TEMPE, Ariz. -- The Brewers whittled their choices for a fifth starter down to two on Tuesday when they placed right-hander Jeff Suppan on the 15-day disabled list with a neck injury.

Suppan's stint on the DL with cervical disc pain was backdated to March 26, so he will be eligible to return on April 10. The Brewers probably won't use a fifth starter until April 15 against the Cubs, so Suppan presumably could rejoin the competition, but for now it's down to left-handers Chris Narveson and Manny Parra.

The injury also means that right-hander Carlos Villanueva's Opening Day spot in the bullpen is likely safe. Had the Brewers kept Narveson, Parra and Suppan on the 25-man roster, Villanueva may have been vulnerable because he has Minor League options remaining. Narveson and Parra are out of options and Suppan is guaranteed $12.5 million in 2010, the final season of his four-year contract.

Suppan worked a simulated game at the Brewers' Minor League complex on Tuesday morning without any apparent issues, but the club revealed that he has been getting treatment all spring for a sore neck. The issue first presented itself during Suppan's entry physical before the start of camp, and an MRI scan on Monday night confirmed some pathology.

"They discovered [during the original physical] that there was some pain radiating into his arms," assistant general manager Gord Ash said. "Dr. [William] Raasch and some other doctors looked at him and felt that it was something that with some conservative care he might be able to get through. As the spring has gone on, it hasn't dissipated as much as either Jeff or we would have hoped."

In five Cactus League starts, Suppan has allowed 21 hits including six home runs in 16 1/3 innings. He has a 7.71 ERA.

The 35-year-old is bidding to bounce back from a 2009 season marred by a rib-cage injury. Suppan did manage to make 30 starts for the 11th consecutive season (only Livan Hernandez, with 12 straight seasons, has been more durable among active pitchers) but his ERA inflated for the fourth straight season. It's gone from 3.57 with the Cardinals in 2005 to 4.62 with the Brewers in 2007 to 4.96 in 2008 to 5.29 in 2009.

Suppan will remain a few extra days at Maryvale Baseball Park for treatment when the Brewers break camp Thursday afternoon. But with a modified workload, he should be back to 100 percent "relatively quickly," Ash said.

The injury news came as something of a surprise on Tuesday since neither Suppan nor club officials had mentioned it. Cue the conspiracy theorists, who mused on message boards and talk radio lines about the convenient way a difficult roster decision was taken out of club officials' hands.

"You can certainly speculate on that, but we are not looking at it that way," Ash said. "You never like to put anybody on the disabled list if you don't have to, but this is a situation that we feel, not only for now but for the longer term, is the best solution."

In a separate move, the Brewers voided right-hander Josh Butler's option to Triple-A Nashville and placed him on the Major League 15-day disabled list with an impingement in his elbow. The assignment was backdated to March 22 but, per the rules, his 15-day clock did not begin ticking until March 26.

Butler did not throw a single pitch in big league camp because of the injury. The rules state that teams cannot option out injured players, but often there is some grey area, and when Butler's agent, Dan Horwitz, called Ash to discuss that grey area, the sides revisited the issue.

An MRI scan on Monday revealed what Ash termed, "minor findings." So the Brewers reversed the roster move.

"I had a conversation with Josh a week ago or so and tried to assure him that we weren't trying to skirt the rules," Ash said. "We will do the right thing and put him back on the Major League disabled list, but he should be ready to go relatively quickly."

Right field up for grabs?

TEMPE, Ariz. -- Brewers general manager Doug Melvin made comments during a chat with Milwaukee sports radio station WSSP on Tuesday that indicated Milwaukee's right-field job remains up for grabs. The assumption all along has been that the regular starters would be center fielder Carlos Gomez, left fielder Ryan Braun and right fielder Corey Hart.

Perhaps that projection was only two-thirds correct.

"It's probably going to be Gomez and Braun and right now we're looking at our other options," Melvin told the radio station. "We have more left-handed bats this year so some left-handed hitters may play more often than they have in the past. [Jim] Edmonds has had a good spring. Corey Hart has not had a good spring up to this point. Jody Gerut has struggled.

"We'll wait and see. We'll determine that when the season starts. I think our outfield has a chance to be fairly productive. It's going to be a different look than we've had in the past. There's going to be a little more left-handedness to it, going to be a little more speed, probably not as much power. There's still five days left here and we have that time to make some decisions before we make the final roster."

Hart entered Tuesday's game against the Angels batting .143 in 49 at-bats. Gerut was hitting .160 in 50 at-bats. Edmonds, who temporarily left camp on Monday night to tend to a family matter, is batting .273 this spring in 44 at-bats.

Braun, Zaun close to comebacks

TEMPE, Ariz. -- Left fielder Ryan Braun missed his fourth consecutive game on Tuesday because of a stiff back, but said he expected to return to action on Wednesday afternoon against the Cubs.

Braun declined to say much about the "injury" but insisted it was the type of ailment he would play through during the regular season without anybody knowing about it. It's different, he said, than the rib-cage strains that have bothered him in past seasons.

"I think I'll be OK," he said. "The goal is to make sure that we're 100 percent for the start of the season, eliminate it now so it's not an issue. I could play now. I could have played [Monday]. We just don't want to push it because I've gotten plenty of at-bats, plenty of reps. I've run the bases. There's just no reason to push anything right now."

Braun took batting practice Monday and Tuesday and reported no problems.

The Brewers also could get catcher Gregg Zaun back for Wednesday's game against the Cubs. He has been getting treatment for a sore quadriceps and manager Ken Macha elected to give the soon-to-be 39-year-old one more day of rest Tuesday.