Milwaukee Brewers catcher Manny Piña thankful for another shot at the postseason after two years on the sideline

Todd Rosiak
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
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Manny Piña took part in his first postseason with the Milwaukee Brewers in 2018.

He never thought he'd need to wait three years for his next shot.

In 2019, he was the backup to iron man Yasmani Grandal, who played the entirety of the Milwaukee Brewers' wild-card loss to the Washington Nationals.

Then last season, Piña was forced to watch from the sidelines after tearing cartilage in his right knee at the start of September and later undergoing surgery.

Finally on Saturday, he found himself in the lineup for Game 2 of the National League Division Series against the Atlanta Braves at American Family Field, batting eighth and catching Brandon Woodruff.

He struck out in both of his at-bats in a 3-0 loss, but was still grateful to be taking part.

"Exciting, man," he said before the game. "Last year I couldn’t play because I had knee surgery and ’18 was my last year. I’m so happy to be back in the playoffs and play again, helping the team to win.

"Excited to play."

More:Milwaukee Brewers catcher Omar Narváez showed in Game 1 of NLDS he can make a difference with his defense

More:As they have often done in past postseasons, Brewers blur the lines between starting pitchers and relievers

Milwaukee Brewers' Manny Pina celebrates after hitting a two-run home run off Cleveland Indians starting pitcher Aaron Civale during the second inning of a baseball game in Cleveland, Sunday, Sept. 12, 2021. (AP Photo/Phil Long) ORG XMIT: OHPL106

It's been an interesting 2021 for Piña, the longest-tenured Brewers player after having made his major-league debut with the team on Aug. 1, 2016.

He enters the postseason having hit a career-worst .189 in 75 games (52 starts) but posted an OPS oif .732 after setting a new career high by slugging 13 home runs.

Piña drove in 33 runs overall, with five- and six-RBI games, with the latter performance including his first career grand slam in a victory over the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field on Aug. 12.

He did most of his damage at the plate in the second half, hitting .247/8/23/.892 in 34 games (24 starts) — a performance that coincided perfectly with an offensive dropoff experienced by regular catcher Omar Narváez.

Piña's first half was defined by a stint on the injured list caused by a broken left big toe and a long dry spell at that plate that left his average at just .132.

"I think early in the season I was thinking too much," he said. "I was trying to do more than I can do. I would be going, ‘I don’t play tomorrow, so today I play and I want to do more because I want to keep doing good and playing good.’ The results (weren’t good).

"The second half, I was like, ‘OK, just enjoy the time given to you,’ and they played me a little more and the results were much better. I can swing it much better and have a better second half."

Piña hit .279/9/43/.751 over a career-high 107 games in 2017 and .252/9/28/.702 in 98 games in 2018.

The one-year tenure of Grandal in 2019 and then the addition of Narváez last season has cut into Piña's playing time significantly.

Manager Craig Counsell noted that when asked about the 34-year-old.

"I think Manny is a good hitter. I think he had 80 at-bats in the first half (108). It was a really small sample," he said. "He just never got going. He caught a good stretch. And he can hit — Manny can hit. Manny gets a lot of credit for his defense. He's a good hitter. I think that's what he's always been really good at.

"Throwing is probably his best tool. But, I think Manny's aged very well as a hitter. He can swing the bat. And, he obviously shows that he can do damage with it."

Indeed, Piña remains a terrific defensive catcher, leading the Brewers with a 27.8% caught-stealing rate and helping pitchers to a 3.68 collective earned run average in his 452⅓ innings behind the plate.

Luke Maile is also on the roster for the NLDS, giving the Brewers three catchers and Counsell a little more offensive flexibility to make late-game moves.

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