PHOENIX -- Nobody had more Cactus League at-bats entering the Brewers' final spring game than their new outfielder, Norichika Aoki. The 30-year-old veteran of eight seasons with the Tokyo Yakult Swallows in Japan's Central League is used to a lot of at-bats, with over 500 in six of his last seven seasons.
But Aoki faces a new challenge as he prepares to make his big league debut as the Brewers' fourth outfielder. He should see a fair amount of play early on as Corey Hart gets his legs under him following knee surgery, but the three-time Japanese batting champion will have to adapt to the challenge of pinch-hitting.
"At the beginning with Corey, definitely he'll get more playing time," manager Ron Roenicke said Wednesday. "But when Corey's playing nine innings most nights, it's going to be tough to get some of these guys at-bats. He's going to be one of those that I'm concerned about, just because he's never done that job."
A career .329 hitter, Aoki batted .308 in 65 Cactus League at-bats, with four triples, a homer, nine RBIs and three stolen bases. Roenicke gave him extra playing time to ensure he could hit the ground running when coming off the bench during the regular season.
"I know in that job, they have to have at-bats [in spring] because they're not going to get them [once the season starts]," Roenicke said. "They've got to be on top of what they're going to do to start the season, because it's going to go downhill from there."
Early on, look for Aoki to make some late-inning appearances for Hart, who made his Cactus League debut Tuesday night. Aoki will be called on to pinch-hit, particularly in situations where Roenicke is looking to get a man on base, as opposed to driving someone in.
"If you're leading off in the late innings, you want a guy that can get on base, and Aoki should provide a lot of that," Roenicke said. "I really feel good about Aoki hitting against lefties. I know last night he didn't come through [when he pinch-hit against southpaw Tyler Skaggs], but I really feel good about him."