Weeks' comeback in 2013 a family affair
Brewers' Rickie and A's Jemile look to put frustrating '12 behind them
This is the fifth of a series of stories that will take you Around the Horn with the 2013 Milwaukee Brewers and has already covered the rotation, the bullpen and catcher and first base. Up next: Second base.
PHOENIX -- At least Rickie Weeks wasn't alone in dealing with frustration last season.
The Brewers second baseman, who was a National League All-Star the year before, owned a sub-.200 batting average deep into July. It was a side effect, he would finally admit in September, of the devastating ankle injury he'd suffered in 2011.
Meanwhile, in Oakland, Weeks' younger brother Jemile was struggling himself, bumped from the A's leadoff hole to Triple-A Sacramento.
So throughout April, May and June, as their troubles mounted, the brothers stayed in touch. Just like they always do.
"I think it's a big advantage, not just for me but for the both of us, just to be able to bounce things off of each other and know that there's always a comfort zone to go to with him," Jemile Weeks said. "It gives you that mental rest."
Big brother Rickie stressed that this was no pity party.
"No, no, no. Come on, now," Rickie said. "We don't work like that as a family. You have to stay strong. You don't make excuses. You go out there and do your job."
Now both are back for 2013, Rickie Weeks having further cemented his role as the Brewers' starting second baseman with a strong finish to 2012, and Jemile back in A's camp trying to win back his old job. They share a Scottsdale, Ariz., apartment, Rickie traveling across town to Maryvale Baseball Park and Jemile just down the road to the A's complex.
On Saturday, they will meet in the traditional Cactus League opener between the two teams with Phoenix-based camps.
For the Weeks brothers, it's a fresh start.
"You know, talking about baseball stuff is one thing, but we talk about life stuff, period," Rickie said. "Obviously, baseball is our common denominator, but in life you're going to struggle, no matter what."
Rickie Weeks' struggles began on July 27, 2011, when he lunged for first base trying to beat out an infield single and severely sprained his left ankle. He returned for the Brewers' postseason run but was not the same, going 6-for-41 against the D-backs and Cardinals with no multi-hit games.
When he reported the following spring, the ankle still gave him trouble, even if Weeks was loathe to admit it. Tightness and discomfort in the joint led to trouble with his "toe-tap," which led to some bad habits at the plate, which led to a .190 batting average on July 24, 92 games into Weeks' season.
Weeks played through it, and manager Ron Roenicke, who'd suffered a similar injury as a Dodgers rookie in 1981 and knew what Weeks was going through, let him play through it.
"I know you come back and play and you're able to still run good," Roenicke said, "But it's not the same. When you push off to steal a base, there's just something a little different there where you don't have that explosive speed like you normally do. When you're at the plate, you've got something wrapped up, so instead of landing on your toes a little bit, you're locked in and you have to land differently. It may not sound like a big deal, but I couldn't stand being taped up."
Jemile Weeks watched from afar, knowing his brother was playing through some pain.
"That's what he does," Jemile said of his brother, four and a half years his elder. "The Brewers know that. He's going to go out there every day and play hardcore, 100 percent, day in and day out. Even if something's bothering him, he's probably going to play. It wasn't any surprise to me he was running out there, and I don't think it was a surprise to the Brewers, either."
Rickie salvaged his season by batting .268 in August and September. He pushed his average for the season to .230, with 21 home runs, 63 RBIs and 85 runs scored. He logged 588 plate appearances, the second-highest total of his career.
And unlike the season before, he went into the winter in good health.
"It was full-go, no rehab, no nothing like that," Rickie Weeks said.
Today, the strength has returned to the joint, Weeks said, though there are still days when it is a bit stiff. So he goes for treatment, and he moves on. He figures there will be good days and not-so-good days all season.
"I don't think it's going to be anything like the extent it was last season," he said.
Weeks focused on flexibility over the winter at home in Orlando, working with a professional trainer alongside his brother, Dodgers shortstop Dee Gordon and Mariners prospect Nick Franklin. At the end of the day, the group would engage in video game tournaments -- usually football.
"'Madden' is definitely his thing, the most-played game in our house," Jemile Weeks said, "the most talked about game in our house."
Now that the 2013 season is underway, they can talk baseball, too.