MILWAUKEE — Brewers third baseman Aramis Ramirez took the next step in his return from the disabled list by successfully running the bases at 75 to 80 percent prior to Tuesday’s game against Pittsburgh.
On the disabled list since April 6 with a sprained left knee, Ramirez will run the bases again Wednesday and could return shortly after if all goes according to plan.
“(The trainers) thought he ran well and Ramy thought he ran well,” Brewers manager Ron Roenicke said. “He’ll do it again tomorrow, and then we’ll see.”
Roenicke and Brewers general manager Doug Melvin have a temporary return date in place for Ramirez but won’t reveal it in case there’s a setback Wednesday.
Despite missing close to three weeks of the regular season after missing a large portion of spring training with the same injury, Ramirez has chosen not to rehab in the minor leagues and will return straight to the big-league roster.
“I think management would always like a guy to go rehab, but the player has the right to forgo rehab,” Roenicke said. “You work with whatever player it is, you explain things to them, but they have the decision.”
The Brewers have struggled to get production in the cleanup spot behind Ryan Braun since Ramirez went on the DL. Alex Gonzalez, Rickie Weeks, Jonathan Lucroy and Yuniesky Betancourt all have started in the cleanup spot, combining to go 10 of 79 (.127) with 25 strikeouts and just four RBI.
Milwaukee has found a way to play good baseball without a threat behind Braun but will really benefit from the return of one of its sluggers. Because he’s had the same injury twice in such a short period of time, Roenicke knows he’s going to have to keep a close watch on the veteran third baseman.
“I think he’s doing really well,” Roenicke said. “He’s happy about it. Once he’s activated and we’ll try to keep him healthy and see where we are with how he’s playing and how much I play him at the beginning. That’s going to be a little tough on me to figure out how much and how often I do it. We have a couple of off days that I think are really going to help in his timing in coming back.
Gonzalez available: Gonzalez has been out of the lineup the past two games with tightness in his left hamstring.
He was out running prior to batting practice and, like Ramirez, reported good news. He won’t start against the Pirates on Tuesday but is available to pinch hit.
“It’s better,” Roenicke said. “He ran out there today and he said he felt good today. We’ll see about tomorrow, if we start him or not. Maybe it’s the next day. I think I can use him today, which is good.”
Who’s on first? The Brewers have had four different starting first basemen while awaiting Corey Hart’s return sometime in early June.
The fifth player to try the position was a bit of a surprise. Catcher Jonathan Lucroy shifted from behind the plate to first base in the ninth inning of Monday’s 10-4 victory, getting experience at a position he hasn’t manned since he played in a college summer league in Orlando during the summer of 2006.
Roenicke first approached Lucroy about trying first base when Jean Segura split the nail on his right index finger Saturday and had to be scratched from the lineup. With Martin Maldonado catching, Roenicke had to play Blake Lalli at first base.
“I talked to Ron, it was his idea, but I said ‘Maybe we can figure something out where I can come in the game whenever we are up by a lot or down by a lot where it’s not a big pressure (situation),'” Lucroy said. “That way if I screw something up it’s not a big game-changer.”
The idea is to keep Lucroy’s bat in the lineup when Maldonado catches, often times when Wily Peralta is on the mound. Many assume just about anybody can trot over to first base and pick up the position in a heartbeat without realizing how much actually goes into playing the position.
“There’s a lot of little small things, even bunt coverages,” Lucroy said. “There’s a lot of little things that goes into it. It’s more than going out and catching a ball. You have to pick. Coverage in the outfield with runners on, cuts, just stuff I never have done.”
While he knows he’ll likely need quite a bit of time to really feel comfortable at the position, Lucroy is willing to do it if Roenicke thinks that’s what’s best.
“If it helps the team,” Lucroy said. “I don’t want to sacrifice defense for hitting, but whenever I get comfortable over there (I’m willing). I’m not going to say that’s today or tomorrow, one inning is not going to do that, I think it will be a gradual thing.”