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Notes: Gwynn excited about starting

Notes: Gwynn excited about starting

HOUSTON -- Tony Gwynn was surprised Sunday morning when a reporter asked him about batting leadoff in that afternoon's game against Houston.

"I'm batting leadoff?" Gwynn asked before heading over to the lineup card tacked to the clubhouse bulletin board for confirmation.

Convinced this wasn't some rookie prank, Gwynn seemed pleased.

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"My second start, I thought I was hitting eighth," Gwynn said. "It's changed; I didn't know that."

After hitting .400 (6-for-15), with all but five of those at-bats coming as a pinch-hitter, Brewers manager Ned Yost gave Gwynn a start in center field Sunday. It seemed like a good spot for the left-handed-hitting Gwynn, with Houston starting a right-hander (Woody Williams) and with a day game following a night game. It also gave starting center fielder Bill Hall, who is 2-for-21 on the road trip, a day of rest.

"It's always exciting when you see your name in the starting lineup," Gwynn said. "That's where everyone wants to be, so it's definitely exciting."

Coming off the bench is not an easy role, though Gwynn, 4-for-10 as a pinch-hitter, was looking forward to getting multiple at-bats in a game.

"It's a different mentality, and I don't know if it [pinch-hitting] helps as much," Gwynn said. "I try to keep the brain out of it as much as possible pinch-hitting, whereas when you're starting, your brain is much more involved all the time. But you're going to get at least four at-bats most of the time, and you have to make adjustments each at-bat.

"For me, I think I'm a better hitter when I see a guy more than once; I think most hitters are."

Minute Maid Park is not the easiest venue for a center fielder to roam, but Gwynn, who has played a few innings out there as a defensive replacement, enjoys the way the park plays.

"I've played in tougher," he said. "In Albuquerque in Triple-A, their hill is a lot steeper than this one. This one, you can actually run on it and look down, whereas in Albuquerque, if you're not picking your legs up you're either going face plant -- I've done it a couple of times -- or you're going to fall down. This one's easy compared to Albuqerque."

Sunday shuffle: Gwynn wasn't the only Brewers backup getting a start Sunday.

Tony Graffanino started at second base in place of Rickie Weeks. Graffanino has filled in for Weeks previously, but this was the first time this season Graffanino batted second.

Two other changes were more typical. Kevin Mench started in right field -- Mench's sixth start at the position this season -- and Damian Miller made his sixth start of the year at catcher in place of Johnny Estrada. Estrada, who caught the first two games of the series, is 3-for-15 (.200) lifetime against Williams, while Miller is 11-for-22 (.500) against the right-hander.

Suppan remembers Hancock: Brewers right-hander Jeff Suppan, who was Josh Hancock's teammate last year in St. Louis, heard the tragic news that Hancock had been killed in a car wreck early Sunday morning.

"It's very shocking," Suppan said. "He was a good guy -- kind of quiet and soft spoken. He was part of the team. I feel for his family and the [St. Louis] organization."

Suppan, who is scheduled to start Monday against St. Louis, had been in contact with some of his former Cardinals teammates after hearing the news.

"Just briefly, we've been text [messaging]," Suppan said. "It's a sad day, obviously."

The Brewers and Astros held a moment of silence for Hancock before Sunday's game at Minute Maid Park.

Extra bases: Ben Sheets said he felt fine Sunday, one day after he'd completed his side throwing session in preparation for his next start. Sheets, who left his last start Wednesday in the third inning because of a mild groin strain, will start Tuesday at Miller Park against St. Louis. ... The Brewers and Astros had a moment of silence before Sunday's game for Cardinals pitcher Josh Hancock, who was killed in an automobile accident early Sunday morning in St. Louis. ... Milwaukee outfielders entered Sunday's game hitting .313 (85-for-272) -- the second-best batting average among outfielders in the National League, trailing only the Mets (.355). The 11 home runs Brewers outfielders have hit is tied for the most, and the unit ranks second in the NL in extra-base hits (32) and slugging (.504).

On deck: The Brewers will open a 10-game homestand Monday at Miller Park with a 6:05 p.m. CT game against the Cardinals. It will be the first Milwaukee visit of the season for the defending National League Central Division and World Series champions, and the Brewers will send former Cardinal Jeff Suppan to the mound against right-hander Braden Looper.

Jim Molony is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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