"You're not going to forget that one saying the teacher made you write on a chalkboard 100 times because you got in trouble," Sveum said recently. "That's my job as much as anything, to harp on it enough to where (they say), 'You know, it does make sense.' '' A month into the Baseball season, there is strong evidence that what Sveum is saying is making sense to the Milwaukee Brewers .
And what is it that Rickie Weeks, Corey Hart, Ryan Braun and the rest of the free-swinging Brewers are writing on their mental chalkboards 100 times a day?
Something like: I will not flail at pitches that are clearly out of the strike zone.
The philosophy is not new. The fact that the Brewers are taking it with them to the plate is.
While most of Milwaukee's hitting numbers after 24 games are comparable to last season, there are two key exceptions: The Brewers are drawing one more walk per game than they did a year ago and their on-base percentage has risen from .325 to .338.
"We're working counts, we're getting in hitter's counts and obviously the guys are taking their walks pretty much all up and down the lineup," Sveum said. "It's just creating a lot of opportunities with men on base and getting starting pitchers out of there earlier and getting to the middle of the bullpens. A lot of times, that's how you win games is by getting to the middle of the bullpens early in a ballgame."
The Brewers won just such a game Thursday. They were shut out for six innings by Arizona's hard-throwing Max Scherzer, but because they made Scherzer work to get outs, including an 11-pitch test of wills with Mike Cameron in the fourth inning, he had to be lifted because his pitch count had reached 107.
The Brewers punished Arizona's bullpen in the seventh, scoring four times to erase a 1-0 deficit. The crown jewel of the rally came when Prince Fielder, Milwaukee's cleanup hitter, walked with the bases loaded to force in the go-ahead run.
The game illustrated perfectly the work-the-count mentality that first-year manager Ken Macha wants his hitters to adopt.
"If you have a 10- or 12-pitch at-bat, it has a residual effect," Macha said. "It takes away an inning from a guy."
More importantly, this was not an isolated incident for the red-hot Brewers . Instead of chasing those low, outside breaking balls that were their nemesis last year, hitters such as Weeks, Hart, Braun, Fielder and Bill Hall are more often than not taking the pitch for a ball or stroking it to the opposite field.
Perhaps that comes from maturity as those players approach middle age in their major league careers. More likely, it is Sveum's repetitive voice - backed up by Macha's - getting through to players who knew something had to change in an offense that, while good, didn't maximize its opportunities last year because the hitters were too impatient.
Sveum has taken Macha's mantra - be disciplined and make the pitcher get you out instead of getting yourself out - and impressed it upon the hitters.
"I haven't preached anything except, don't look for pitches you can't hit," Sveum said. "Just look for the ball down the middle and be ready to hit it. That's how you make your living, on the mistakes they throw. You're going to get four to six a day and what you do with those four or six mistakes is going to dictate your day."
So far, it's working. The Brewers have been more selective at the plate without sacrificing power.
Even after back-to-back poor hitting games, they are third in the National League in home runs. They are also fifth in walks, up from ninth last year.
"The thing you try to make them understand is that you only hit home runs on good pitches anyway," Sveum said. "So if you wait it out long enough and you're always ready for balls down the middle and mistakes, you'll hit your home runs. It's just a matter of not getting yourself out early in at-bats for no reason and on balls you couldn't hit home runs on anyway."
As simple as that sounds, it can be hard to get major league hitters to change an approach that always worked for them. But if Sveum can keep getting the hitters to buy in, production could finally match potential for the Brewers' offense.
Contact Tom Oates at firstname.lastname@example.org or 608-252-6172.