Notes: Braun, Sarfate to Minors camp
Third baseman focused on 'D;' Righty working on efficiency
PHOENIX -- Ryan Braun will be the Opening Day third baseman and Dennis Sarfate the closer.
For Triple-A Nashville.
Braun and Sarfate, two of the Milwaukee Brewers' biggest question marks as the 2007 roster comes into focus, were among seven players called into manager Ned Yost's office following Monday's Cactus League loss to the Cubs. Braun, catcher Nestor Corredor and right-handers Yovani Gallardo and Luther Hackman were returned to Minor League camp. Infielder Hernan Iribarren was optioned to Double-A Huntsville, and outfielder Drew Anderson and Sarfate were optioned to Triple-A Nashville.
The moves left 38 players in big-league camp.
"Obviously, I'm a little disappointed, but I kind of saw it coming," said Braun, who hit his fifth Spring Training home run on Monday but also committed his fourth throwing error. "I kind of felt from the beginning that was the plan, for me to go down to Triple-A and continue to get better defensively in game action. Hopefully, I'll make it up here soon."
The 23-year-old is considered Milwaukee's top positional prospect, and he came to camp with a chance to win the Brewers' third base job. But the team will instead go with veterans Tony Graffanino and Craig Counsell at third while Corey Koskie continues his comeback from post-concussion syndrome.
Braun missed about a week with a sore throwing elbow, but with five homers, he was tied with Houston's Jason Lane for the Major League spring lead. He batted .353, but, defensively, he just wasn't good enough.
On Monday, Braun made a fantastic diving stop to his left to rob Jacque Jones of a hit. But Braun's throw was way wide of first baseman Vinny Rottino.
"With his offense, he would have had to just have an average defensive camp [to make the team]," Yost said. "He knows what he needs to do. He's really, really close."
In each of the four games that Braun homered this spring, he committed an error.
"I've got to break that streak," he said.
Not surprised: Sarfate had a similar reaction to news of his demotion.
"I don't blame them," Sarfate said. "I haven't had a quick inning all spring. I have to be ready to come back up during the year. Hopefully, I'll get out of this [slump] and get back to where I was at the end of last year."
"I was expecting this. I'm surprised I made it this long. They need to see guys get quick innings and get guys out. You can't go out there and throw 30-pitch innings and expect to stick around."
Sarfate had a 12.15 ERA in seven Cactus League appearances. He walked 10 batters in 6 2/3 innings of work, including a two-out pass to the Cubs' Mark DeRosa on Monday. DeRosa advanced to third when Sarfate's pickoff attempt got past first base, and the run eventually scored unearned.
"He didn't pitch good," Yost said. "His stuff is really good, but he came in pressing. His best outing was a 23-pitch outing. That was his best. That's far too many pitches."
What next? The Brewers are still mulling whether to carry 11 or 12 pitchers on the 25-man roster. Essentially, it comes down to six or seven relievers, and the Brewers have 13 pitchers remaining in camp vying for those spots:
Greg Aquino, Grant Balfour, Jose Capellan, Francisco Cordero, Zach Jackson, Mike Meyers, Brian Shouse, Chris Spurling, Joe Thatcher, Corey Thurman, Derrick Turnbow, Carlos Villanueva and Matt Wise. Barring injury, Capellan, Cordero, Shouse, Turnbow and Wise are near-locks.
"We've still got a tough decision or two to find out what's best for the makeup of our club," Yost said.
Good news: Outfielder Laynce Nix had what he called a mini-breakthrough on Monday in his recovery from a strained oblique muscle, and he's hoping to speed his recovery after Tuesday's off-day.
Nix suffered the strain when he swung early at a changeup on March 13 against Texas.
"I was able to get loose for the first time today, to the point where I could do more resistance and rotational work," he said, referring to weightlifting exercises. "It was still pretty low-intensity, but hopefully it will get me on the right track.
"It was a good sign," he said.
The 26-year-old reported to camp trying to win a roster spot in the crowded Brewers outfield. He still has a Minor League option remaining.
In 10 Cactus League games, Nix is hitting .235 with three home runs, including a booming solo shot on March 10 that cleared the center-field batter's eye at Maryvale Baseball Park.
Nix reported to camp at full strength for the first time since 2004. He suffered shoulder injuries in 2004 and 2005, and after a trade from Texas to Milwaukee last July, he was shut down with a painful toe injury that required surgery. Since straining his oblique, a muscle along his right side, Nix's treatment regimen is a two- to three-hour process each day. It includes ice, electronic muscle stimulation and deep tissue massage.
"I've never had this before -- never," Nix said. "So I don't have any idea what the time frame is like.
"Life was great. I felt like I was running good, I was swinging good and I felt good in the field. Hopefully, this is just a small thing. We'll know more after the off-day."
Last call: Lefty Chris Capuano, who is 0-1 with a 13.50 ERA in three Cactus League starts, pitched in a Minor League game on Monday with so-so results. He was charged with three runs, all earned, on four hits, three walks and a hit batsman in four innings against San Diego's Triple-A club in Peoria. Capuano struck out four and threw 76 total pitches. ... Catcher Damian Miller, working back from a calf strain, caught Capuano's outing and will catch Jeff Suppan in a Minor League game on Tuesday. Suppan has to pitch to stay on schedule for the start of the season. ... Kevin Mench made a start in right field on Monday, his first appearance there in a Brewers uniform, including the second half of last season. "I like it out there," Mench said. "It's closer to the dugout." ... After taking Tuesday off, the Brewers will return to action against the Padres on Wednesday at 3:05 p.m. CT in Peoria. Claudio Vargas is scheduled to start for Milwaukee against San Diego's Clay Hensley. Spurling, Capellan, Cordero and Shouse are also on the list to pitch for Milwaukee.
Adam McCalvy is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.