The out-of-nowhere start by the Brewers’ Eric Thames has been the talk of baseball. Certainly, some members of the Cubs have been talking about the red-hot Milwaukee player, and while they’re not accusing the 30-year-old, in his first MLB season since 2012, of using performance-enhancing drugs, they are making a point of scratching their heads.
Chicago recently completed a three-game series with Milwaukee in which Thames tied a Brewers record with a home run in a fifth straight game and set another by getting a hit in his 12th straight start to begin the season. Entering a game Friday against the Cardinals, the 6-foot, 210-pound Thames was leading all National League players in home runs, extra-base hits, slugging percentage, OPS, runs scored and total bases, and he was second in batting average.
All this from a player who hit just .250 with 21 homers in 633 at-bats with Toronto and Seattle in 2011-12 before spending the past few seasons in South Korea’s top baseball league. To Cubs pitcher John Lackey, who gave up a homer and a double to Thames on Monday, the sudden success seemed … odd. A real head-scratcher, if you will.
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“You watch film on recent stuff and try to figure out a way, you know, to get him out,” Lackey said of Thames (via brewcrewball.com). “But I mean, really even the homer hit the other way, I mean, you don’t see that happen here very often. That’s kind of one of those things that makes you scratch your head.”
Lackey winked as he said “makes you scratch your head,” indicating that he wasn’t all that confused about the secret to Thames’s success. But while he left it at that, his pitching coach, Chris Bosio, picked up the thread, even using Lackey’s winking turn of phrase.
Bosio appeared on a local radio show Wednesday and was asked a question that referred to Lackey’s comments about Thames, plus the 80-game suspension recently handed to Pirates outfielder Starling Marte for steroids, and whether “PED use still exists in baseball.” Bosio replied, “Well, the bottom line is hitting the ball and we gotta figure out a way to get him out. All that other stuff, I’ll let other people worry about. But he’s doing stuff that I haven’t seen done for a long time.
“You start thinking about Ken Griffey Jr. and Manny Ramirez when he went to the Dodgers, Barry Bonds-ish — you’re talking about some of the greatest players to ever play this game,” Bosio continued. “So, yeah, it’s probably a head-scratcher because nobody knows who this guy is. And [since] he was here before, his body has changed.”
While Griffey was considered to have been a “clean” player, Ramirez was suspended by Major League Baseball twice for PED use while Bonds, though never suspended, was linked to it. In invoking those two names, and by saying that Thames’s “body has changed,” especially in the context of the question, Bosio appeared to strongly imply he suspects the upstart Brewer of cheating.
To hear Thames tell it, his dramatic improvement is all about having developed greater “plate discipline” while playing overseas. “I learned in Korea that they won’t challenge you as much as they do in the minor leagues and [majors],” Thames told ESPN. “And maintaining the strike zone and swinging at strikes, that’s like the ultimate goal for everybody.”
Whatever Thames is doing, it’s working, at least in the very early going, and the Cubs might not be the only ones scratching their heads. After homering in his fifth straight game, he was met in Milwaukee’s locker room by an MLB official who asked him to take a drug test.
“Random, right?” Thames laughingly said to USA Today. “Guess it comes with the territory, right?”
(H/T Yahoo Sports)