Sore neck sidelines Braun, Aramis exits early
Ramirez sprains left knee on slide into second base in fourth inning
MILWAUKEE -- The Brewers were poised to make their first roster move of the budding season after left fielder Ryan Braun missed Friday's game with neck spasms and third baseman Aramis Ramirez resprained his left knee sliding into second base in the fourth inning of a 3-1 loss to the D-backs at Miller Park.
The Brewers were hopeful Braun can play Saturday night, though he spoke to reporters with a heating pad on his neck and later said he could not move his head in any direction.
Ramirez's injury could be much more troubling, considering he missed two weeks in Spring Training with the same injury. He said he would undergo an MRI scan on Saturday.
"I don't want to assume anything," Ramirez said. "Same thing that happened in Spring Training. This time there was a little more soreness than the last time, but I don't want to get ahead of myself because I don't know."
Both players were off to hot starts. Braun hit safely, scored a run and drove in a run in each of the team's first three games of the season, and Ramirez had doubled in each of the first three games before his single on Friday. He tried to make it four games in a row, but was thrown out by Arizona left fielder Jason Kubel trying to stretch a single down the left-field line.
There is no good time for a team to lose its three- and four-hole hitters to injuries, but the Brewers are particularly thin at the moment because Corey Hart is sidelined into May while recovering from knee surgery, and the team opted to open the season with a 13-man pitching staff. That means the Brewers had only four players on the bench at the start of the season, including the backup catcher.
They also have a full 40-man roster, complicating things in the event a player is promoted from Triple-A Nashville. Taylor Green and Jeff Bianchi are on the 40-man roster but are on the DL with hip injuries. The only other healthy infielder already on the 40-man is second-base prospect Scooter Gennett.
"We're going to look at it [Saturday] and make a decision," Brewers manager Ron Roenicke said. "It's similar to what [Ramirez] did in Spring Training, so tomorrow we'll have a better answer as to whether it's a DL [move] or if we think it's just a few days."
Roenicke conceded the Brewers may err on the side of the DL because their bench is so short.
"We're going to have to cover ourselves," he said. "It's going to be tough. If we think [Ramirez] is going to be out 7-10 days at least, we may decide just to DL him. For one, to make sure he's 100 percent when he comes back. And also with the short bench, we've got to get somebody in here."
There was hope for a speedy recovery for Braun, who began feeling stiffness in his neck during a workout Friday afternoon. He received treatment from the team's athletic trainers, but the right side of his neck "locked up" during his second round of batting practice.
"I've had a sore neck from sleeping, but not like this, not to the point where I can't move my neck," Braun said.
He added: "I don't think there is ever a good time, but it certainly makes it more challenging when there are multiple guys dealing with stuff. I think your depth is always challenged as a team, and we're going through one of those phases where, hopefully, other guys have a chance to step up, and need to step up."
Axford not concerned with early dip in velocity
MILWAUKEE -- Viewing video of his outing yielded no answers for Brewers closer John Axford, who on Friday brushed aside concerns about his diminished velocity in a rough outing against the Rockies two days earlier.
"I did look back at it. Everything looks fine, everything looks normal," Axford said. "Maybe it was just one of those times. Honestly, nothing looks different. Mechanics are the same, arm slot's the same, even going back over the years. Going back to 2011, it's the same leg lift, same separation, same arm path, front and back side. Everything's the same. Same release point."
In other words, there was no mechanical explanation for Axford averaging 92.44 mph with his four-seam fastball while allowing three runs on five hits, including a pair of home runs, and recording two ninth-inning outs Wednesday, turning a 4-3 Brewers deficit into a 7-3 loss.
Compare that to last season, when Axford's four-seamer averaged 96.91 mph, according to BrooksBaseball.net. In the World Baseball Classic last month, Axford topped out at 98 mph in an outing for Canada against Team USA.
Which begged the question: If it's not mechanical, what else could explain a 4-6 mph drop?
"I really don't know," Axford said. "I can't ask my body. My body doesn't know right now either. When you're a relief pitcher you feel stiffness and soreness on a usual basis, but nothing out of the ordinary.
"Even on [Opening Day], I wasn't throwing 98 mph. I was throwing 94-95, so, [Wednesday] was only a couple miles an hour different from that. It's not anything too different from where I've been before. I know last year my velocity was up a little bit more but at the beginning of the year I think it was maybe more 94-95 mph. As the year progresses, that's where my velocity generally starts coming in. I started hitting those 98s around May."
He wasn't sure if his participation in the Classic played a role. Even in his final Spring Training appearances, Axford said, he saw charts that showed he was throwing 92-95 mph.
"I wasn't worried about it then, because I would give up a hit and then get three outs," he said. "Two days ago, if I get three outs and I'm throwing 91-92, it's like, 'Oh, your velocity was down but it looked like it worked out for you.' Maybe then people would say, 'That's what you need to do. You need to throw slower.'
"I feel physically fine, so let's just see what happens."
Manager Ron Roenicke was content to do so.
"If something went on for a lot of outings in a row, I would be concerned about it," Roenicke said. "Right now, we're just starting out. The mental part of this and getting into your rhythm at the start of a season, there's so much that comes up that I don't want to look too far into it."
Fiers eager to contribute in Brewers' rotation
MILWAUKEE -- Right-hander Mike Fiers will make his season debut Saturday when he starts opposite D-backs lefty Patrick Corbin. Fiers learned of the assignment just like you may have -- via Twitter.
Fiers had remained in Arizona to start an intrasquad game and was still unsure whether he'd have a spot on Milwaukee's Opening Day roster. When he checked Twitter on Saturday he learned of the Brewers' plan: Chris Narveson would start the season in long relief and Fiers in the starting rotation.
"I just wanted to have a spot on the team, no matter where I was," Fiers said."Wherever they thought I could help the team out the best was fine, and I think I can help out the team the best in the rotation. I'm glad they gave me another chance."
Fiers was 9-10 with a 3.74 ERA in 22 starts and one relief appearance last season, including 8-6 with a 2.88 ERA in his first 16 starts.
But he is coming off what he characterized as a "terrible" Spring Training. Fiers had a 6.98 ERA in six Cactus League games, five starts, and allowed a .333 opponents' batting average.
"Giving 'Narvy' a little bit of a break went into it, but I also think Michael Fiers didn't have a good spring last year, either," manager Ron Roenicke said. "I saw what he did when he got into the season, and we all know the high side of him is really good. For two months [in 2012], we saw a guy who every outing went out there and I expected him to give up none or one run. Those type guys, you don't find a lot of. If we can get him on the right track, I think his upside is pretty good."
Brewers pitched to record extremes vs. Rockies
MILWAUKEE -- On one hand, Brewers pitchers were historically good in the season-opening series against the Rockies. They set a franchise record for the first three games of a season with 30 strikeouts.
On the other hand, Brewers pitchers were historically bad. They matched a franchise record by allowing eight home runs in the first three games, and set a dubious record by surrendering 41 hits.
Brewers manager Ron Roenicke opted not to mention any of those record numbers in the pitchers' usual pre-series meeting on Friday.
"I don't want to make comments right now," Roenicke said, "because any time I make a lot of comments, they think about it. The mental part of it is so important to me that I'd rather let them perform [up to] their abilities and not overthink right now. It can lead into some bad things. Even though what I say, I try to be positive all the time, sometimes it gets them thinking too much and it works in reverse."
• Brewers affiliates went 3-0 on Opening Day in the Minor Leagues on Thursday, plus one win for Mother Nature as Double-A Huntsville was rained out. At Triple-A Nashville, reigning Minor League Player of the Year Hunter Morris homered, doubled and drove in four runs in a 5-4 win over New Orleans. It was Morris' Triple-A debut.
• The Brewers finalized some Minor League coaching staffs on Friday with a pair of former players. Chuckie Caufield, an outfielder in Milwaukee's system from 2006-11, was formally announced as a coach at rookie-level Helena. Also, former Cubs and Indians outfielder Jason Dubois was named a coach at rookie-level Arizona. He served the previous two seasons as a hitting coach with the Cubs' rookie Arizona League affiliate.
• Both of the Brewers' rookie affiliates begin their seasons on June 20.