MILWAUKEE -- It was Opening Day all over again for Aramis Ramirez, who returned to third base and the Brewers' cleanup hole Friday after a month-long stay on the disabled list for a sprained left knee.
"It's been a while. I missed exactly a month today, so I'm glad to be back," he said. "I just want to go out and contribute."
How well would he contribute? After all, he had not seen a live pitch in four weeks.
And how much would he contribute? Ramirez admitted the knee was still not 100 percent, and he opted not to test it on a Minor League rehabilitation assignment.
Friday's 6-1 loss to the Cardinals offered some clarity. Ramirez went 2-for-3 at the plate, singling in the first inning and the sixth but flying out with runners at the corners in the third, and was replaced with a pinch-runner in the bottom of the sixth inning.
Except for the outcome of the game, it was a good night.
"Everything else went as expected," Ramirez said. "I felt good on the bases and playing defense. No issues at all. I'm glad, personally, for the way my knee held up tonight. Hopefully it keeps getting better from now on."
Ramirez's workload in the coming days will be determined by his health and the game circumstances.
"That's not a tough call for me. If I think it's time for him to come out, he needs to come out," manager Ron Roenicke said.
Ramirez also missed two weeks in Spring Training with a similar injury and predicted he would need treatment on the knee for the remainder of the season.
"For me to be 100 percent, I'm going to have to sit for two or three months, and that's not going to happen," he said. "I'm going to have to deal with it the rest of the season."
Roenicke has said he hopes Ramirez will be able to avoid sliding. Slides into second base caused both injuries.
"You can't think about it," Ramirez said. "I'm going to play the game how I always play the game. There's going to come a moment where I have to slide and hopefully things come out OK."
Lucroy, Brewers happy to have Aramis back at cleanup
MILWAUKEE -- Brewers catcher Jonathan Lucroy won't blame the World Baseball Classic or the added pressure of occasionally batting cleanup.
He was simply not happy with his numbers entering Friday's start against the Cardinals: a .233 average with three home runs and 13 RBIs in 24 games.
"I'm not going to make any excuses," Lucroy said. "I have enough at-bats to where I should be feeling it. I just have to figure out whether it's the mental approach or what the deal is. I have to figure out how to be consistent because I'm a much better hitter than what I'm showing now. I know that for a fact."
Last year, Lucroy was one of baseball's most productive April and May hitters. He was hitting .345 with five home runs and 30 RBIs in his first 43 regular-season games before breaking his right hand and spending two months on the disabled list.
This year has been more of a struggle, beginning with the time he spent sitting on Team USA's bench in the World Baseball Classic. Lucroy hit a winning sacrifice fly on Opening Day and a winning home run on April 14 in St. Louis, but in his nine starts batting cleanup in place of injured third baseman Aramis Ramirez, Lucroy hit .194 with three RBIs. Rickie Weeks had no better luck.
"I've been trying to get that point where I was last year, where I was putting the ball in play with two strikes, and being consistent," Lucroy said. "It could be a product of the fact we were down two guys -- Corey [Hart] and 'Ramie.' It could be a mental thing where I'm trying to do too much. It could be a lot of things.
"I think a lot of it has to do with us putting a lot of pressure on ourselves to carry the burden. That's not an excuse, but I think it's definitely contributed to it."
Good news: Ramirez returned to the lineup on Friday.
"It's like picking up a free agent," said Lucroy, who slid down to sixth in the order.
After Ramirez suffered a sprained left knee on April 5, Brewers hitters in the four-hole combined to bat .154 with seven RBIs in 23 games. As of Friday afternoon, the Brewers and Royals were still the only two teams without a home run from a cleanup hitter.
"Those guys, Rickie and Luc, they weren't used to doing that," Ramirez said. "That's a big challenge, to protect a guy like [three-hole hitter Ryan Braun], maybe one of the top 3-5 players in the game. Even when he has somebody real good behind him, there's going to pitch around him in some situations. It's just tough, that's a big challenge, and I guess they weren't used to doing that."
Crew shifts Burgos to bullpen with upcoming off-days
MILWAUKEE -- A pair of off-days in the span of four days next week has prompted the Brewers to temporarily shift right-hander Hiram Burgos to the bullpen.
It is definitely not a demotion. In his first three Major League starts, Burgos was 1-0 with a 3.00 ERA, 13 strikeouts and three walks. He lost two more victories to blown saves.
"We talked to Burgos today, and the reasoning is that if we don't slide somebody back, I have [Kyle] Lohse and [Yovani] Gallardo going on their seventh day, and we really don't want to do that," manager Ron Roenicke said. "I don't mind bumping all of them one day, but when you do it two days, it starts affecting the starters."
A two-game series against Texas is sandwiched between the off-days. Wily Peralta will pitch Tuesday against the Rangers and Lohse on Wednesday.
The Brewers won't require a fifth starter again until a week later -- on May 14 at Pittsburgh. They could slot Burgos back into the mix a bit earlier, on May 12 in Cincinnati, if they choose to give Peralta and the rest of the starters and extra day of rest.
Burgos will be available in relief for the two-game Rangers series.
The Brewers could have just as easily bumped Peralta, who surrendered six runs on 11 singles in a tough-luck outing against the Cardinals on Thursday night. But Roenicke said Peralta, who had delivered quality starts in each of his previous two outings, was never considered for a temporary move to the bullpen.
Club officials did discuss a variety of options for Burgos.
"We could have also sent him down and got a bullpen guy up and have him start [at Triple-A]," Roenicke said, "but we like what he's done for us, and he's been good out of the bullpen [in the World Baseball Classic]. So we thought we'll keep him here, and that way we'll have the option of sliding him in there when we think it is right."
• Right-hander Taylor Jungmann landed on the Double-A Huntsville disabled list Friday with a nerve issue affecting the fingers of his right hand. Brewers assistant general manager Gord Ash said Jungmann could continue to pitch if needed, but the DL move was made to keep the problem from becoming a "bigger deal." Jungmann, No. 2 on MLB.com's list of the Top 20 Brewers prospects, was the first of Milwaukee's' two first-round Draft picks in 2011.
• The Brewers re-signed right-hander Tim Dillard to a Minor League deal Friday after another right-hander Chris Jakubauskas, suffered an injury with Triple-A Nashville on Thursday. Dillard, who made 58 Brewers appearances over the past two seasons after switching to a sidearm delivery, had been pitching with Lancaster in the independent Atlantic League.