© 2011 MLB Advanced Media, L.P. All rights reserved.

03/10/11 5:06 PM EST

Narveson to start Brewers' home opener

PHOENIX -- Last year, Chris Narveson started the Brewers' home opener in the bullpen. This time, he'll be on the pitcher's mound.

The 29-year-old left-hander will start the team's first 2011 home game, against the Braves on April 4, manager Ron Roenicke said Thursday while announcing his 2011 pitching rotation. Right-hander Yovani Gallardo will start on Opening Day, March 31 in Cincinnati.

"It's a nice honor," said Narveson, who does have some experience in openers. He pitched two innings of relief in the Brewers' Opening Day loss to the Rockies at Miller Park last season.

"It will be pretty sweet to go in there and get that first game," he said, well aware that the ballpark will be bustling. "I think having it as a day game might help out a little bit because you don't have time to think about it too much. You try to approach it as another game, but it will definitely be a special game."

Roenicke said the club considered several options for the four healthy starters -- Zack Greinke is sidelined by a cracked rib -- that would have had someone else working the Miller Park opener. In the end, club officials felt comfortable with Narveson, who is entering a Major League season as a member of the starting rotation for the first time. He was 12-9 with a 4.99 ERA in 28 starts and nine relief appearances last season.

"It's an important game to us," Roenicke said. "We feel comfortable with 'Narvey' doing the [home] opener. He's not going to be rattled."

Narveson started against the Rockies at Maryvale Baseball Park on Thursday and allowed one run on four hits in 3 2/3 innings, with one walk and two strikeouts. He was particularly pleased with his changeup, an important pitch for a left-hander like Narveson, who is not blessed with a power fastball.

"I feel like I can throw it at any time, which is huge for a lefty," he said. "It kind of keeps them from swinging out of their shoes too much."

Almonte parlays winter ball into hot start

PHOENIX -- Erick Almonte is swinging a hot bat for the Brewers this spring, perhaps because he spent the winter on the baseball diamond instead of on his couch.

Almonte, one of the players competing for a spot on Milwaukee's bench, played for Los Gigantes in the Dominican Winter League, hitting .285 in 158 at-bats through Dec. 21. The 33-year-old native of Santo Domingo plays in his homeland every winter.

"The only way to get a job is if I play winter ball," he said. "I can't afford to go sit at home all winter."

It appears to be paying off. Almonte belted his third Cactus League home run to put the Brewers ahead in an eventual 11-8 win over the D-backs on Wednesday, and added two more hits in Thursday's loss to the Rockies. He's batting .452 (14-for-31) with five runs scored and five extra-base hits. The Brewers won't make their decisions based on Spring Training statistics alone, but Almonte's success doesn't hurt.

Manager Ron Roenicke has praised Almonte's opposite-field approach, and wishes more U.S.-born players would play winter ball. Sometimes it's a battle to convince them.

"Before, [organizations] just said, 'You're going to winter ball,'" said Roenicke, who played in Mexico during his own career. "I was on the 40-man roster and they said, 'You're going to Mexico. We want you to work on hitting offspeed stuff, and that's the best place to go.' I said yes."

Almonte is in his sixth Major League spring camp, and first since 2007 with Detroit. Almonte has not played in the Majors since 2003, when he filled in for injured Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter. Today, Almonte is a first baseman who could fill in at third base and the corner outfield positions.

He's hopeful about his chances with the Brewers, who need a right-handed bat for the bench. But he has not packed for Milwaukee just yet.

"We still have a lot of days to go," he said.

Crew being careful with Weeks

PHOENIX -- Considering how many other players have been bitten by injuries in Brewers camp, you can't blame the club for playing it very safe with second baseman Rickie Weeks.

Weeks has been getting treatment for a tight groin, and played only two innings Thursday after taking the previous two days off. Manager Ron Roenicke said there was no setback, but he was just being cautious.

"He's fine, and Rickie says, 'No problem,' but the trainer said if you can get him out early, let's get him out early," Roenicke said. "He's fine. I don't want any more injuries. ... Rickie is not going to play easy. So if I tell Rickie to go out there and, 'Hey, just don't run hard,' it's not going to happen."

Weeks will probably be off Friday before playing again Saturday against the D-backs, Roenicke said.

Narveson, Braddock elected union reps

PHOENIX -- A pair of left-handed pitchers will help guide the Brewers through business matters in 2011. Chris Narveson was elected the team's Players Association representative, and Zach Braddock the assistant player rep.

How did Narveson get the gig?

"You're pretty much nominated by Craig Counsell and LaTroy Hawkins," he joked.

Counsell is a longtime member of the union's executive board, and Hawkins was a longtime club representative who is active in the Players Trust.

Narveson completed a degree in business and finance at the start of 2010 Spring Training. He and Braddock replace pitchers Dave Bush and Chris Capuano, both of whom are pitching elsewhere in 2011.

"It makes you really feel like you're part of the brotherhood of baseball," Braddock said. "That's what I enjoy."

Last call

Third-base prospect Mat Gamel could participate in some live batting practice against Mark Rogers on Friday if his strained right rib-cage muscle responds well to a workout on Thursday. ... Manager Ron Roenicke said Amaury Rivas is ready to resume pitching in games after missing a few days with an infected tooth.

Adam McCalvy is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Brew Beat, and follow him on Twitter at @AdamMcCalvy. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.