Willy Adames heard the criticism when he was struggling, but he’s back as one of Brewers’ best hitters

The megawatt smile, the dugout exuberance, the purveying of Gatorade showers and all the rest of Willy Adames' antics?

That's the real Willy Adames.

The Brewers shortstop comes to the ballpark each day with an infectious energy, a seemingly replenished zest for baseball.

But that doesn’t mean that the game doesn't ever wear on him.

Baseball is predicated on failure, especially for batters. And at points this year, Adames experienced as much of it as he ever had in his playing career.

Those difficulties came to a head on Aug. 6 with the Brewers facing the Pittsburgh Pirates at American Family Field. Adames went 0 for 4, punctuated with a strikeout that prompted him to forcefully whip his bat through the air on his way back to the dugout.

The player who had an .808 OPS in more than 1,000 plate appearances in his first two years with Milwaukee had an icy-cold OPS of .662 and was hitting .201.

Adames, caught in a slump in which he was 13 for 83 with a .484 OPS, was given back-to-back days of rest and directed by manager Craig Counsell to not arrive at the stadium until just a couple hours before first pitch.

“I feel like it’s been the worst time in my career,” he said on August 7.

Adames, after two days on the bench, homered in his return but things didn’t immediately improve. He had four hits in his next 21 at-bats, capped off with a brutal four-strikeout performance as the Brewers were swept in Los Angeles.

He was battling with himself.

“I’m not going to lie to you, I’ve had days when I’m not feeling great because I want to help the team do better,” Adames said last month. “I feel like if I was doing better, we would be in a better spot. But I’m trying to stay the same.”

Willy Adames of the Milwaukee Brewers rounds first base after hitting a 3-run home run.
Willy Adames of the Milwaukee Brewers rounds first base after hitting a 3-run home run.

How Adames dealt with criticism during his tough slump

Adames was far from the lone hitter struggling on a scuffling Brewers offense but that didn’t keep him from wearing the brunt of frustration from vocal fans and commenters.

You could see some signs of frustration mounting at the plate with Adames, but off the field, in the clubhouse, you never would have known he was in the worst slump of his life. He has the knack of making a frustrating game look facile, of making it look easy to move past disappointment.

“But it’s not,” Adames said earlier this month. “Now with social media, it’s even tougher. People think they have the right to talk (crap) to you and say whatever they want because they can get to you through social media. A lot of guys around the league – I don’t care about it – but they take it to bed.

“People don’t realize that, but it’s hard (to ignore). It gets to your head if you pay attention to it. A lot of guys, not everyone is mature enough to say, ‘Okay I don’t care about whoever is using their time to talk bad about me.’ They’re wasting their time. I’m not going to waste mine caring about reading negative stuff when things aren’t going well.”

So does he just not see the comments?

“I see it. I just don’t care,” Adames said. “I see it. But it’s like, I don’t care.”

Adames at this point let out a chuckle.

“This is my dream,” he continued. “This is hard. The people that are just wasting their time writing stuff, it’s like you have no life if that’s how you use your time. Your life is checking me out and writing stuff about me while you should have your own life. You don’t have anything else to do.

“Why am I going to waste my time getting mad or upset because you think I can’t hit when I’m living out my dream?”

The point was made to Adames that maintaining that approach amid a slump can be just as difficult as hitting your way out of it.

“It can get to you,” Adames said. “It depends on how you handle that, how you view it. For me it’s, how am I going to take an opinion of someone I don’t even know? I don’t care how you feel about me. I don’t even know you. If someone’s on the couch, drinking a soda, watching baseball – you know what I mean? I don’t care about that person’s opinion.”

Adames is a fan-favorite in Milwaukee and is on the record many times as saying the fans are one of his favorite things about playing – but it was clear he felt he had faced some vitriol.

“We play for the fans,” Adames said. “We want them to enjoy the show and have fun. You just got to know where the line is. I’m a fan, too. I’m a fan of other players. I’m not gonna go to their page and be like, ‘Oh you’re terrible you can’t hit the ball.’ The game is hard. You’re going to have tough years. You’re going to have great years. You’re going to have some bad stretches. You’re going to have some good stretches.

“There’s some thin line of when you have to know what line to cross. For me, I play for the fans, I play for my family, I play to respect my teammates. But there’s a line you know you can’t cross. Some people don’t respect that line.”

Willy Adames of the Milwaukee Brewers celebrates a two run home run against the Minnesota Twins.
Willy Adames of the Milwaukee Brewers celebrates a two run home run against the Minnesota Twins.

How Adames turned his season around

Adames, to say the least, has emerged from his lumber-wielding doldrums with a fury.

Since August 18, a span of 29 games, Adames is batting .262 with a .370 OBP and .533 slugging percentage. He's hit seven doubles, two triples and six homers to produce a .903 OPS.

While his overall offensive numbers this year probably aren’t where he’d like them to be – his OPS is .712 despite leading the team in homers – he has still been the Brewers third-most valuable position player by wins above replacement.

“The tough part about when we do this every day and we have to make evaluations every day is that our streaks are going to come after our lowest points,” Counsell said. “It’s easier to have a streak after your lowest point. The best way of putting it is – I trust Willy. That’s the biggest thing. You trust Willy. He’s so important to our team and what we’re trying to accomplish. There’s going to be bad days. And that doesn’t mean the next day can’t be great.”

Adames isn’t one to switch up his process if things aren’t going well. It’s what he taught himself coming up as a prospect in the Tampa Bay Rays system, then what he saw from the other side of the clubhouse when he got to the big leagues from veterans like Kevin Kiermaier, Matt Duffy and Carlos Gomez.

“Same routine,” Adames said. “You got to stick with your plans and do the work. Keep working hard and letting the work show itself out on the field. This has always been there, even in the minor leagues if I went through a tough stretch. You learn that within yourself.

"If you don’t do it, you’re going to go crazy in the minor leagues. You’re going to get yourself released. So you have to learn that within yourself and try to see what works for you, how you handle yourself in tough situations and the tough moments.”

A two-hit night that included a double, run scored and RBI in Tuesday's win for the Brewers was another reminder to stick with that process.

“This is a dream,” Adames said. “It hurts sometimes when you’re not doing good. I feel like my family and my people around me, they help me a lot with that. But I’m just living my dream. I’m just trying to have fun with it and enjoy it and enjoy every moment of it. Sometimes it’s just hard.

“I just try to stay the same.”

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This article originally appeared on Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Brewers' Willy Adames rounding into form after slump earlier in 2023