Hart, Lucroy are long shots for Opening Day
Time running out for injured Brewers duo to be ready by March 31
TEMPE, Ariz. -- It was a bittersweet 29th birthday for Brewers right fielder Corey Hart, who conceded Thursday that there's little chance he will be ready for Opening Day. Catcher Jonathan Lucroy made a similar admission.Neither player has appeared in Spring Training games because of an injury: Hart has a left rib-cage strain and Lucroy a fractured right pinkie finger. Both took 50 swings off a tee Thursday morning but have yet to take batting practice, and with the season opener looming one week away, March 31 in Cincinnati, both were realistic about running out of time. So was manager Ron Roenicke. "I don't want to say that there's not a chance, but it doesn't look very good," Roenicke said. "We have a plan if they're not ready, yes."
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Both Hart and Lucroy are making progress, but too slowly to be ready for next week. Hart still feels discomfort in his ribs when he tries to swing at full strength or track fly balls at full speed, and Lucroy just had a metal pin removed from his finger on Monday and is working to restore flexion in the joint.Mark Kotsay and two of three players -- Brandon Boggs, Chris Dickerson or Jeremy Reed -- would man right field if Hart misses the start of the season, and George Kottaras and Wil Nieves would handle catching duties for Lucroy. Of the two sidelined players, the Brewers expect Lucroy to be ready first. "The problem is the time," Lucroy said. "But that's OK. If I miss four or five games, that's fine. I don't want to miss any time, obviously, but then again, I want to be fully ready. I can't go in blind. We have good guys here, and we'll be able to cover it until I get there." Hart was taking a similar approach. He had previously targeted Thursday -- his birthday -- as an important date for getting into a game if he was going to be ready for the start of the season. His ribs have not cooperated. "I'm not ruling out [Opening Day], but at some point, it has to be talked about -- probably really soon," Hart said. "I'll sit down with Ron and [general manager Doug Melvin]. You never want to rule anything out, but we have so many guys doing well in the outfield that it would be selfish for me to go out there. I know I won't be ready, basically. "I think I could go out there and try not to get hurt, but I'll need a little Spring Training to be realistic about playing. It comes down to not being selfish. Our pitchers are going to want somebody full speed, not somebody like me, who would be tentative." If the Brewers opt to place either player on the 15-day disabled list, the assignment could be backdated to March 22, making April 6 the first possible date of return. It eases Hart's frustration to know that the club is in such good hands. Boggs is hitting .264 with two home runs and 12 RBIs, Dickerson is hitting .278 with a .350 on-base percentage and Reed is batting .377 with 12 RBIs. Boggs and Dickerson are already on the 40-man roster, but Reed would have to be added. Boggs and Reed have no Minor League options. Those factors will play in the club's calls. "I don't envy those decisions," Hart said. "There are so many quality players there that there are a lot of ways we could go." Hart, meanwhile, just wants to go. Since he batted .351 with seven homers in 2009 Spring Training, Arizona has not been kind to him. In 2010, he was a .172 Cactus League hitter and lost his spot in the Opening Day lineup to veteran Jim Edmonds. Hart bounced back from that dismal spring to hit .283 with 31 home runs and 102 RBIs, establishing career highs in homers, RBIs, runs (91) and walks (45). He made his second National League All-Star team and started in right field, then signed a three-year contract extension in August. "I still feel good about this season," Hart said. "Even now, I go out there and my swing feels good -- obviously, it's limited. My body is in great shape because that's all I do, conditioning. My mind is right. I feel like I've got everything going except my side. When I get in there, I know I'm going to be just as strong as I've been. It's just a matter of getting in the lineup right now." Some much-needed fun -- and perhaps a bit of perspective -- was in order for his birthday, and for Hart that meant a trip to Gold Tooth Tattoo in north Phoenix. Hart already has about 20 tattoos, depending how you count the additions to previous work, but was considering having a Bible verse -- John 3:30 -- added: "He must increase but I must decrease."