Brewers look for consistency in batter's box in 2015

MILWAUKEE (AP) Success for the Brewers this season may hinge on Milwaukee's consistency in the batter's box.

September swoons can prove costly - as can prolonged slumps any other time of year, for that matter.

A lineup filled with accomplished hitters like Ryan Braun, Jonathan Lucroy and Carlos Gomez has the potential to score runs. To break into the playoffs from the competitive NL Central, the Brewers must eliminate team-wide slumps.

''Last year we kind of grinded it to a point where instead of just playing day to day and for that game and to win, we looked like we were forcing things,'' manager Ron Roenicke said. ''We were trying to hold on to what we had, and that's not the way we go about it.''

The Brewers spent 150 days in first place before a stunning, late-season collapse left them out of the playoffs for a third straight year.

''We've got a good club, and when we're playing the type of baseball I think we can play every night ... if we just worry about that game today, at the end of the season, good things will happen,'' the skipper added from the team's spring training complex in Phoenix.

The lineup is bashing again this spring.

After a slow start, Braun has been hitting much better following an unusual offseason medical procedure. Extreme cold was applied to his right hand in hopes of fixing a lingering nerve problem near the thumb.

Lucroy also looks like he is over a hamstring injury that limited him for the first few weeks of spring training. The upbeat, energetic Gomez had three homers three weeks into spring ball.

''Every day you learn something new ... you learn from that,'' Gomez said about the 2014 season. ''The first step we have to do is make the playoffs. We take it game by game.''

The regular season begins on April 6 against Colorado at Miller Park. Some things to watch with the Brewers:

PITCHING: The Brewers don't have a true ace, but they do have solid veterans atop the rotation in Kyle Lohse and Matt Garza. Wily Peralta won 17 games last year in his second full season in the majors, and Mike Fiers impressed down the stretch. But Milwaukee traded Yovani Gallardo and Marco Estrada, so there is no experienced starting depth. Young right-hander Jimmy Nelson must prove he can be a consistent fifth starter. A long-term injury to any of the starting five could leave the Brewers scrambling.

In the bullpen, veteran Francisco Rodriguez figures to return to the closer's role after re-signing with the club more than two weeks into spring training. He bounced back with 44 saves in 49 chances last season.

AGGRESSIVENESS: Roenicke likes his team to take chances on the base paths, and he's sticking with that philosophy. That puts the Brewers in attack mode, and when working at its best, the strategy forces the defense to rush and possibly make mistakes. But rally-killing outs on the bases can make fans at Miller Park groan. Perhaps of more concern is the approach at the plate, where the Brewers led the majors by swinging at 33 percent of first pitches, according to STATS. Darnell Coles is the new hitting coach. The team wants to stay aggressive while having more plate discipline.

KEYSTONE COMBO: While Braun, Lucroy and Gomez draw much of the attention in the lineup, the Brewers' keystone combination of second baseman Scooter Gennett and shortstop Jean Segura will be just as vital to the team's success. Gennett, a left-hander, will play every day and must prove he can hit lefties consistently. The speedy Segura is a top defender, though he is looking to bounce back from a slump that dropped his average nearly 50 points to .246.

RAMMY OUT: It is probably one more and done for third baseman Aramis Ramirez, who turns 36 in June. He has said he likely will retire after this season to spend more time with his family. Ramirez's production has waned over the last two seasons, though he remains one of the best in the league in fielding bunts and slow rollers to third.

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Follow Genaro Armas at http://twitter.com/GArmasAP

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