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Durham makes first start for Brewers

Durham makes first start for Brewers

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ST. LOUIS -- File this one under the "Good problem to have" category. Brewers manager Ned Yost had to sit one of his hottest hitters on Thursday to give his newest hitter a chance to start.

Newly acquired Ray Durham made his first Brewers start on Thursday as the team's leadoff hitter and second baseman in the finale of a four-game series at St. Louis with his team seeking a sweep.

He started in place of Rickie Weeks, who was 6-for-18 (.333) in the first three games against the Cardinals and was hitting .348 on the road trip with eight RBIs.

"It will be nice to get the butterflies out," Durham joked.

The bench role is somewhat unfamiliar to Durham, a 36-year-old in his 14th Major League season. Including Thursday, Durham has started 1,777 of the 1,935 games in which he's played (92 percent) and never spent a significant period of time as a reserve until the second half of last season, when the Giants went with young players. Even as a White Sox rookie in 1995, he started 118 of his 122 games.

Durham is 17-for-79 (.215) in 88 pinch-hit appearances with a .295 on-base percentage. This season, he is 3-for-21 (.143) with a .182 on-base mark in such instances. But he found some success in that role in the three seasons prior to 2008, going 10-for-32 (.313) with all three of his career pinch-hit home runs from 2005-07.

"I don't think it will be tough," Durham said. "I did it some last year when the Giants brought up most of their young kids. I played very sparingly the whole second half.

"As a veteran guy, I think it's easier for me to keep myself mentally and physically prepared. I have been on both sides, where I play every day and also was reduced to a backup role."

Overall this season, Durham is hitting .292 with a .384 on-base percentage. He grounded out as a pinch-hitter in his Brewers debut on Monday.

When the Brewers completed the trade on Sunday, sending two Minor Leaguers to the Giants and then bringing Durham on the charter flight from San Francisco to St. Louis, Yost made it clear that Weeks would remain the second baseman and that Durham might start about two times per week.

Yost downplayed that estimate on Thursday, insisting that he would make his decisions on a day-to-day basis.

"I wanted to get Rickie settled with Ray here," Yost said. "I've done that, and now it's time to get Ray in. Rickie's playing great, but Ray is going to play. I have to find ways to play [Craig Counsell], [Gabe] Kapler, [Russell] Branyan. You can't let those guys go stagnant while you wear the other guys out."

Durham replaced seldom-used utility man Joe Dillon on the roster, so it will be even more difficult for Yost to find playing time for Counsell, who remains the primary backup for shortstop J.J. Hardy. And even if Yost will not say it, he apparently has returned Bill Hall to the everyday role at third base, where Branyan used to start against right-handers.

"To be a successful bench player, you have to get your at-bats, make sure you stay sharp," Durham said. "When the manager calls upon you to hit, you want to at least feel like you can go up there and get the job done."

Adam McCalvy 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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