Brewers' Aoki adjusting to US baseball

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Tom Haudricourt/Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Wednesday, March 28, 2012
— It took some slight hamstring tightness Tuesday to finally cool off Norichika Aoki, but that blip did nothing to diminish the enthusiasm about the way the he has swung the bat recently for the Milwaukee Brewers.

Aoki, given the day off by manager Ron Roenicke primarily for precautionary measures, has 11 hits in his last 17 at-bats (.647), including a home run Sunday off National League Cy Young Award winner Clayton Kershaw and game-deciding triple in the ninth inning Monday against Cleveland.

Long forgotten was Aoki's 5-for-32 (.156) start, which probably should have been expected considering everything is new to him since coming from Japan, where he was a three-time batting champ.

Known more as a contact hitter than for his power, Aoki laughed when asked if he's the club's new long-ball threat.

"As long as I hit the ball hard, I feel I can hit the ball over the outfielder's head," Aoki said through translator Kosuke Inaji. "But I know my game is really getting on base and making contact."

As for his at-bat against Kershaw and general ability to keep at-bats alive by fouling off pitches, Aoki said, "I feel being able to foul off a lot of pitches is part of my assets. I just try to hang in there as much as I can and give the pitchers a tough time."

Aoki played mostly center field in Japan but could see early action in right field if Corey Hart is unable to recover from knee surgery in time to open on the active roster.

"There's no problem with that," said Aoki. "I feel comfortable out there."

Asked if it were just a matter of time before he found his stroke and started producing results in games, Aoki said, "To tell you the truth, I wasn't feeling as good early in the spring but I've gotten more comfortable here and I feel like I'm getting better and better every day."

Wait and see

Shaun Marcum had a bullpen session Tuesday, the day after Roenicke said he thought the right-hander was on track enough to make his next start on the major-league side.

While Roenicke said the reports were good, it appears the team will be looking to cover itself by having Marcum make his next start on the minor-league side. Doing so will allow the team to backdate him on the disabled list if he's deemed not ready to start the season.

If he pitched in a major-league game and then suffered a setback, the Brewers would have to replace him with Marco Estrada for probably his first couple of starts.

"(His) bullpen was good again," Roenicke said after the Brewers' 9-7 loss to the Kansas City Royals in Maryvale. "He'll stay on his schedule. It looks like, though, we'll probably pitch him in a Triple-A game on the 30th. We're on the road, Triple-A is home, and I think (pitching coach) Rick ( Kranitz) is going to stay back with him.

"Shaun was fine; he understands. Just in case we want to give him an extra start (before the regular season), we can do it."

Estrada's role actually will hinge on what happens with Marcum. If Marcum is OK for his first regular-season start, Estrada would return to his role as long man in the bullpen.

"Marco's already to the point where his next outing, he could be 90 pitches," Roenicke said earlier in the day. "So he's stretched out. But we don't want to keep him there; we'd like him to get back in the mode where we think we're going to use him—two, three innings, maybe one inning.

"But he needs to pitch more often to try to get ready for our bullpen."

Bouncing back

Right-hander Yovani Gallardo was hit hard in the early innings of his start against Kansas City, especially in the third when he surrendered a home run and three doubles. Gallardo recovered to put down the side in order in the fourth and fifth innings before departing.

"The last two innings, rhythm-wise, that's where I want to be," said Gallardo. "I was just staying back a little bit, staying over the rubber a little longer to get to that balance point before going to home plate instead of doing it all at once.

"The third inning, I was kind of jumping too quick. The last two innings, that's my normal rhythm. It's a good thing I was able to find it and consistently going with it. I felt the ball was coming out (of my hand) easier and my off-speed stuff was sharper and late."

With just over a week remaining in camp, Gallardo admitted every player is counting the days until the team heads to Milwaukee.

"I think every ballplayer here, the last week of spring training is always the toughest one," he said. "You're excited, anxious, nervous, waiting for opening day.

"We're at the point where pitchers are at 90-95 pitches and the hitters have enough ABs. We just want to get it under way."

One more day

Though Roenicke said he'll wait until Wednesday to officially announce it, Gallardo has been lined up all spring to pitch the opener April 6 against St. Louis at Miller Park. Gallardo knows it, even though he can't say too much yet about what will be his third consecutive Game 1 assignment.

"It'll mean a lot," said Gallardo. "It just shows you what they think of you, especially having the opportunity to hopefully do it three years in a row. It's pretty exciting. Obviously, you want to start the right way with Game 1."

The way it shakes out behind Gallardo will be Zack Greinke, Randy Wolf, Marcum and Chris Narveson.

Last updated: 7:51 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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