Hart, coming back from March 6 surgery to repair torn cartilage in his right knee, played a fifth straight day in Minor League camp Sunday morning. Manager Ron Roenicke said Hart would be examined again Monday and, assuming all is well, would take the rest of the day off so he can play Cactus League games Tuesday and Wednesday against the D-backs at Chase Field.
"We wouldn't do that unless we felt really strongly about him starting the season with us," Roenicke said after the Brewers beat the Giants in the season finale at Maryvale Baseball Park. "We'll see how he is when he comes in [Monday], make sure everything is OK."
If Hart appears in big league Spring Training games, it removes the option of backdating a stint on the 15-day disabled list all the way to March 26. If any red flags present themselves Monday, the Brewers could continue working Hart on the Minor League side and preserve the right to back-date.
Sunday marked another positive step forward. Hart collected two more hits in an intrasquad game and was struck on the left elbow by a Josh Butler pitch, but not injured.
Hart played the first three innings in right field before playing two innings at first base, where he could be a backup for first-year starter Mat Gamel this season.
Hart will be four weeks post-op as of Tuesday. Assuming he gets about six at-bats in the final two Spring Training games against Arizona, Hart will have collected about 25 total at-bats since coming back from surgery.
He is a particularly key piece of the Brewers' offense this season because Hart, if healthy, is penciled in to the No. 5 spot in Roenicke's batting order, protection for new cleanup hitter Aramis Ramirez. The Brewers would love to see the sort of production Hart chipped in last season after he returned from a rib-cage strain and found his swing. Over his final 115 games, Hart hit .290 with 26 home runs and 62 RBIs.
"We're not so much concerned that he's going to have a setback and now he will really be on the DL," Roenicke said. "We're not that concerned about that. The tough call is, do we feel, swinging the bat, that he's ready and can contribute right away?
"He looks good. He's taking pitches nice, he's not 'jumping out' at all, and when he gets his pitch, he's hitting it well. He's handling it really well, and he says he thinks he's ready to go."