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03/13/11 8:38 PM ET

Saito returns to mound with thoughts on Japan

PHOENIX -- Brewers reliever Takashi Saito surrendered two runs against the Royals on Sunday in his first inning of work since disaster struck his homeland. But baseball was still a distant second to Saito's concern for family and friends in the area of Japan most devastated by last week's earthquake and tsunami.

Before he pitched the first inning, Saito requested that fans at Maryvale Baseball Park observe a moment of silence to honor a former high school teammate who remains unaccounted for in Sendai, a city on Japan's northeast coast that was devastated by the 8.9 magnitude quake and the wall of water that followed.

"It's just not one or two people," Saito said. "It's a lot of people."

Saito's wife and three daughters are safe, and are tentatively scheduled to join him in Phoenix on Saturday. His parents and two older brothers are all accounted for, but some relatives on his father's side were still missing as of Sunday afternoon.

"I still haven't given up hope," Saito said.

On Saturday, he played catch but his mind was elsewhere. The Brewers gave Saito the option to pitch Sunday or stay home and seek information from Japan. Saito, urged by his older brothers back home to stay and pitch, decided to pitch.

"I had received more information since yesterday," he said. "Mentally, I was in a better place. All of my teammates and Brewers' staff have been very supportive of me, which made it a lot easier. From now on, I want to get into my regular routine of not pitching the first inning and going home early."

As for how he pitched, Saito said, "The quality of my pitches was good. It was hard to get into a good rhythm. I still need to establish more communication with my teammates to determine how to pitch my next time out."

Saito served as the Brewers' starter and retired Lorenzo Cain to start the game, but Mike Aviles followed with an infield single to third baseman Casey McGehee, who took too long throwing to first. Billy Butler followed with an RBI double, and three batters after that Melky Cabrera delivered another double that made it 2-0. Saito allowed four hits in all.

After Saito retired Salvador Perez to end the top of the first, he walked along the right field line toward the Brewers' clubhouse. He passed the bullpen along the way, where fellow relievers stood and, one-by-one, offered fist-bumps.

"We wish his family and friends and his country the best," Brewers' closer John Axford said. "It's tough for all of us because he's such an uplifting guy, always happy, always in the clubhouse talking with guys. To see him this way, it hurts for us, too."

Betancourt, Gindl latest Brewers to exit early

PHOENIX -- Sunday brought another round of early exits at Maryvale Baseball Park. Shortstop Yuniesky Betancourt complained of right quadriceps tightness after playing only one inning, while Minor League left fielder Caleb Gindl sprained his right knee in a scary moment along the foul line.

Gindl was chasing what should have been Alcides Escobar's second-inning double when he turned an ankle and tried to grab the top of the chain-link fence that separates the playing field from the visitor's bullpen. But Gindl happened to grab an unlocked gate and went right through it, twisting his knee. He stayed down while Escobar circled the bases for an inside-the-park home run.

Gindl was able to stand, and walked into the Royals bullpen to be examined. The Brewers said he would be evaluated on Monday.

"Nothing too serious," Gindl said after the Brewers wrapped up a 7-5 win. "I feel a lot better now than I did down there, because down there the pain was pretty severe. I was really worried. Once I came inside and we got some ice on it, it was much better."

"You hope it's nothing worse than [a sprain]," manager Ron Roenicke said. "He's played great, and we want him to stay healthy getting into [the Minor League] season.

By the time Escobar batted, Edwin Maysonet had already replaced Betancourt at shortstop. Betancourt, the Brewers' projected Opening Day starter, singled in the bottom of the first inning but complained of tightness in his right thigh and left the game.

Betancourt received treatment for the same ailment earlier this month, Roenicke said.

Roenicke had much better news earlier in the day about a number of banged-up Brewers:

• Right fielder Corey Hart has been making significant progress in the past few days in his recovery from a left rib-cage strain, Roenicke said, and could begin swinging the bat in the next few days.

• Roenicke confirmed that catcher Jonathan Lucroy could be ready for Opening Day if all goes according to plan in his recovery from a fractured right pinkie finger. The metal pin in Lucroy's finger will come out on March 21, and Lucroy can begin hitting after that as the pain tolerates.

"He threw to bases [on Saturday] without the splint on, and was good," Roenicke said. "So really it's just going to be a matter of gripping a bat, trying to get the flexibility back in his finger. That's going to take a while. But everything else is good. He's catching bullpens so his legs will be in shape."

• Third baseman/utility man/hitting prospect Mat Gamel was scheduled to take live batting practice for the first time on Sunday in Minor League camp. If it goes well, he could do it again on Monday before slotting into Cactus League games.

Gamel still has a chance to make the team, Roenicke said. But the fact that he bats left-handed probably hurts his case -- the Brewers already have Mark Kotsay, Craig Counsell and probably Chris Dickerson slated for bench duty -- and it will be more difficult at this stage of spring for Gamel to demonstrate his defensive versatility because the regulars are playing deeper into games.

"I know he can hit," Roenicke said. "It's just a matter of how he fits on our club."

Brewers make first cuts of spring

PHOENIX -- The Brewers moved six players off the big league camp roster, including one potential fifth starter candidate, in the first round of cuts on Sunday.

That fifth starter candidate is right-hander Amaury Rivas, who was optioned to Triple-A Nashville. He was one of the players mentioned as a potential fill-in for Zack Greinke, who will miss the start of the season with a cracked rib.

The Brewers also optioned pitchers Dan Merklinger and Cody Scarpetta to Double-A Huntsville and returned pitchers Robert Hinton and Roque Mercedes and catcher Anderson De La Rosa to Minor League camp.

The first Minor League full-squad workout was Sunday, but all six players were given until Tuesday to report.

With the moves, 47 players remained in big league camp.

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.