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Brewers get busy with split-squad openers

Brewers get busy with split-squad openers

Brewers get busy with split-squad openers
PHOENIX -- For the first time since winter ball for some, since fall instructional leagues for others and since last season for some of the stars, Brewers hitters will step into the batter's box on Monday for a real at-bat. No screen protecting the pitcher 60 feet, six inches away, and no batting cage looming behind and overhead. It's time for Cactus League baseball.

Leadoff man Rickie Weeks described the feeling of that first at-bat.

"You're lost. I'll be honest with you," Weeks said. "You try to think back to how it felt from your last at-bat last year, but it never works. That's why we come to Spring Training, to get that feeling back and get going."

The Brewers finally get going Monday, and they will be busy. One split squad, led by Weeks, first baseman Prince Fielder and starter Shaun Marcum will host the World Series champion Giants at Maryvale Baseball Park. Another, led by left fielder Ryan Braun, will travel to Mesa, Ariz., to play the rival Cubs.

It marks the start of a 32-game exhibition schedule that will carry the Brewers and their high hopes to a March 31 regular-season opener in Cincinnati.

"Obviously, the acquisitions are going to make things exciting this year," left-hander Randy Wolf said.

Those acquisitions include starters Zack Greinke and Marcum, whom the Brewers hope help boost a starting rotation that ranked near the bottom of the National League in each of the past two seasons.

Players gathered Sunday morning around the clubhouse bulletin board at Maryvale Baseball Park to check out the year's first starting lineups, written in calligraphy by bench coach Jerry Narron. They looked like this:

Home vs. Giants
Rickie Weeks 2B
Jeremy Reed RF
Yuniesky Betancourt SS
Prince Fielder 1B
Casey McGehee 3B
Brandon Boggs LF
Grorge Kottaras C
Chris Dickerson CF
Brendan Katin DH
Shaun Marcum  RHP

At Mesa vs. Cubs
Carlos Gomez CF
Craig Counsell SS
Ryan Braun LF
Mark Kotsay 1B
Luis Cruz 2B
Wil Nieves C
Erick Almonte DH
Caleb Gindl RF
Zelous Wheeler 3B
Tim Dillard RHP

Right-fielder Corey Hart is the only notable name missing from the board. He tweaked a muscle on his left side on Saturday and will see a doctor on Monday.

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After Marcum, Greinke and Chris Narveson will pitch Tuesday against the White Sox, Yovani Gallardo will work Wednesday against the Cubs and Randy Wolf will start Thursday against the A's.

But don't expect to see Wolf & Co. fire no-hitters in the first week of Spring Training. They'll be limited to about 35 pitches in their first turn through the rotation.

"For pitchers, you're just getting in your work and then get stronger as Spring Training goes on," Wolf said. "I'm always amazed of how much stock is put into Spring Training [results]."

The important part is staying healthy. Results are irrelevant, Brewers manager Ron Roenicke said.

"Especially our starters that we know -- we don't really need to evaluate much until we start getting halfway through March," Roenicke said. "Then you're looking at where they are. The relievers, maybe not fair to them, their first outings, you're watching. Those are going to be more of your question marks versus your starters."

The pitchers will not do much hitting in the first week or so of games. Roenicke prefers to give those at-bats to position players in camp, and followed protocol by calling Cubs manager Mike Quade and asking whether the Brewers could employ the DH on Monday. Quade approved. 

"We probably won't use the pitchers hitting for the first 10 days," Roenicke said. "Then we may pick who we want going out there and hit. Once they get out there extended, get to five innings or so, there's going to be two at-bats there, so then we'll start thinking about [hitting]."

For the hitters, that good old feeling at the plate will come quickly, Weeks said.

For the first few games, you're really just tracking pitches and you don't care about results," he said. "You want to see the ball, get that batter's box presence. After about five or six games, you get that comfort back."

Roenicke remembers that feeling.

"It's incredible when you have live batting practice and you watch a hitter get in there to hit, how bad they can look," Roenicke said, "and then you start the game the next day, and how good they can look. It's something about the adrenaline."

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.

{"content":["spring_training" ] }
{"content":["spring_training" ] }