PHOENIX -- Four weeks before Opening Day, the Brewers' bench options are already coming into focus, with manager Ron Roenicke expressing a preference for versatile veterans to fill those roles.If right fielder Corey Hart begins the season on the disabled list -- he had knee surgery this week -- it appears the Brewers have three such openings, and Roenicke confirmed Friday that one-time Dodgers All-Star Cesar Izturis is all but assured one of them because he can play shortstop. Another non-roster invitee, Brooks Conrad, appears a strong candidate for one of the other jobs. He's competing for the remaining infield opening along with Travis Ishikawa, a big league veteran, and Taylor Green, who debuted in the Majors last season. "We're looking at all of them," Roenicke said. "A lot of times, one of those young guys will fit for you, but we really need to look at Izturis, Conrad, Ishikawa, Green." The Brewers relied on two very veteran players off the bench last season, outfielder Mark Kotsay and infielder Craig Counsell. The Brewers wanted to re-sign Kotsay but he went home to the Padres. Counsell retired and joined the front office. Conrad plays all over the infield and could man left field. Ishikawa is an above-average defensive first baseman who can play the corner-outfield spots. Green is a third baseman who also plays second base and left. If Hart is out, the Brewers will also consider Logan Schafer, an excellent defender. Ishikawa, Green and Schafer are all left-handed hitters. Conrad is a switch-hitter, and that gives him a big advantage, Roenicke said. "Right-handed probably more than left, because we wouldn't have a right-handed hitter on the bench," Roenicke said. "[Izturis] is a switch-hitter but sometimes you can't use him because he's the only guy to go in and play shortstop. So, sometimes you have to wait a little bit longer in the game to use him."
Wheeler tinkers behind plate to boost value
PHOENIX -- Brewers infield prospect Zelous Wheeler has an equipment bag full of baseball gloves, trying to find one that will get him to the Major Leagues.He's even tried a catcher's mitt. "I'm trying to make my value high," Wheeler said. "If I can play different positions, it's better off for me." His natural position is third base, where the 25-year-old started Friday against the Indians at Maryvale Baseball Park. But he's also played shortstop (almost a full season at Double-A Huntsville in 2010), second base and left field. He's played some first base in the Arizona Fall League.
Wheeler started tinkering behind the plate in last year's AFL. He was a taxi squad player, eligible only on Wednesdays and Saturdays, and was looking for a way to pass the rest of the week. When Wheeler's team needed an extra catcher in the bullpen one day, he gave it a squat."It's a totally different world back there," Wheeler said. He caught some bullpens early in this camp but since the first week has been focused on the infield. "It's hard to work at everything, but it just means you have to get there early, stay there late," Wheeler said. "It's all fun." It's Wheeler's second big league camp, and a much more comfortable one for him. He was added to the 40-man roster in November along with three other interesting names: Caleb Gindl, Brock Kjeldgaard and Santo Manzanillo. Don't the Brewers have any Joe Smiths? They do have an Aramis Ramirez, the third baseman who signed a three-year deal over the winter. Ramirez is a clear block to Wheeler's path to the Majors, but Wheeler insisted he was not disappointed when the Brewers made their move. "He makes our team better," Wheeler said. "We're all here to win. Wherever they want me to play, I'm there."
Brewers trying Gamel at No. 5 in lineup
PHOENIX -- With Corey Hart sidelined by knee surgery, the Brewers are using the relative pressure-free atmosphere of Spring Training to gauge how Mat Gamel handles hitting in the five-hole.Gamel, set to take over first base this season, hit a home run for the second straight day Friday from the No. 5 spot. "I'm putting him there now to see what he does," manager Ron Roenicke said. "If he is comfortable with it, maybe [Gamel will hit fifth] until Corey comes back. ... If it works, now the guy has confidence in there and you go into the season and it doesn't bother him anymore." Gamel would help break up the Brewers' right-handed hitters. No. 3 hitter Ryan Braun and cleanup man Aramis Ramirez both bat righty, as do other five-hole options like Rickie Weeks and Alex Gonzalez. That's not the only reason Roenicke likes Gamel there. "It would help just because of the type of hitter he is -- he fits in that spot," said Roenicke, who thinks it's "not stretching it" to expect Gamel to be a 20-plus home run hitter in his Major League career.
Cubs manager Dale Sveum will get to say hello to his former pupils on Saturday, when Chicago visits a Brewers split squad at Maryvale Baseball Park. Is it an advantage for the Cubs that their new manager is the Brewers' former hitting coach?
"It can be," Brewers manager Ron Roenicke said. "If their pitching staff can execute and throw their pitches exactly where they want to, it should definitely be an advantage for them. It's just hard to do."
Reliever Brandon Kintzler was to throw live batting practice on Friday and said he hoped to appear in Sunday's game against the Rockies. He's been bothered by discomfort in his surgically-repaired right elbow.
Brewers closer John Axford met during batting practice Friday with Matt Razink, the Brewers fan who lost his left arm several years ago in an industrial accident. They recently appeared together on Anderson Cooper's syndicated talk show, when Razink was presented with a functioning prosthetic.