PHOENIX — So far, Norichika Aoki’s transition to Major League Baseball has been a little bumpy.
The Japanese outfielder, signed during the winter, went hitless in two at-bats Thursday in the Brewers’ 6-4 victory over San Diego at Maryvale Baseball Park. In 11 spring games, Aoki is hitting .172 (5-for-30) with three runs scored and two RBI.
“I don’t really know what’s going on,” manager Ron Roenicke said Thursday morning. “I know he’s not happy with not being a little more locked in offensively. But with everything, the new culture, new people, teammates, those are tough things. So I’m not surprised that it’s taken awhile for him to get used to what’s going on.
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“Of course, I’d like to see him locked in and doing great, and I could feel better about going into the season. But I didn’t think that would be the case, that he would just come over and light it up. If he does, great. I’m hoping as we get closer to the season he gets locked in and that makes it easier for me to decide what I’m going to do when we start the season.”
Making the adjustment to life in the United States – on and off the field – may be contributing to his slow start, Roenicke said. The manager hasn’t yet been able to have an in-depth discussion with Aoki about his struggles due to the language barrier. Aoki uses interpreter Kosuke Inaji to translate for him.
“You come over from Japan, and I don’t know exactly where their game is,” Roenicke said “Certainly they have their superstars that are going to do great over here, with Ichiro (Suzuki) and Dice-K (Daisuke Matsuzaka) when he came over here. There have been a lot of regular players that have been brought over and thought they’d do great, and they haven’t done that well. The hitting part is the hardest part to figure out, whether a guy is going to perform well here.”
Defensively, Aoki – a Gold Glove winner in Japan – has looked good at all three outfield positions.
“He’s a good outfielder; I’m not concerned about that,” Roenicke said. “The offensive part, that is always the question when a player comes over, not just from Japan, but Cuba, also. Because they’ve never been over here, you don’t know what you’re getting.”
Utility battle: Brooks Conrad and Travis Ishikawa are trying very hard to force Roenicke to make a difficult decision.
Both are battling for a roster spot, primarily as a backup infielder, and both have performed well when given the opportunity.
The left-handed hitting Ishikawa, a non-roster signee who spent the last six seasons with the San Francisco Giants, is hitting .316 (6-for-19) with a double, two home runs and 14 RBI. Conrad, a righty, is hitting .263 (5-for-19) with a home run, a double, four walks and three RBI.
Both have played well in the field, too. Ishikawa is a first baseman, but Roenicke has tried to get him occasional work in the outfield. Conrad was at first base Thursday and will be again Friday as Roenicke wanted to see how he fares should he need to fill in for Mat Gamel some point.
“I need to see more of him,” Roenicke said. “If he’s going to be a guy who makes our team as a right-handed bat, which we do need, and a utility man, which we do need, we know Ishikawa can play first really good defensively, but we need to see what Brooks can do.”
Does the roster have enough room for both players on the roster?
“We’ll see,” Roenicke said. “We’re looking at that.”
Off to Tucson: Most Cactus League teams and fans celebrated last year when the Colorado Rockies moved into Salt River Fields at Talking Stick. Aside from taking residence in one of the finest spring training complexes in baseball, the move eliminated a two-hour ride to the Rockies’ former spring home at Tucson Electric Park.
The Brewers and Rockies will both make the trek south on I-10 Friday for an exhibition game, the proceeds of which will be donated to the Christina-Taylor Green Foundation, benefiting school children in need living in the Tucson area.
The foundation is named in honor of Green, the granddaughter of former MLB manager Dallas Green. She was one of six victims in the January 2011 shooting that left congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords seriously injured.
Green was 9 years old.
On deck: No regular position players will make the trip to Tucson where Marco Estrada (1-0, 0.00) will face the Mariners’ Felix Hernandez (1-1, 2.57). Those staying back in Phoenix will be at Surprise Stadium, where Yovani Gallardo (1-0, 0.00) will lead the Brewers against Kansas City – guided by former Milwaukee manager Ned Yost – which will startLuis Mendoza 2-0, 0.00). Both contests get under way at 3 p.m. CT.
Roster cuts: The Brewers on Thursday trimmed five players from their Cactus League roster, returned three players to minor league camp and optioned a pair to Class AA Huntsville.
Left-handed pitcher Jed Bradley, catcher Anderson De La Rosa and right-handed pitcher Taylor Jungmann, all non-roster invitees, are headed across Maryvale Baseball Park lot to rejoin their minor league colleagues.
Jungmann, one of the Brewers’ two first-round draft choices last June, appeared in two games and allowed five runs (four earned) on four hits (13.50 ERA), with three walks and a hit batter in 2.2 innings.
Bradley, the other first-rounder, also made two appearances, allowing two runs on three hits with a walk while going 1-for-2 from the plate in four games.
Outfielder Brock Kjeldgaard and right-hander Cody Scarpetta will open the season with Huntsville. Kjeldgaard went hitless in 15 at-bats with a walk and nine strikeouts. Scarpetta threw three scoreless signings, allowing three hits and one hit batter.