CINCINNATI -- These are frustrating days for Brewers first baseman and free-agent-to-be Corey Hart, who confirmed Sunday what general manager Doug Melvin said last week: Hart could be out until after the All-Star break.
He had knee surgery in late January and initially said he hoped to be ready before the end of April. Then he aimed for the end of May, and then June. The issue is not Hart's knee but his right quadriceps, which is refusing to "fire" correctly, causing him to struggle with sudden movements.
He remains stuck in rehab mode, with no date set for an assignment to a Minor League affiliate.
"With Dan [Wright, the team's head athletic trainer], we talked before going out on the road, and said if this was a great road trip, maybe we could schedule something," Hart said. "And it's been a good road trip, but, I mean, it's not where I can go out there and be competitive by any means right now.
"It might be [after the All-Star break]. I'm able to go out there and swing and throw. But I can't do the little things, like stop after I get going. They're hitting ground balls right at me right now, but anything more than two feet away, I just won't get to it. As much as I want to be out there, competitively I know I'm not ready."
The Brewers also lost potential replacements Mat Gamel (torn ACL) and Taylor Green (hip surgery) to season-ending injuries, and entered Sunday last in the Majors with a .511 OPS from their first basemen. The team acquired Juan Francisco from the Braves on June 3, hoping for some offense, but he's had three hits (including his first Brewers home run on Saturday) in his first 26 at-bats after the swap.
The Brewers have No. 7 prospect Hunter Morris producing at Triple-A Nashville (.243 average, 13 home runs, 33 RBIs in his first 59 games), but manager Ron Roenicke noted that the Brewers' shortcomings at first base are offset by their above-average power in center field (Carlos Gomez) and shortstop (Jean Segura). The manager also praised Francisco's other contributions.
"He's played a good first base," Roenicke said. "It looks like he's got good hands, a good arm. So [we will see] if we can get him swinging the bat some, like we know he has the ability to do....
"You're in a season where you've lost three first basemen, and to think there's somebody else you can put in that slot and have this huge production, it's not realistic. We gave [Morris] the opportunity in Spring Training. So we have options, but to say there is somebody out there who you know is going to be a run-producer, it really isn't there."
Aoki, wife expecting baby any day now
CINCINNATI -- Outfielder Norichika Aoki will be on high alert this week as the Brewers continue their long road trip. His wife, Sachi, is about to give birth to the couple's second child.
"Any day now," Aoki said.
Her due date is Thursday, when the Brewers finish their three-city trip with an afternoon game in Houston. Sachi is back in Milwaukee with her mother, and if she goes into labor while the team is still on the road, Aoki will return early to be by her side.
The couple has a daughter named Emily and is expecting a son this time.
"It's always on my mind," Aoki said through translator Kosuke Inaji. "Ron [Roenicke, the Brewers manager] joked about it, saying I'd better have my phone on me when I'm out in the field. I was planning on having the phone while I'm at bat."
Aoki smiled and assumed his batting stance, with one hand holding an imaginary cell phone to his left ear.
"I like to play in games and contribute to the team, but at the same time, my wife is in a foreign country and she doesn't understand too much English," Aoki said. "I would like to be there for her when she is having the baby."
Any day now.
"Today is Father's Day, and it got me thinking," Aoki said. "Maybe today."
Roenicke likely to DH Ramirez in Houston
CINCINNATI -- Brewers manager Ron Roenicke hopes a few days off his feet will help get third baseman Aramis Ramirez going at the plate. Ramirez, who continues to play with a left knee at less than 100 percent, will probably serve as the designated hitter when the Brewers head to Houston this week for an Interleague Series.
"He's off today, [Monday] is the off-day, and then we'll try to DH him at least a couple of those days in Houston," Roenicke said. "Doing things like that, I'm hoping he can get closer to 100 percent. He was swinging the bat so well in spring before he hurt himself. ... But since he came back [from a month-long stint on the disabled list], he's still getting hits for us, and still getting big hits, but he's not that guy who he wants to be."
Ramirez has sprained his knee twice this year on slides into second base, once in Spring Training, sidelining him for two weeks, and again five games into the regular season.
In 22 games since a two-homer game in St. Louis on May 17, Ramirez is batting .253 with no homers and six RBIs. He had no extra-base hits in his last nine games through Saturday.
With usual three-hole hitter Ryan Braun on the disabled list with a right hand injury, cleanup man Ramirez becomes even more important to Milwaukee's offense.
"That spot, that's the guy that's going to drive in runs for us, at least the consistent runs," Roenicke said. "If we're doing it a little at the bottom [of the batting order] too, you're that much better. But you're really counting on your fourth hitter. Hopefully, we get him going."
• The Brewers will wait until Saturday to re-introduce a fifth starter to the pitching rotation, and that fifth starter remained undetermined as of Sunday. It could be a callup from the Minor Leagues (left-hander Chris Narveson, who has made four starts on a rehab assignment, is one option) or another "bullpen day," with Tom Gorzelanny or Donovan Hand among the options to start.
• Right-hander Marco Estrada, on the disabled list with a strained left hamstring, is scheduled to throw an extended bullpen session at Miller Park on Monday that could be the final step before a rehab start in the Minor Leagues. Estrada will be examined by the team's head physician, William Raasch, before he's cleared to pitch.
• Right-hander Mike Fiers' tough season came to a painful end Sunday when he suffered a broken right forearm on a Kevin Kouzmanoff line drive during a start for Triple-A Nashville. Fiers will miss 3-4 months, according to a Brewers spokesperson. He opened the season in the Brewers' starting rotation, and he was 1-4 with a 7.25 ERA in three starts and eight relief appearances, and was twice demoted to the Minor Leagues. Adding insult to injury: Saturday was Fiers' 28th birthday.