PHOENIX -- Nobody had more Cactus League at-bats entering the Brewers' final spring game than their new outfielder, Norichika Aoki. The 30-year-old veteran of eight seasons with the Tokyo Yakult Swallows in Japan's Central League is used to a lot of at-bats, with over 500 in six of his last seven seasons.
But Aoki faces a new challenge as he prepares to make his big league debut as the Brewers' fourth outfielder. He should see a fair amount of play early on as Corey Hart gets his legs under him following knee surgery, but the three-time Japanese batting champion will have to adapt to the challenge of pinch-hitting.
"At the beginning with Corey, definitely he'll get more playing time," manager Ron Roenicke said Wednesday. "But when Corey's playing nine innings most nights, it's going to be tough to get some of these guys at-bats. He's going to be one of those that I'm concerned about, just because he's never done that job."
A career .329 hitter, Aoki batted .308 in 65 Cactus League at-bats, with four triples, a homer, nine RBIs and three stolen bases. Roenicke gave him extra playing time to ensure he could hit the ground running when coming off the bench during the regular season.
"I know in that job, they have to have at-bats [in spring] because they're not going to get them [once the season starts]," Roenicke said. "They've got to be on top of what they're going to do to start the season, because it's going to go downhill from there."
Early on, look for Aoki to make some late-inning appearances for Hart, who made his Cactus League debut Tuesday night. Aoki will be called on to pinch-hit, particularly in situations where Roenicke is looking to get a man on base, as opposed to driving someone in.
"If you're leading off in the late innings, you want a guy that can get on base, and Aoki should provide a lot of that," Roenicke said. "I really feel good about Aoki hitting against lefties. I know last night he didn't come through [when he pinch-hit against southpaw Tyler Skaggs], but I really feel good about him."
Marcum works pitch count up, feels good
PHOENIX -- Shaun Marcum left Wednesday's Cactus League finale ready for more after allowing five runs in 4 1/3 innings against the D-backs.
"I felt good there that last inning," Marcum said. "I got to 78 pitches, and I felt like I still had more in the tank, so I definitely felt good and I'm ready to get the season started. Now the fun stuff starts."
Marcum gave up seven hits and walked one while striking out three. It was only his second Cactus League outing, having pitched three scoreless innings of one-hit ball against the Dodgers on March 25. He is scheduled to start the Brewers' fourth game of the season in Chicago on Monday.
"He'll be able to go up somewhere around 90 [pitches] next time, and hopefully we'll get to that point where he's late in the ballgame," manager Ron Roenicke said. "I thought his fastball was good -- it had a lot of life on it. He threw some nice changeups. Nice sliders. He got a little bit off the one inning, but I thought he threw the ball well."
Marcum started the spring with a stiff shoulder, but both he and Roenicke believe the shoulder issues are behind him. He credits an offseason program with a lot of long toss for coming to camp with his arm in "great shape," making it that much easier to bounce back once he got back on the mound and into game situations.
Pitching into the fifth Wednesday gave Marcum ample opportunity to experience the pattern of pitching, sitting for a half inning, then pitching again multiple times throughout the game.
"[My goals were to] get the pitch counts up, get the ups and downs, and make sure that when I come out to warm up at the start of an inning that I was loosening up quick, and I was, so it was nice," Marcum said. "I really wasn't focused on results or anything like that. I thought I located the fastball very well, except for a couple two-seamers. Other than that I thought it was a pretty good job."
Brewers make moves to finalize 40-man roster
PHOENIX -- The Brewers submitted their Opening Day roster to Major League Baseball on Wednesday morning and claimed Minor League right-hander Josh Stinson from the Mets, in essence filling the club's 40-man roster.Besides adding Stinson, who will start the year in the Double-A Huntsville bullpen, the Brewers formally selected the contracts of infielder Cesar Izturis and first baseman/outfielder Travis Ishikawa, the two non-roster invitees to Spring Training who made the club. Those moves put 39 players on the 40-man roster. The Brewers are holding the opening for right-handed pitching prospect Mark Rogers, who will be suspended the first eight games of Triple-A Nashville's season under a 50-game penalty levied last season. Stinson, 24, made 14 relief appearances in his first Major League stint for the Mets last season. He was a 37th round Draft pick in 2006 and has bounced between the starting rotation and the bullpen during his Minor League career, posting a 4.20 ERA in 192 games.
As expected, the Brewers' 25-man roster looks like this:Pitchers (12): John Axford, Tim Dillard, Marco Estrada, Yovani Gallardo, Zack Greinke, Kameron Loe, Shaun Marcum, Chris Narveson, Manny Parra, Francisco Rodriguez, Jose Veras and Randy Wolf. Catchers (2): George Kottaras and Jonathan Lucroy. Infielders (6): Mat Gamel, Alex Gonzalez, Ishikawa, Izturis, Aramis Ramirez and Rickie Weeks. Outfielders (5): Norichika Aoki, Ryan Braun, Carlos Gomez, Corey Hart and Nyjer Morgan. Aoki, Dillard, Estrada, Gamel and Lucroy are on a Major League Opening Day roster for the first time.
Ishikawa thrilled to be on Opening Day roster
PHOENIX -- What a difference a year makes. On the last day of Spring Training 2011, Travis Ishikawa, a veteran of four seasons who had appeared in the 2010 World Series with the Giants, found himself the last man cut from the big league roster.
"I was the odd man out," Ishikawa said Wednesday. "At the time it happened, I was real upset, disappointed, discouraged. Going to the Minor Leagues after being in the big leagues a couple years was tough, very hard. Then I hurt my shoulder on top of it and missed the last half of the season. I look back on it now and I think of it as just a huge blessing, because I'm so much happier here."
Those good vibrations came as Ishikawa learned he was the last man named to the Brewers' roster, as the club finalized its 25-man squad for Opening Day Tuesday night. Ishikawa will back up first baseman Mat Gamel, while also serving as a go-to left-handed bat off the bench.
"[Pinch-hitting] was the only way I got on the field in 2010, pretty much," Ishikawa said. "I definitely know I can do it. If this is what is needed for me to be able to help the club, I'm ready for it."
It's possible Ishikawa could be called on as defensive replacement for Gamel if the Brewers want to put his plus mitt to use late in games, but manager Ron Roenicke has been happy with what he's seen from Gamel at first.
"I'd rather not do too much of it, but we'll see how it goes," Roenicke said. "I don't think we're going to need to, to tell you the truth. When there's opportunities to make double switches, [Ishikawa's] a possibility. But when you look at the double switches in our lineup, there's not too many guys I'd like to take out."
Ishikawa shared his manager's confidence in Gamel, noting he's happy to offer advice when needed, noting the goal is "getting this team to the World Series and winning it all."
Melvin to be in contact with Greinke's agent
PHOENIX -- After dealing directly with right-hander Zack Greinke during Spring Training, Brewers general manager Doug Melvin will shift contract talks beginning Thursday to Greinke's newly-hired agent, Casey Close.Greinke had been previously represented by Close at CAA Sports before operating without representation for more than a year. Close has since left CAA to form Excel Sports Management. Melvin and Close will talk via telephone Thursday to "fill each other in on where discussions stand," according to Melvin, who declined to say whether Greinke's decision to select an agent indicated the sides were making progress toward a contract extension. Greinke is due to reach free agency in October. "From here on out, Casey and I will talk," Melvin said. Greinke has not said whether he is open to discussions extending into the regular season. Opening Day is Friday against the Cardinals at Miller Park, and Greinke will debut Saturday.
Brewers assistant GM Gord Ash provided updates on two Minor League players not assigned to affiliates to begin the 2012 season. Right-handed pitching prospect Nick Bucci has a bout of biceps tendonitis and will remain at Maryvale Baseball Park to get healthy. Outfielder D'Vontrey Richardson, No. 20 on MLB.com's list of the top Brewers prospects, has yet to report to Spring Training."He is addressing some personal issues at home," said Ash, who could not elaborate.
Adam McCalvy is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Brew Beat, and follow him on Twitter at @AdamMcCalvy. Owen Perkins is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.