Jhoulys Chacín opens 2019 season with a bang

MILWAUKEE — Brewers manager Craig Counsell met with his pitchers at American Family Fields of Phoenix to discuss offense this spring. He asked a simple question.

“Can you hit a home run?” Counsell inquired. “If you can, that means something different.”

As Counsell looked at his hurlers, he caught the eye of Venezuelan Jhoulys Chacín, his Opening Day starter.

The veteran righthander tried to mix some humor with bravado.

“I told him I would hit a homer,” Chacín said. “But I told him the same thing last year. I was just trying to keep it the same, like ‘Oh I’m gonna hit a homer this year.’”

Counsell tried to brush it off as a joke. Chacín, 31, wouldn’t budge.

“He was adamant, ‘I can hit a home run,’” Counsell remembered.

Chacín wasn’t completely boasting. He actually had backing to his statement. He hit one home run in his career, driving that shot in 2013 as a member of the Rockies against the Diamondbacks.

Chacín showed that his comments were more swagger than comedy. He proved it Thursday afternoon at Miller Park against the St. Louis Cardinals in an opener between the two teams expected to compete for the NL Central title this season.

Chacin smashed a solo home run into Milwaukee’s bullpen in the fifth inning to mark the difference in the Brewers’ 5-4 victory. He became the first Brewers pitcher to homer on Opening Day and the first starting pitcher in Major League Baseball to homer on Opening Day since Madison Bumgarner hit two home runs in 2017.

It puts him at a tie with reigning NL MVP Christian Yelich and Mike Moustakas for the Brewers’ lead in home runs. Granted, those guys are paid to hit.

Chacin is paid to pitch.

Though he shared his confidence about ripping a homer with Counsell, don’t expect Chacín to joke about competing with Yelich for the team’s home run crown.

“No,” Chacín said with a laugh. “I really don’t want to compete with Yelich for homers, definitely not.”

As assured as Chacín may have seemed in spring training, he wasn’t really sure if he actually could rip a home run, especially in that fifth inning at-bat against Cardinals’ starter Mike Mikolas.

“I was just thinking ‘Don’t strike out, don’t strike out,” Chacín said.

But Mikolas made a mistake.

“(It) was pitched almost in the middle,” Chacín said. “Then I just got lucky and I hit it.”

The whole sequence impressed the reigning MVP.

“That was actually a pretty good at-bat,” Yelich said. “He took some really good pitches and laid off some tough pitches, and he got a mistake and he put a really good swing on it.”

The home run was a boost for the Brewers.

“He didn’t really draw that one up the way he did (it),” Moustakas said. “It was awesome to see him hit a homer. Everyone counts and that was big, obviously. To be able to get a win in that way, it’s a huge confidence for us.”

Oh, and Chacín wasn’t too shabby on the mound, either. He had seven strikeouts, allowed three hits and walked two in 5 1/3 innings. His seven strikeouts are tied for the second-most by a Brewer on Opening Day. Former Mexican ace Teddy Higuera had seven in 1988.

“I was just really focused on, especially to start off the season, just trying to get good games, make better pitches,” Chacín said.

He showed poise in bouncing back after allowing back-to-back home runs to Kolten Wong and Harrison Bader, too. Chacín retired 11 of the next 13 batters he faced.

“The two home runs weren’t good pitches. It was middle-middle, nothing that you can’t come out of,” Chacín said. “What I liked after that was (I was) just trying to make pitches. I was using my slider a little bit more and like I said, just don’t lose my focus.”

He made his pitches and proved that he can jump on them for home runs too against opponents.

Featured Image: Stacy Revere / Major League Baseball