothing is really ever official when it comes to being benched in baseball with lineups evolving from game to game. But in the short-term, that appears to be what’s happening in Milwaukee with Hiura, which was loosely confirmed by manager Craig Counsell the other day.
This would’ve been a difficult scenario to imagine when Hiura made his debut a couple years ago. He exploded on to the scene as a rookie in 2019, hitting .303 with a .938 OPS and slugging 19 home runs in 84 games. However, it came with a 30.7% strikeout rate that was a sign of things to come.
Last season saw Hiura hit a bit of a sophomore slump. Though he led the team with 13 homers in 2020, his average (.212) and OPS (.707) both dropped while his K rate (34.6%) spiked. This season has so far seen all three numbers of those numbers get even worse (.160 BA, .539 OPS, 36.5 K%).
Many Brewers fans have been calling for the team to give Hiura some time to work things out with a brief demotion to the minors. That may be an option on the table soon, but probably hasn’t been yet for a reason.
The minor league seasons haven’t kicked off yet, but will do so early this month. The team would most likely prefer that any demotion for Hiura involve him playing in actual Triple-A games as opposed to just working things out at the Alternate Training Site.
But this also raises the question posed earlier. With so many players injured, why risk having one of your most potentially talented players on the bench? In fact, it’s because so many players are out hurt that it makes more sense to bench Hiura right now.
With players like Christian Yelich, Lorenzo Cain, Omar Narvaez, Manny Pina, and so on, currently on the injured list, good offense is at a premium for the Brewers. That means going with a lineup that gives you the best chance to win and one that doesn’t allow as much leeway for struggling players trying to work things out along the way.
That’s why the Brewers have opted to give more playing time to Daniel Vogelbach, who isn’t exactly lighting things up himself (.173 BA, .566 OPS) but has been putting together better at bats lately, according to Counsell.
Hiura is too good of a hitter to not break out of this slump eventually. Unfortunately, that will have to happen from the bench for the time being.