CINCINNATI -- Brewers manager Ron Roenicke is so impressed by Norichika Aoki's quick adjustment to life in the Major Leagues, he might just stroll over and tell him so.

Roenicke can do that now -- he says Aoki has been a remarkably quick study on and off the field.

"'Nori' is picking up English really fast," Roenicke said.

Translator Kosuke Inaji travels with the Brewers and assists in most conversations, especially the technical ones. But Aoki has become more conversational with teammates, coaches and even broadcaster Bob Uecker, who chats briefly with the outfielder every day and has grown fond of him.

"If it's something really technical that I need him to really understand, then I usually go and grab Kosuke," Roenicke said. "But [Aoki] is understanding the words really well. He surprises me sometimes when he'll answer, and I know that he understands."

Aoki studied formal English in secondary school but said he has relied heavily on Inaji, who worked last season alongside Brewers reliever Takashi Saito, to learn a more conversational style of speaking. He is not shy about interacting with English speakers but still does interviews in Japanese, with Inaji translating.

Aoki plans to take some English courses during the winter before returning for the second season of his two-year contract with the Brewers.

"I'm starting to be able to hear it better, but the speaking part is still hard for me," Aoki said. "Right now, I've kind of hit my limit for the amount of words I know, so I have to study more. But I feel I am going in the right direction, because the hearing part has gotten a lot easier for me this season."

Braun sits as Brewers' hit-by-pitch total rises

CINCINNATI -- Ryan Braun is the latest casualty of the Brewers' status as the runaway Major League leaders in being plunked.

Braun was out of Wednesday's lineup at Great American Ball Park after being struck on the left elbow by a Bronson Arroyo fastball the night before. It was the 44th time this season that a Brewers player had "worn" an opponent's pitch, most by far in baseball.

"I can't bend my arm," Braun said. "Hopefully it gets better. We'll see. Luckily, [Thursday] is an off-day."

Had it been a game day, Braun said he doubts he would have been able to play.

Brewers cleanup man Aramis Ramirez had a similar experience late last month after he was struck by a wayward pitch at Arizona. Ramirez spoke out the next day about the high rate at which Brewers batters have been hit by pitches this season.

Tampa Bay was a distant second to Milwaukee's 44 plunkings, with 33 entering Wednesday. The Cubs were second in the National League, at 26.

Braun has been hit seven times, most on the team. Some speculated before the season that Braun might be buzzed more often, both because of his offseason issues and because Prince Fielder is no longer lurking in the on-deck circle, but that theory did not apply on Tuesday -- Arroyo hit Braun on a full count with two outs.

"Just banged up again," Brewers manager Ron Roenicke said. "Sometimes you get hit in a good spot and you can play the next day. But with the off-day [Thursday], I don't think it will be an issue for him."

Brewers face key games before All-Star break

CINCINNATI -- The next two or three weeks could determine the Brewers' trajectory for the next two to three years, manager Ron Roenicke said Wednesday before the Brewers salvaged an 8-4 win in their series against the National League Central-leading Reds.

Roenicke is in regular communication with Milwaukee general manager Doug Melvin, who must decide before the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline whether to add to or subtract from a team that is 7 1/2 games off the Reds' pace.

"Last year, we were in a position where we were looking to, 'What can we do to improve this team?'" Roenicke said. "Doug is still looking at it that way, but there comes a time when you also have to worry about what's going to happen next year and the year after. We'll see where we are in two, three weeks."

The remaining games before the All-Star break are particularly crucial. After a day off at home on Thursday, the Brewers play 10 games in as many days against the D-backs, Marlins and Astros before a four-day respite.

Melvin has said he will use that pause in the schedule to mull decisions about the team's direction.

"It's important to where we're going to be in the next couple of years, and what direction we're taking with some of the younger guys or re-signing the pitching, [which] is our main free agents this year," Roenicke said. "What are we going to do in that direction?"

Zack Greinke, Shaun Marcum and Francisco Rodriguez will be free agents at the end of the season. Randy Wolf would be a free agent if the Brewers decline his $10 million option.

"I'm glad I don't have to make any of those decisions," said left fielder Ryan Braun, who is signed through at least 2020. "It's challenging, obviously. And different people have different expectations."

"[Time] is getting shorter, but there's still time," Roenicke said. "With where we're at in the division, there's still plenty of time. It's a long ways to the end of the season, but we also need to see that we have the club that we can turn this thing around. Do we have that personnel that's able to do it? I still know that we do, but somewhere in there, we have to start playing that way."

Last call

• Tyler Thornburg's Triple-A debut is briefly on hold after the Nashville Sounds placed the right-handed pitching prospect -- ranked No. 4 by MLB.com -- on their disabled list Wednesday.

Brewers assistant general manager Gord Ash said Thornburg, who was originally scheduled to pitch Friday, has a sore right wrist. Ash characterized the issue as "very minor," and said Thornburg would probably start Sunday or Monday instead.

The Sounds made the roster move because they needed a spot for recently returned reliever Mike McClendon.

• A member of Reds manager Dusty Baker's staff called Roenicke on Tuesday night to address Cincinnati closer Aroldis Chapman's impromptu somersaults after logging a ninth-inning save. Roenicke declined to comment further but appeared to shrug off the matter.

• Clint Coulter, the Brewers' first pick in the 2012 First-Year Player Draft, belted his first professional home run for the Rookie level Arizona Brewers on Tuesday night. Coulter's three-run blast highlighted an 8-0 win after four season-opening losses.

• Online balloting for the 83rd All-Star Game ends at 10:59 p.m. CT on Thursday, with Braun clinging to the third starting spot in the National League outfield in the final update released this week. Fans can cast their votes for starters up to 25 times at MLB.com and all 30 club sites -- online or via your mobile device -- using the 2012 All-Star Game MLB.com Ballot.

As an incentive, the Brewers are offering fans who vote at least 21 times for their favorite Milwaukee player entry into a drawing to win Braun's Miller Park Suite for a night, complete with tickets, food and a personal visit from Braun. For details, see the special section of brewers.com.