MILWAUKEE -- Jonathan Lucroy is in the midst of the best season of his young career, healthy and putting up offensive numbers that rank him among the best catchers in the major leagues.
Yet because of everything else that's gone wrong for the Milwaukee Brewers, be it the multitude of serious injuries robbing the team of its core hitters, inconsistency or the highly publicized suspension of Ryan Braun, the 27-year-old is unable to derive much personal satisfaction.
"My success is secondary to the team's success," he said flatly this weekend in Seattle, where the Brewers took two of three from the Mariners.
"Obviously we've had some problems this year with injuries, not living up to expectations. I don't like to make excuses, but we have had a lot of injuries and it's been tough because key guys have either been hurt or suspended. Those all have an effect, obviously.
"I think in the big picture it's a good thing that we're having this kind of season, though, because we have so many young guys on this team and I think it will help them to understand what we need to do to get better and how bad a season can get."
Lucroy hasn't experienced a season like this in his four years with the Brewers; he came up for good in 2010, when they finished at 77-85. If they continue at their current clip the Brewers will finish at 70-92, their worst record since going 67-94 in 2004.
He also hasn't experienced a season like this personally, thanks to injuries that leave his high-water mark for games played at 136 in 2011. He was on pace for a potential all-star berth last season when a broken right hand suffered in a freak off-field accident knocked him out for two months.
This year, he has avoided injury both and used that good fortune to hit .281 with 16 home runs and 61 runs batted in over 103 games entering the Brewers' two-game interleague set against the Texas Rangers on Tuesday night.
"I've had some unfortunate mishaps the past few years and this year it feels pretty good -- knock on wood -- to be healthy so far," said Lucroy.
"Hopefully I stay that way. I'm not a big numbers guy. At the beginning of the year I don't say, 'I want to do this, do this, do that.' I just go out and work hard. I take care of the process, and the numbers will be there in the end."
His 57 RBI as a catcher are tops in the majors, and his total of 61 also leads the Brewers. Lucroy's 16 homers tie him for second in the majors among backstops with Colorado's Wilin Rosaro. Only Toronto's J.P. Arencibia -- Lucroy's Team USA teammate in the World Baseball Classic this past spring -- has more at 17.
Lucroy's stint in the WBC might well have contributed to a slow start that left him hitting just .208 on May 20. He's hitting .318 in the 68 games he's played since then and delivered stability to a lineup that has been forced to function for much of the season without its customary third, fourth and fifth hitters in Braun, Aramis Ramirez and Corey Hart.
You can find Lucroy in either the third or fourth spot most every game, and he has already established career highs in homers and RBI.
He used one especially torrid stretch in July when he homered in three straight games and six of nine to establish himself as Milwaukee's biggest power threat alongside team leader Carlos Gomez, who is two homers away from his own career high with 18.
Lucroy has also been solid with runners in scoring position, an area in which the Brewers have struggled mightily as a whole. He's hitting .296 with runners on, .292 with runners in scoring position and .260 with runners on third and two outs.
"A lot of guys like to hit homers," he said. "Homers are fine and dandy. Don't get me wrong -- I like to hit homers. But I take a lot of pride in driving guys in with runners in scoring position, especially since guys are hurt and I've moved up in the lineup to the three and four hole.
"That's my job. I take it personal and very serious when I'm out there."
Lucroy's bat has been so integral, he's even started a couple of games at first base -- something he'd never done before this season -- when Martin Maldonado was behind the plate. Lucroy also served as the Brewers' designated hitter in two of their three games in Seattle.
Defensively speaking, Lucroy has had his work cut out for him with the Brewers having used 11 starting pitchers. He typically catches four of every five games, with Maldonado normally catching Wily Peralta.
Lucroy is evolving as a game-caller, and his numbers are slightly below the major-league average with a 24.7 percent success rate throwing out would-be base stealers. His seven passed balls are easily a career high; he had one in the 136 games in 2011.
"I think I've done OK," he said. "I'm not happy with my throwing, but it's hard to be consistent with that sometimes. But I take a lot of pride in my receiving, blocking and even throwing, and that's something I always try to work on.
"There's always things you can get better at."
The pecking order at catcher in the National League has been clearly defined. San Francisco's Buster Posey is the reigning MVP, and St. Louis' Yadier Molina is in the discussion as one of the league's best overall players as well.
While Lucroy isn't in their category yet, he certainly belongs in that next tier of catchers and with plenty of room to grow in coming seasons.
"Of course I want to be the best, but I don't think about it in terms of competing with other players," he said. "I try to be the best that I can. I don't think about it in terms of rankings -- 'I'm the second-best, third-best.' I just think about it in terms of trying to do the best job that I can and letting other people decide."
(c)2013 Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Visit the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel at www.jsonline.com
Distributed by MCT Information Services