MILWAUKEE — Milwaukee Brewers manager Ron Roenicke usually plays it safe when he has a player returning from an injury, easing the player back by not having him play the full nine innings or back-to-back games right away.
But because the Brewers will have the disabled list at their disposal for five of the nine games on the road trip, Milwaukee’s skipper may be able to play third baseman Aramis Ramirez a bit more than usual in his return.
Ramirez, on the disabled list since July 7 with a left knee injury that developed into patella tendonitis, will make the trip with hopes of being activated for the weekend series in Seattle.
“I think he would like to come back some time during this trip,” Roenicke said. “I really haven’t talked to the trainers much about exact days.
“In his mind, that’s what his goal is. He’s trying to do things to time it to where he’d be back. There’s a lot that’s going to happen in the next couple of weeks with some pitchers coming back (from injuries) and when Aramis comes back.”
National League teams are usually ill-equipped to fill the designated hitter because unlike most American League teams, they don’t employ a player for a role they rarely get to use. Thus, National League teams usually use the designated hitter to either call up a bat from the minor leagues or use it to give a regular player a day off from the field.
Ramirez, who has battled left knee issues since initially spraining the knee sliding into second base in spring training, has been Milwaukee’s designated hitter in four of the five games in American League parks this season.
In the game Ramirez didn’t serve as the designated hitter, Roenicke gave catcher Jonathan Lucroy a blow from being behind the plate but kept his bat in the lineup.
Roenicke has rarely played a player the full nine innings in their return from the disabled list and usually will ease the player in by giving them days off until they are back in the swing. Ramirez, who fought his way to stay in games the first time he came off the disabled list this season, has insisted on not going on a minor league rehab assignment although he’s missed almost a month.
Part of the reason players go on minor league rehab assignments is to ensure they are ready to play a full game and back-to-back days right away when they return to the big leagues. While Roenicke will still be cautious with his third baseman, he may be able to play Ramirez more if he’s the designated hitter and just has three-to-four at-bats per game.
“If he’s ready by then, thinking about how to go about it, the DH could help,” Roenicke said. “There’s a good chance that could happen.”
The Brewers will have to make a roster move prior to Wednesday’s game in order to bring a pitcher up from the minor leagues to start in place of left-hander Tom Gorzelanny. If Gorzelanny’s left elbow contusion isn’t bad enough to put him on the disabled list, Milwaukee will likely send down a position player.
That would leave the Brewers short again with a four-man bench, but Roenicke feels it’s much easier to have a smaller bench with the designated hitter than it is in National League parks. Managers don’t have to worry about pinch hitting for the pitcher and burn through bench players quickly.
What a short bench could do is hurt Ramirez in his return if the Brewers opt to play him some at third base.
“Say we have a four-man bench at the time (in Seattle and Texas). One of them will be the DH,” Roenicke said. “Now, you have a three-man bench. If Aramis goes five innings in a game (at third base), now you have a three-man bench. But if he’s DHing I think he can DH and hit four times.”
Ramirez, 35, is hitting .271 with five home runs and 36 RBI this season. While the knee problems have prevented him from putting up his usual numbers, Ramirez is still a threat missing in the middle of Milwaukee’s lineup.
Roenicke said there’s no talk of offseason surgery for Ramirez, but the knee is something the veteran third baseman is going to have to deal with for the rest of the season.
“Hopefully, things will continue to go along well,” Roenicke said. “Not that the progress is huge, but it seems when he does more activates he’s able to tolerate it better.”