Hart set to return
The Milwaukee Brewers rightfielder took another “big step” toward being ready by opening day on Monday when he took batting practice on the field with his teammates and also did some throwing.
“I’m going to do what everybody else is doing,” said Hart. “It’s feeling really good.”
Tuesday marks the two-week point since Hart underwent arthroscopic surgery on his right knee to address three cartilage tears. At the time, the diagnosis was a return to action in three to four weeks, which would take him right to the end of camp.
Hart thinks he will be ready to play in games by this weekend and firmly believes he’ll be ready by opening day, April 6, vs. St. Louis at Miller Park.
“Saturday is my (30th) birthday,” said Hart. “That would be a good birthday present.”
Told that Hart even thought he could play by Friday, manager Ron Roenicke said, “I don’t know about Friday. I haven’t been told that.”
“I’m surprised at how fast he’s coming along,” added Roenicke.
The timing of Hart’s return is important, because teams are allowed to backdate a player’s time on the disabled list 10 days into spring training, which would be next Monday. Any game Hart played on or after that date would not allow the Brewers to fully backdate any DL time.
The Brewers can avoid that conflict by having Hart play in minor-league games, which don’t count against DL time. Those games also are less structured, allowing Hart to bat every inning if he so desires.
“It’s way more beneficial to do that,” said Hart. “I can get as many at-bats as I want. If I can start playing in games by the weekend, I think I can be ready by opening day.”
A lot will depend on how Hart tolerates the accelerated workload over the next few days.
“We’ll see how the BPs go and if he’s sore the next day at all,” said Roenicke. “If not, he’ll probably continue to hit every day and it shouldn’t take long.”
Roenicke, Aoki chat
Before the Brewers’ exhibition game against Texas, Roenicke said he met recently with outfielder Norichika Aoki to see if he could do anything to help the struggling hitter relax. Aoki certainly looked relaxed, collecting three hits, including a triple, driving in three runs, scoring one and stealing a base in a 5-3 victory over the Rangers.
“I thought it was great,” said Roenicke. “He needed to have that game just to get back on the right track. Mentally, that does a lot for you.
“I know he’s been pressing; he’s been trying to do well for us. That has to make him feel good. I need to see a few more games, but that was a really nice game to see him play.”
Aoki said he appreciated that Roenicke took the time to talk with him and see what he was thinking about his struggles, including a .194 batting average before the game against Texas.
“It’s since then that I started doing better,” said Aoki.” It’s just an honor for him to have a conversation with me. Just playing in a different environment, it helped me relax and calm down.”
“I could kind of sense that just from the meetings we’ve had (that Roenicke cares for his players). It reaffirmed he’s a good person and made me want to play better for him and the team as well.”
Roenicke said he waited awhile before talking to Aoki because he didn’t want the player to panic about the meeting.
“There is a fine line there; you have to be careful,” said Roenicke. “Anytime you bring in a guy, immediately he thinks he’s in trouble. I’ve always tried to bring in guys for other reasons to make sure that everybody out there doesn’t think when you come in and talk with me that it’s got to be something negative, because a lot of times it’s not.
“With Nori, I just wanted to have the conversation to make sure everything was going OK, for one. If he needed anything else; if he needed more BP, if he needed more work in the outfield, whatever he needed. But also to try to get him to relax, not put so much pressure on himself. I understand that he’s trying to impress us but to do that he needs to have a relaxed mind and a confident mind like when he was playing in Japan.”