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Recent injuries testing Brewers' depth

Recent injuries testing Brewers' depth

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Recent injuries testing Brewers' depth
SAN FRANCISCO -- This has been the sort of very bad week the Brewers avoided last season on the way to the National League Championship Series.

Left-hander Chris Narveson underwent surgery Tuesday morning for a torn rotator cuff, a formal end to his season. Hours later, first baseman Mat Gamel tore the ACL in his right knee chasing a foul pop-up. He'll need surgery, too, and if Gamel does not miss the rest of the regular season, he will miss most of it.

That's two of the defending NL Cental champions' prime players, down for the count less than a month after Opening Day.

"We don't have the luxury of being disappointed," said left fielder Ryan Braun, who left Wednesday's loss to the Padres with his own medical issue -- a sore right Achilles. "We feel for both of the guys, two guys we were excited about, but nobody is going to feel bad for us."

Just like the Brewers didn't feel bad for other teams last season when they encountered injuries. Think of the Cardinals, who won the World Series without ace right-hander Adam Wainwright throwing a pitch.

The 2011 Brewers mostly avoided major maladies after a spate in Spring Training, the most notable of which cost right fielder Corey Hart and Zack Greinke the first month of the regular season.

After that, Milwaukee wasn't struck by a significant injury to a starting player until July 27, when second baseman Rickie Weeks suffered a severely sprained left ankle. It would sideline him about six weeks and seriously hamper Weeks in the postseason, but on the very night he was hurt, the Brewers moved into first place for good in the NL Central.

In the pitching department, last year's club was even healthier. It needed only six starters all season, and only seven starts from that sixth man, Marco Estrada.

Less than a month in, it's clear that 2012 will be different. Estrada has already stepped in to fill Narveson's absence, leaving something of a hole in the bullpen. Travis Ishikawa is the immediate replacement for Gamel.

"Sometimes you have to overcome things like this," Hart said. "We were very fortunate last year to have our team for the majority of the year. That's how you're able to get to the playoffs and have that kind of season, when you have your team intact all year.

"It's a challenge. Some of the guys have to step up. Guys might play out of position. It's another obstacle."

Hart could be one of those guys playing out of position. He spent a portion of batting practice on Wednesday taking grounders at first base, his original pro position. Hart will continue to tinker there and could be an option down the road. He hasn't played first since 2006, when he appeared there for eight innings over two games.

Ishikawa is an experienced Major Leaguer, with parts of four San Francisco Giants seasons to his credit. He is a capable defensive player, but the question is whether he'll hit. The Brewers were counting on Gamel to help fuel the offense.

"I'm going to approach that just the same way I have been approaching it," Ishikawa said. "Whatever my role is going to be on this team, I want to be as good as I possibly can be. Whether that's starting and being as good as I can at defense and getting those situational hits ... whatever I can do to help this club win."

That's the trick, staying the course, said Estrada, who had experience last season as a fill-in for both Greinke and Narveson.

"I'm not trying to over-exceed myself, if that makes sense," Estrada said. "It is [a challenge], because you want to show them you can do it, but you can't go out there trying too hard. That never seems to work for me."

Starter Randy Wolf called the injuries "part of life" in the Major Leagues, and he would know. He had Tommy John surgery in July 2005 and was sidelined a year. Then he had shoulder surgery in July '07 and missed the rest of that season.

Now both Narveson and Gamel now face a similarly long comeback.

"I know how it is," Wolf said. "When you're playing, you're in this river, and you're going along in your little floatie. When you get hurt, you're stuck on the shore and the season rushes by you.

"That's how the game is; it has to keep on going. Players have to keep their minds on winning. It's not like we're insensitive to something that happens, but we understand that [injuries] do happen, and we have to move on. From this point on, there's nothing we can do but get over it."

Leave the worrying to general manager Doug Melvin, who expressed alarm at the number of star Major League players -- such as Carl Crawford, Ryan Madson, Joakim Soria, Ryan Howard and Chase Utley -- already struck by devastating injuries this season.

"I'm worried about our game and the number of injuries in our industry," Melvin said. "When you have top-quality players going down and missing the whole season, it's scary.

"You're talking about star talent missing time, and we have more injuries in baseball than we ever have. I think it's scary. You can't plan for it."

That uncertainty is the stuff that drives GMs crazy.

"We always say, 'To win, you have to have a lot of things go right,'" Melvin said. "You have to get big years out of somebody you didn't count on. You have to stay free of injuries. But, it gives other opportunities to other people too, and it keeps your scouting people working, keeps their minds going."

A number of Brewers players insisted that the team's aim -- defend the division crown, return to the postseason -- will not change.

The river will keep on flowing.

"The goal for this team can't change," Wolf said. "Not on May 2."

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.

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