PHOENIX -- The smile returned to Brewers right-hander Mark Rogers' face Saturday, and he said the life on his fastball had returned, too, in a round of live batting practice against Minor Leaguers at Maryvale Baseball Park.
Rogers, who came to camp aiming for a spot in Milwaukee's starting rotation, has been missing both velocity and command in recent Cactus League outings, so the Brewers are skipping his turn and brainstorming ways to rediscover the form that carried Rogers to a 3.92 ERA in seven starts late last season. Saturday's 30-pitch session against hitters was the first step.
"They wanted me to be facing hitters instead of just throwing a 'pen, and it went really good," Rogers said. "I feel much better. I don't know if we have one more of those and then back to a game, or right to game."
Rogers said Brewers coaches had yet to broach the idea of trying a relief outing or two.
"They definitely have my best interest at heart, for sure," he said. "I still have a little bit of time, and I feel better every day. I definitely had more life on the ball just now and threw harder. I'm going to continue to make progress. I'm not sure what the next step is, exactly."
He had a knowledgeable scout on hand. Fellow right-hander Brandon Kintzler watched the session from behind the backstop.
"Moral support," Kintzler said. "There's nothing tougher than getting 'up' at 9 a.m. to face hitters."
Hart backs off aggressive return estimate
PHOENIX -- Brewers first baseman Corey Hart struck a more conservative tone Saturday, one week into the latest phase of his rehabilitation from right knee surgery.
His prediction of an April return might have been too aggressive, Hart conceded.
"I haven't had any setbacks, everything is good and positive, but I don't want to screw up and come back too early before it's ready," Hart said.
Hart had surgery Jan. 25 to repair a meniscus tear and, more significantly, debride the knee joint surface to repair a crack. Doctors induced bleeding to fill in that small gap and predicted a four-month rehab. Hart said at the time he was aiming to shave a month off that timetable.
He had a favorable MRI scan March 8 and abandoned the crutches he'd been using, but has been limited to range-of-motion exercises and strength building since then. Hart has yet to get on a treadmill.
"I still think I can come back a little earlier," Hart said. "I'm definitely optimistic, but I was maybe overshooting when I was talking about playing in April. I probably could; I just might be nervous. Whenever I can do the movements I need to without feeling weak, then I'll have a better idea."
Alex Gonzalez and Taylor Green appear the most likely candidates to fill in at first base, barring an outside acquisition.
Davis slugs way into Brewers' roster talks
PHOENIX -- In his first spring on the Brewers' 40-man roster, Khris Davis reported to Maryvale Baseball Park with little chance for a spot on the Opening Day roster.
That has changed, manager Ron Roenicke said Saturday, after Davis hit two more home runs and drove in five runs in a 9-9 tie with the Reds.
"He's put us in a position where we're talking about him and how he fits on the bench, what we can do with our last two [or] three spots," Roenicke said. "If you need a right-handed hitter, right now he may be the best hitter we have."
Davis has hit six spring home runs, including one in an exhibition against Team Canada's World Baseball Classic club that did not count in the Cactus League statistics. Including Saturday, when Davis was 3-for-3 with three runs scored and five RBIs, he is batting .364 in official at-bats. He has played extensively with Ryan Braun representing the U.S. in the Classic.
The chief knock of Davis, ranked as the Brewers' No. 16 prospect by MLB.com, is his limited defense. His throwing arm will probably limit him to left field when he's a regular player, but the Brewers feel covered with Braun playing left field nearly every day in the regular season and Logan Schafer (a left-handed hitter) available to man that position when Braun needs a day off. They would keep Davis for his bat.
"What we need is somebody who can go to the outfield, but we need a hitter," Roenicke said. "If we have all left-handed pinch-hitters on the bench, it would be nice to have a right-handed hitter. It's a real tough job [for an inexperienced player], and that's why you get him while he's hot and then you see how he works into that job. If he can't do it, then you make a switch.
"He's worked himself into it, and it's not just Spring Training. It's the history. They've told me this guy has hit everywhere. I know there's been some injuries with him, but he can hit."
Braun, Lucroy heading back to Brewers
PHOENIX -- Brewers manager Ron Roenicke is as patriotic an American as they come, but he was not exactly devastated to see Team USA eliminated from the World Baseball Classic on Friday.
Puerto Rico's 4-3 win over the Americans meant the return of the Brewers' No. 1 catcher, Jonathan Lucroy, to Brewers camp, not to mention National League MVP runner-up Ryan Braun. Both players were traveling back to Phoenix from Miami on Saturday, and Lucroy could be back in the Brewers' lineup as early as Sunday.
"You can't want to root against the U.S., but we do need one of our catchers back in camp and having Luc back is going to be huge," Roenicke said.
The club's other catcher, Martin Maldonado, moved on with Puerto Rico after the win-or-go-home game vs. the U.S.
Roenicke will meet with Lucroy before setting his Sunday lineup. Lucroy had only five at-bats in the tournament, so he will probably play extensively in the coming days.
Braun may ease back into Brewers duty after getting 25 at-bats in the Classic. He typically requires little Spring Training work to feel comfortable at the plate.
"He gets ready fast, so I don't expect him to be in the lineup [Sunday]," Roenicke said.
Braun and Lucroy will have to pass exit physicals before they are cleared to play for the Brewers, per World Baseball Classic rules.
Away at Classic, Burgos optioned to Triple-A
PHOENIX -- Right-hander Hiram Burgos was busy with Puerto Rico's advancing entry in the World Baseball Classic when the Brewers optioned him to Triple-A Nashville on Saturday.
The move was expected for the 25-year-old Burgos, the Brewers' reigning Minor League Pitcher of the Year and ranked as the team's No. 13 prospect by MLB.com, who will fit in near the top of a prospect-rich Sounds starting rotation. The Brewers had previously optioned hard-throwing 24-year-olds Tyler Thornburg and Johnny Hellweg.
Candidates for the remaining spots include right-handers Josh Stinson and Alfredo Figaro, assuming they don't win jobs in the big league bullpen, or journeymen Frankie De La Cruz and Zach Kroenke.
If Stinson winds up in that rotation, he deserves to be lumped with the "prospects," even though he's entering his eighth professional season. He just turned 25 on Thursday and is coming off a debut season with the Brewers in which he posted a 3.16 ERA in 24 starts and five relief appearances at Nashville, then allowed only one earned run in 9 1/3 late-season innings with the Brewers.
"He's got really good stuff, he's down in the zone really good, and not counting [Friday], the two previous [outings] were really easy for him," Roenicke said. "[On Friday], command was the issue. He gets up in the zone and walks people. So for him, it's about being more consistent with his good stuff. When he's pitching right, this should be a good Major League pitcher."
• Roenicke said the Brewers remained open-minded about left-hander Tom Gorzelanny's role in the bullpen. His next outing will cover multiple innings, a move to stretch out Gorzelanny's arm in case he begins the season in a long-relief/spot-starter capacity. But he also could develop into a late-inning specialist, Roenicke said, depending on how fellow left-hander Mike Gonzalez and right-hander Jim Henderson are pitching.
• Yovani Gallardo will come back on three days' rest to start Sunday against the Dodgers, and Marco Estrada will do the same Monday against the Indians, lining them up for the Brewers' first two games of the regular season.