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Craig Counsell doesn’t want shift rule changes

LAS VEGAS — Let’s just say Brewers manager Craig Counsell is not among the proponents of limiting or outright banning the shift.

Counsell, whose club has shifted more often than any other National League team in each of the past three seasons, mounted a spirited defense of the practice on Tuesday during his annual question-and-answer Winter Meetings media session. Here are five takeaways from that talk:

LAS VEGAS — Let’s just say Brewers manager Craig Counsell is not among the proponents of limiting or outright banning the shift.

Counsell, whose club has shifted more often than any other National League team in each of the past three seasons, mounted a spirited defense of the practice on Tuesday during his annual question-and-answer Winter Meetings media session. Here are five takeaways from that talk:

1. Let them shift
According to recent reports, Major League Baseball is considering action to limit or eliminate extreme defensive shifts in an effort to encourage more action and speed the pace of game. Before a questioner could complete his sentence, Counsell said he simply doesn’t see it happening.

“You can say I was wrong, I just can’t see it happening,” Counsell said. “I’ll just say, I don’t see the sense in banning the shift at all. I don’t see how it improves the game. I think it’s a strategic part of the game that is one of the things that makes our game fun. Let’s find strategies to win baseball games. That’s why we love the game, because we spend hours [dissecting it]. That’s why you guys have jobs, because we talk about strategy all the time.

“So if you want to eliminate all the strategies, I don’t know, you guys better think about that.”

Was he suggesting that baseball writers should update their resumes?

“That’s what I’m saying,” Counsell answered with a laugh. “The beauty of the game is all the strategies that we can employ and players can employ. I do think we can make a concerted effort on the downtime in the game. I would love for us to try to attack the dead time in games. But attacking strategies to win baseball games, man, I just don’t see that as improving the game.”

Video: Counsell reflects on 2018 run, excited for 2019

2. Losing hurt
In a national radio interview recently, Counsell said the initial disappointment of losing Game 7 of the National League Championship Series morphed into anger. He was asked what he meant by that.

“I think there’s initial — look, we had a lot of fun in the month of October,” Counsell said. “And you do like to reflect on that. But then when there’s a little space that you realize how close you were, how difficult it is to get there, how difficult it was to get to that game, how much work it’s going to take to get back to that situation … there’s always a little bit of you that feels like, ‘Man, we’ve got a lot of work to do to get to that point again.’ And it is. It’s disappointment. It’s ultimately what drives you. But it makes you a little bit mad. That’s how it made me feel. It really did. I was a little mad. Probably once the World Series started I was a little bit angry, that’s the truth.”

That feeling abated after the conclusion of the World Series. In November, Counsell got away from baseball for a bit during a family safari in South Africa. He raved about the experience.

3. Losing Johnson hurt, too
Counsell acknowledged that pitching coach Derek Johnson’s departure to the rival Reds was a negative, even though the Brewers have confidence in highly regarded Chris Hook after promoting Hook from a position in the Minor League system.

“I think for the pitching program that we had, I think we were getting to a point where we felt like we were pretty locked into some really positive things. Now our challenge is to build on them,” Counsell said. “But at the same time, we’re going to have to start over a little bit with Chris. And so the challenge will be just for him to get up to speed as fast as we can.

“Now, the positive is that Chris has worked with and has developed a fair number of our pitchers already. So he comes in with a really advanced start from that perspective. And so that’s why I feel that we can make a very quick transition and get up to speed quickly. It’s going to be a challenge for Chris. But we think he’s really prepared for it.”

Video: Hader wins 2018 NL Reliever of the Year

4. The bullpen is on his mind
The strength of the 2018 Brewers was their dynamite bullpen, anchored down the stretch by hard-worked Corey Knebel, Jeremy Jeffress and Josh Hader. Counsell, his coaching staff and the front office have been thinking about ways to ensure they are just as good in 2019.

“Look, it’s a question that we haven’t answered [as an industry], the volatility,” Counsell said. “The sample [for relief pitchers] is not that big, and so sometimes luck can play a little bit of a part of results. The luck shows up more for a reliever because there’s less innings, it doesn’t even out as much some years. I think their health is something that we’re trying to do a better job at understanding and what does that lead to performance.”

Counsell said club officials encouraged relievers to get their usual rest before beginning offseason workouts, even though the season ended several weeks later than before. If that means some of those established relievers report to Spring Training slightly behind, so be it. They do not need as much time to prepare for competition than their starting rotation counterparts. “I think it’s just going to be really important for us to be kind of cautious at the start, and make sure we know exactly where the guys are as they come in to spring,” Counsell said.

5. Patience is a virtue
Counsell said he’s not surprised that the Brewers haven’t made a Major League acquisition this offseason.

“No. I really am not,” he said. “I think it has to happen at the appropriate time and deals come together when deals come together. And so I don’t think — you just don’t look for a name to make a transaction. Our best deals came together in January of last year. They could come together in February this year. So there’s no timetable put on them. We don’t have a game until … late March. So we’ll have enough players by then.”

Adam McCalvy has covered the Brewers for MLB.com since 2001. Follow him on Twitter @AdamMcCalvy and like him on Facebook.

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