MILWAUKEE -- Yuniesky Betancourt's pitches per plate appearance do not show it yet, but manager Ron Roenicke's eyes see a different hitter than the one who manned shortstop in Milwaukee two years ago.
"He's more patient than he was before," Roenicke said. "He sees the off-speed stuff better. Really, he looks like a good offensive player."
Roenicke quickly added: "I don't want to say he wasn't a good offensive player two years ago."
In the big picture, the numbers have yet to bear-out the shift Roenicke sees. Betancourt, who has been playing first base for the first time in his career, averaged 3.17 pitches in his first 41 plate appearances in 2013, barely better than his 3.16 pitches per plate appearance with the Brewers in 2011.
But he has been swinging at a slightly lower percentage of pitches overall (56.1 percent this season vs. 57.4 percent in 2011) and a lower percentage of pitches outside the strike zone (39.2 percent vs. 40.3 percent). Those numbers come from Baseball Info Solutions, via the website FanGraphs.com.
This newfound discipline is by design, said Betancourt, who worked to curb his famously aggressive approach while playing winter ball in Mexico.
"Mexico helped me a lot. That was the main thing, go there to be more patient and get better pitches to hit," Betancourt said, via catcher/translator Martin Maldonado. "I was working hard down there."
Why make such a change in his ninth Major League season?
"Better learning later than never," Betancourt said.
Betancourt is the Brewers' regular first baseman these days, and he entered his Thursday afternoon start on a hot streak, going 5-for-13 with two home runs during a four-game hitting streak. His grand slam on Tuesday gave Betancourt half of his eight RBIs, tied with Ryan Braun for the team lead.
Brewers see Lohse leading by example
MILWAUKEE -- Brewers coaches hope the younger pitchers on their staff have been watching veteran newcomer Kyle Lohse pound the strike zone.
Lohse is still seeking a victory, but he has delivered three quality starts in as many outings and has a 2.70 ERA while throwing 70.5 percent of his pitches for strikes, including 65.8 percent of his first pitches.
Compare that to the youngest member of the rotation, Wily Peralta, who has thrown 59.2 percent strikes overall and 57.5 percent on the first pitch.
"When we got [Shaun] Marcum two years ago, that's what the guys saw from him," manager Ron Roenicke said. "And we talked about it, and he said when he was in Toronto, that's what they harped on. First pitch down in the zone, and trying to get ahead of hitters. He did it really well and was, I thought, a huge example to the other guys. He was our best pitcher [in 2011] for, I don't know what it was, four months? And I think it helped the rest of the pitching staff.
"So with what they see from Kyle, I'm hoping they see the same thing, especially now that we have younger guys. The younger guys need to see how the veterans pitch and are successful, and what they do when they get themselves in trouble. We talked to Wily [on Wednesday about his disappointing start the night before]. I want him to learn from that."
Lohse's outing on Wednesday was significant in that it was the first time the game circumstances allowed him to cross the 100-pitch threshold. The Brewers had been careful with him because of his severely abbreviated Spring Training.
"I did all my work, I just wasn't in camp," Lohse said. "The first two [starts] I felt strong enough to keep going, but situations said otherwise. I was telling everyone I felt good, even though I didn't have a spring."
Burgos to join rotation; Fiers sent out
MILWAUKEE -- The Brewers optioned Mike Fiers back to Triple-A Nashville on Thursday and will take a look at right-hander Hiram Burgos, the club's reigning Minor League pitcher of the year who will make his Major League debut with a Saturday start against the Cubs.
Burgos was 0-2 with a 2.70 ERA and 15 strikeouts in three starts at Nashville and will be pitching on regular rest. He made his mark this spring with a strong showing for Puerto Rico in the World Baseball Classic.
Fiers, meanwhile, will head down to search for some rhythm. After struggling last August and September for the Brewers after a sensational start, he posted an 8.59 ERA in one start and two relief appearances this month. In his only start, Fiers surrendered six earned runs against Arizona and was subsequently moved to long relief.
"I guess nothing surprises me in this game," Fiers said. "I didn't start off the year that well, so I have to go down. They need someone right now who is reliable, and I guess they feel like I'm not that guy right now. I guess I need to get better.
"They're sending me to Nashville. It's not the end of the world. I still need to pitch better and prove myself there and come back up and pitch again. It's on me to pitch well and get back up here as soon as possible."
Fiers was told to prepare for at least two Triple-A starts, the first on Saturday if Mother Nature will stop meddling with the Sounds' schedule. Then, the Brewers, who will not need Burgos again after Saturday until April 30, will re-evaluate their options.
In picking Burgos, the Brewers passed over top prospect Tyler Thornburg, who is 0-1 with a 5.40 ERA in his three Nashville starts. Brewers manager Ron Roenicke was asked earlier this week whether Thornburg's eight Brewers appearances last season gave him a leg up.
"I think he's probably a little more -- we're more familiar with what he does at the big league level," Roenicke said. "That can be good or bad. If he pitches well, it's good. So I don't know. We go a lot by what the guys tell us in the Minor Leagues.