PHOENIX -- It's not every day you see a team return a healthy player to Minor League camp before even playing an intrasquad game, but that's what the Brewers did Thursday with 24-year-old catcher Rafael Neda. Manager Ron Roenicke attributed the move to a numbers crunch.
Neda was the least experienced of the catchers, and the Brewers want a better look at Robinzon Diaz, a late addition to the camp roster.
"I didn't want [Neda] to just sit around and not do much," Roenicke said.
Diaz has 44 games of Major League experience with the Blue Jays and Pirates, giving him as good a chance as anyone of sliding into the No. 3 slot on Milwaukee's depth chart at catcher, behind Jonathan Lucroy and Martin Maldonado. The only other catcher in camp with big league experience is Blake Lalli, who played in six games last season with the Cubs.
A defensive-minded catcher with a .281 batting average in 139 Major League at-bats, Diaz has a chance to play often when Lucroy and Maldonado depart for the World Baseball Classic.
Aramis to play early and often in Cactus League
PHOENIX -- Aramis Ramirez laughed at the fan-suggested cure for his traditionally slow starts -- that Ramirez celebrate his June birthday before the Brewers break Spring Training camp.
Ramirez has a more serious idea: he plans to pile up at-bats in the Cactus League in an effort to be swinging a hot bat by Opening Day.
"You're going to see me a lot," Ramirez said.
The veteran slugger already told Brewers manager Ron Roenicke that he wants to man third base for Saturday's Cactus League opener against the A's at Maryvale Baseball Park. Roenicke surveyed some of the team's veterans and gave them the option to push back their spring debuts because of the extended length of this year's camp.
Ramirez wants to play. He will ease into games as usual, playing only a few innings at first, but intends to set a personal record for Cactus League at-bats.
"I'm not going to do anything stupid, but that's what I think I'm going to try," Ramirez said. "I don't know how many [at-bats] I had last year. I have to look that up. So, we'll see if this works."
We looked it up for him, and Ramirez logged 55 at-bats last season in 20 exhibition games. Doesn't he worry about doing too much early and wearing out by the end of the season?
"No," he said. "If you work hard and take care of yourself, there's no reason for you to get tired. I never feel tired during the season, and if you look at my numbers, they're better later on in the year. I feel tired here and there, but it's not like I'm going to drop my production because of that."
Ramirez's worst career monthly batting average (.257) and on-base percentage (.328) are in April, and his worst slugging percentage (.450) is in May. Compare that to August, when Ramirez has hit .305/.367/.547.
So that suggestion about an early birthday party was intriguing.
"Hey, you never know," Ramirez said. "You can't lose anything by trying."
Roenicke, Crew ready for Cactus League opener
PHOENIX -- Logan Schafer and Donnie Murphy homered in an intrasquad game on Friday, but a real foe will be on the field Saturday for the Brewers' Cactus League opener against the Oakland A's.
Right-hander Mike Fiers will start for Milwaukee just after 2 p.m. CT at Maryvale Baseball Park. Taylor Green will get the first crack at manning first base, and manager Ron Roenicke said the rest of the Brewers regulars would be on the field for the traditional opener between the two teams that train within Phoenix city limits.
"They all want to play," Roenicke said.
That includes left fielder Ryan Braun, who is getting ready to play for Team USA in the World Baseball Classic. Braun and Roenicke have discussed a plan to get Braun close to nine-inning-ready before departing early next month.
"They've got two days of practice and two exhibition games, so we just need to get him some at-bats," Roenicke said. "He's not too concerned about the at-bats. He's one of those rare guys that doesn't need a lot."
Besides Fiers, John Axford, Jim Henderson and Donovan Hand are scheduled to pitch against the A's. Hand will work multiple innings, with Michael Olmsted, Jesus Sanchez and Santo Manzanillo on the list to back up if needed.
The mood will be slightly more serious than it was Friday, when a contest winner from Appleton, Wis., coached first base and four costumed prospects served as batboys in the intrasquad game. Schafer unofficially started the season with a bang when he connected off Yovani Gallardo for a leadoff home run, and Murphy added a two-run shot against Gallardo.
• Roenicke has been mulling his rooting interest for Pool D of the World Baseball Classic.
"I don't know who we want to lose that WBC so we get them back quicker. I guess it would work out better if maybe Team Canada got eliminated. We need Mexico definitely to get eliminated," Roenicke said, smiling. "That would be OK."
Relievers John Axford and Jim Henderson and infielder Taylor Green are playing for Canada, and top starters Yovani Gallardo and Marco Estrada are with Mexico. Team USA has left fielder Ryan Braun and Lucroy, and Italy has infielder Jeff Bianchi.
• Alex Gonzalez worked out at first base for the first time on Thursday, "and, like expected, was outstanding for the first day doing it," Roenicke said. Gonzalez told Roenicke on Friday morning that he's already comfortable enough to try the position in a game.
• Right-handed prospect Nick Bucci will move to the Minor League complex beginning Saturday for physical therapy on his troublesome shoulder. He also missed time at the start of last season with a lat injury, so the Brewers are being cautious.
Whether Bucci is ready for the start of the season hinges on his progress over the next week or so, Roenicke said. Bucci is on the 40-man roster, so at some point he will have to be optioned to the Minors.