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Aoki off to slow start for Brewers

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Tom Haudricourt, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
March 16, 2012
— Milwaukee Brewers manager Ron Roenicke did not expect Norichika Aoki to come over from Japan and tear apart major-league pitching at the outset of exhibition season.

Both Roenicke and Aoki are hoping for better things soon, however. After a tough 0 for 4 outing Wednesday against the Chicago Cubs and two more fruitless at-bats Thursday against San Diego, Aoki is batting .167 (5 for 30).


“I don’t really know what’s going on,” said Roenicke. “I know he’s not happy with not being a little more locked in offensively. But with everything, the new culture, new people, teammates, those are tough things. So I’m not surprised that it’s taken awhile for him to get used to what’s going on.


“Of course, I’d like to see him locked in and doing great, and I could feel better about going into the season. But I didn’t think that would be the case—that he would just come over and light it up.


“If he does, great. I’m hoping as we get closer to the season he gets locked in and that makes it easier for me to decide what I’m going to do when we start the season.”


When right fielder Corey Hart returns from his knee surgery—either right before or after the season begins—Aoki’s role on the club will be as a backup outfielder.


That will make it even tougher to stay locked in at the plate, but Aoki will get plenty of at-bats over the rest of the exhibition schedule to try to find his timing.


“He’s a good outfielder; I’m not concerned about that,” said Roenicke. “The offensive part, that is always the question when a player comes over, not just from Japan, but Cuba, also. Because they’ve never been over here, you don’t know what you’re getting.


“You come over from Japan, and I don’t know exactly where their game is. Certainly they have their superstars that are going to do great over here, with Ichiro (Suzuki) and Dice-K ( Daisuke Matsuzaka) when he came over here.


“There have been a lot of regular players that have been brought over and thought they’d do great, and they haven’t done that well. The hitting part is the hardest part to figure out, whether a guy is going to perform well here.”


Because Roenicke must use translator Kosuke Inaji to speak in-depth with Aoki, there haven’t been detailed discussions yet about his offensive struggles. But Roenicke said it did surprise him when Aoki finally struck out in his 28th spring at-bat Wednesday, then again in his next at-bat Thursday.


“He doesn’t swing through many pitches,” said Roenicke. “It’s usually fouled or put in play. I know he’s not getting hits, but it’s good when I see he’s going to be a tough out, that he’s a guy I can put up there late in a game and he’s going to have a good at-bat, versus somebody that I’m sending up there thinking he’s got a 50-50 chance of striking out.


“The more I see of him and see that he does different things, I can formulate an opinion on how exactly I’m going to use him in ball games. There’s a lot of time. “


Marcum throws again

Right-hander Shaun Marcum threw a second bullpen session since being shut down with shoulder inflammation and Roenicke remained hopeful that Marcum still has time to make the opening rotation.


“He’s doing good,” said Roenicke. “Since he has started throwing again, everything is on track and hopefully it will stay on track. We’ll see when we get to the end of this thing, where we are. We have an idea where we think he’s going to fit in.”


Roenicke was not ready to reveal that plan, however.


“I haven’t told the guys yet exactly what we’re doing,” said Roenicke. “I certainly don’t want to say something when I haven’t talked to them.”


Asked how close it will be for Marcum to make the opening rotation, Roenicke said, “I don’t know if he’ll be that much different than he was last year (when set back with a sore shoulder). We’ll see how it goes.”


Moving around

Roenicke started utility man Brooks Conrad at first base in the exhibition game against the Padres to see how he handled himself there.


The Brewers need a backup to Mat Gamel at first, and Travis Ishikawa and Conrad are the top candidates.


“I need to see more of him (at first base),” said Roenicke. “If he’s going to be a guy who makes our team as a right-handed bat, which we do need, and a utility man, which we do need, we know Ishikawa can play first really good defensively, but we need to see what Brooks can do.”


As for whether there’s room for both Conrad and Ishikawa on the roster, Roenicke said, “We’re looking at that, so we’ll see.”


Known more as a second baseman/third baseman, Conrad said he was willing to play as much first base as Roenicke sees fit.


“I finally got my own first baseman’s glove in 2010 and it’s taken me two years to break the darn thing in,” said Conrad, who began seeing action at that position in ‘09 with Atlanta’s Class AAA Gwinnett affiliate.


“But I’ve been taking a lot of grounders over there and catching up. I’ve been working (at first base) in a lot of drills. I’m going to do whatever I can to help the team, and I’m happy to do it.”



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