Originally posted on Fox Sports Wisconsin  |  Last updated 3/16/12
SURPRISE, Ariz. Of the Brewers' probably everyday players, Ryan Braun has the fewest at-bats (13) this season in Cactus League play. That low total is by design as Braun is working his way into defending his NL Most Valuable Player award but the numbers are way off in relation to past seasons. Braun, who hit .332 a year ago, has gotten off to a surprisingly slow start at the plate during exhibition play. He's got just one hit -- a two-run home run March 8 against Cincinnati -- and an 0.77 batting average. Compare that to spring training a year ago, when Braun hit .325 (15-for-40) with three doubles, four home runs and 11 RBI. "Mentally, this camp, it's different for him this year," Brewers manager Ron Roenicke said. "He's always had these nice, restful off-seasons, and he's come into camp ready to really get after it. He hasn't been able to do that (this year). He's coming into camp and he's still trying to find some things." The manager was alluding to Braun's winter-long battle against a failed drug test. His appeal was finally upheld just days before the official start of camp. Braun has said that he maintained his usual off-season workout regimen and that he's following the same routine he has employed in previous camps. "The goal is to be as close to being fully ready to go as close to opening day as possible," Braun said last week. Roenicke has been playing Braun on an every-other-game basis which isn't uncommon for veterans during spring training. The result is all of the seven games Braun has played have been at Maryvale Baseball Park, the Brewers' home facility. That streak will end Saturday, when Braun starts for the Brewers against the Angles at Tempe Diablo Stadium. His appearances, whether home or road, will likely increase over the course of the final 20 Cactus League games. "He may talk to me in a few days and decide, 'I need to play more,'" Roenicke said. "Aramis (Ramirez) has said that. Brauny is going to do the same thing -- he's going to come to me one of these days. We've already talked about what I'm thinking, what he's thinking." Hiccup for Gallardo: Yovani Gallardo had been coursing along this spring, holding opponents scoreless over his first 5.1 innings of Cactus League action. The right-hander hit a bump on the road Friday when he allowed four runs on five hits and two walks, recording just one strikeout, in the Brewers' 9-4 loss to Kansas City at Surprise Stadium. "My command was off today," Gallardo said. "(I was) just up in the zone. The pitches that I made, they were pretty decent pitches, but just a little too much on the plate. Get those pitches a little more off the plate, in the corner or lower and I think it's a different story." After allowing his first run of the spring in the opening inning, Gallardo sustained the bulk of the damage in the second. After getting Yuniesky Betancourt to fly out to center, Gallardo allowed Lorenzo Cain to double. He picked up the second out, getting Brayan Pena to swing at strike three but hit the next batter, Alcides Escobar, putting runners at first and second. Alex Gordon's single made it a 2-0 game and after Chris Getz drove in two more with a single to center, Eric Hosmer and Billy Butler followed with walks, loading the bases for Jeff Francoeur, who ended the inning by grounding into a force at second. "I just lost it," Gallardo said. "I felt fine in the bullpen. I was down in the zone but for some reason, once the game started . . . I think I was a little too quick; I was rushing through my delivery a little bit." He righted things in the third, retiring Betancourt, Cain and Pena in order, the last two batters on groundouts. Finishing on a positive note was a good sign for Gallardo, who threw 37 of his 65 pitches for strikes. Marcum on track: Right-hander Shaun Marcum continued to make progress as he recovers from shoulder soreness. Marcum threw a 35-pitch bullpen session Friday and reported no issues afterward. He'll throw a live batting practice session Sunday and the staff will then determine the next step. "Every time he's out there and looks good, we'll move on with the plan from there," Roenicke said. There is a chance that Marcum could be ready to go in time to make his first start of the regular season. Roenicke said that if he were to make three starts before the end of spring training, that would put his pitch count at about 75, which could cover about five or six innings. Roenicke has no plans to push Marcum, who went 13.7 with a 3.54 ERA a year ago. "I want him confident going into the season," Roenicke said. "He's going to be important for us this year, just like he was last year. For us to push that, I don't think it makes sense. I want him for the whole season to be good. If he can get to where he was last year for the first half of the season, that will be outstanding. That's what we're looking at." Just in case, the Brewers plan to have Marco Estrada ready to flll in should Marcum be unable to go once the regular season begins. The right-hander made seven starts for Milwaukee last season, posting a 3-2 record with a 3.70 ERA. He was the starter Friday in the Brewers' split-squad affair against the Mariners in Phoenix. He allowed three runs on five hits in three innings, walking two and striking out two. "We'll have to look at what we think is more important," Roenicke said. "We certainly don't want to push him to make that first start. We're at a time where we'll see how it goes." Cubs get De La Cruz: RHP Frankie De La Cruz was claimed off waivers by the Cubs. In three outings (3.1 innings), De La Cruz had an ERA of 18.50, allowing eight runs (seven earned) seven hits with three walks, a home run and a strikeout. On Deck: The Brewers travel to Phoenix's East Valley Saturday to face Albert Pujols and the Angels at Diablo Stadium. RHP Mike Fiers (0-0, 12.60 ERA) gets the start for Milwaukee while RHP Garret Richards (2-0, 3.60) takes the mound for the Angels. Follow Andrew Wagner on Twitter.
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