CHICAGO -- Brewers outfielder Norichika Aoki stepped into the on-deck circle Wednesday and took a look around, a quiet moment before another Major League first."I feel that this is maybe what it was like to play baseball 100 years ago," he said of playing at Wrigley Field. "I'm just glad I can experience that." The three-time Japanese Central League batting champion went 1-for-3 with a walk in his first big league start, quietly playing a key role in a 2-1 win over the Cubs. Aoki played in place of Brewers left fielder Ryan Braun, who needed a day to rest a stiff torso, and batted leadoff, with second baseman Rickie Weeks sliding into the three-hole. It appears that Aoki could be a pain in the neck for the rest of the National League. He saw 23 pitches in three plate appearances against Cubs starter Ryan Dempster, including a 10-pitch battle that ended in a flyout. Aoki helped push Dempster's pitch count toward triple digits in the seventh inning, when catcher George Kottaras hit a winning two-run home run. Aoki saw six more pitches from reliever James Russell later in that inning. "That's something that Ron [Roenicke, Milwaukee's manager] always talks about, just making that pitcher throw a lot of pitches and making it tough for them," Aoki said. "I'm glad I was able to do that today." Aoki had appeared in three of the Brewers' first five games off the bench, making his Major League debut in Friday's season opener against the Cardinals and logging his first hit and run scored on Sunday. "He does a nice job battling," Roenicke said. "He's going to be a nice guy to have with us all year." Aoki is transitioning to a reserve role with the Brewers after years as a star in Japan. He was an All-Star each of his seven seasons with the Tokyo Yakult Swallows and a six-time Gold Glove Award winner. Has he come to any conclusions about the differences between playing in the U.S. versus Japan? "The fans, their reactions are different than what I'm used to in Japan," Aoki said. "But I enjoy the fans over here. ... I feel that fans over here cheer on good baseball, as opposed to Japan, where they are cheering on their team regardless of whatever happens."
K-Rod patient in march to 300 saves
CHICAGO -- Francisco Rodriguez trotted from the bullpen Tuesday for career save No. 292, one that was nearly nine months in the making. He'd been promised the occasional save opportunity after the Brewers traded for him last July, but until this week, it just didn't happen.Rodriguez, a career closer, said he remains content in a setup role with the Brewers. "Definitely," Rodriguez said. "If it wasn't like that, trust me, I would not be here. It's nice when you've got the feeling that you can help a team win ballgames, and that's the mentality that I have." He helped the Brewers beat the Cubs, 7-4, on Tuesday, when closer John Axford was off limits after throwing 53 pitches the previous two days. The Cubs had just cut their deficit to three runs and had a runner at first base with one out in the ninth inning, when Rodriguez entered and retired both Chicago hitters he faced, with a strikeout and a groundout. It was his first true save opportunity since July 8 of last season, four days before the Mets shipped Rodriguez's salary to Milwaukee on the night of the All-Star Game. "It had been a while," Rodriguez said after logging the save. But it was just business as usual. "I've been really, in the eighth inning when I'm setting up for 'Ax,' trying to have the same mentality," Rodriguez said. "Attack the hitter and try to put him away as quickly as possible. In that situation [Tuesday] night, that's what I did -- try to not give them any chance to get back into the game." Rodriguez applied this effort in Wednesday's 2-1 win over the Cubs as well. He worked around a pair of walks by striking out the side in the eighth inning, setting up Axford's 45th consecutive save.
Manager Ron Roenicke called having Rodriguez in reserve for the days Axford needs a break a "huge advantage for us." He did not always have a good fill-in for Axford last season."I know last year there were times right before we got Frankie that you mentioned something to [Takashi] Saito about it and he was like, 'No, I don't think I want to do that,'" said Roenicke. "To find guys that want to do it and feel comfortable doing it, that's good." Rodriguez was well aware that it was save No. 292 in his career. He never figured the march to 300 would be so long. "Eight more to go," he said. "Hopefully, I get that out of the way. That's a big milestone for me, but I'm not [going] to worry about that right now. Let's get some holds, get the ball to 'Ax' and keep winning."
Braun, Hart, Lucroy all rest Wednesday
CHICAGO -- The Brewers fielded a starting lineup Wednesday without three of the team's top hitters. Right fielder Corey Hart was given a day to rest his surgically repaired right knee, and left fielder Ryan Braun and catcher Jonathan Lucroy sat with very minor torso issues.Manager Ron Roenicke described the problem for both players as "tightness in the chest area," grabbing the left side of his rib cage. "They're fine; they can play," Roenicke said. "But we want to give guys a day off somewhere, and we thought today was a good day to do it." It was a good day because the Cubs started right-hander Ryan Dempster, who has held Braun to a .239 average and Hart to a .195 average in 40-plus at-bats apiece.
Zack Greinke said he would wait until Thursday to address news that his agent and the Brewers had tabled talks about a contract extension for the right-hander. Greinke is scheduled to start Thursday's series finale against the Cubs. The Brewers' starting lineup was absent both Ryan Braun and the departed Prince Fielder on Wednesday for the first time since April 18, 2007, against the Pirates, when Damian Miller started at first base and Kevin Mench played left field. Braun was still at Triple-A Nashville then, awaiting his Major League callup in May. Cubs manager Dale Sveum planned on having dinner Wednesday night with some of his friends on the Brewers, including announcer Bob Uecker. "It's like any other team. You have relationships over there," Sveum said. "On the field, you're not doing a lot other than playing another team."