MILWAUKEE -- Juan Francisco became the seventh different player to start a game as the Brewers' cleanup hitter on Sunday, which is emblematic of manager Ron Roenicke's tough daily task of setting a starting lineup.
Last season, Roenicke used six different cleanup men all season. The year before that, he needed only one -- first baseman Prince Fielder.
"Every day with the lineup, it's something different," said Roenicke, whose club has been beset by injuries, including usual cleanup man Aramis' Ramirez's balky left knee.
As a result, the team has employed 57 different lineup combinations in its first 80 games. Brewers' cleanup men entered Sunday with a .691 OPS, which ranks 26th among 30 Major League teams.
"It would be nice to have a set lineup, where at least two days in a row we could have the same guys out there," Roenicke said. "[Setting the daily lineup] is taking me more time than I would like it to, yes."
Roenicke knows there is a segment of baseball fans who argue that, statistically, batting orders are insignificant. He disagrees.
"Where it matters, not so much the exact position guys are in, but where it matters is mentally. What does it do to guys when they change and hit in a different place in the order?" Roenicke said.
Ramirez rested Sunday after starting the last five games. He continues to be bothered by a left knee that was sprained twice earlier this season.
"I don't know, I think we're making a little bit of progress with him," Roenicke said. "So, hopefully that continues. I know he's frustrated, still not doing the things he knows he can when he's healthy, which is what we need when we have him hitting fourth."
Sizzling K-Rod back in closer role for Brewers
PITTSBURGH -- Francisco Rodriguez is back in the Brewers' closer role, but manager Ron Roenicke attributed the switch to performance and not to showcasing Rodriguez before the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline.
Rodriguez is on a one-year deal, earning a prorated portion of about $2 million, and he has been flip-flopping roles with Jim Henderson, who is still in his pre-arbitration years. Rodriguez could be an attractive chip for the Brewers to trade, though Roenicke said that had nothing to do with the latest switch.
"None -- not for me anyway," Roenicke said. "Not until I meet with Doug [Melvin, the GM] and he tells me something different."
So why make the change? On the previous road trip, Roenicke indicated that Henderson was the closer.
"Henderson -- we still like doing it, and I'm fine [with him] doing it, but Frankie is probably throwing the ball better now than Henderson is. I would say the only reason we would change it right now is if the matchups really looked better for Frankie to go the eighth and Henderson to go the ninth. If it's just generic, right now, Frankie is closing."
Rodriguez has been sensational since signing a Minor League deal with Milwaukee in April and making it to the Majors in May. In his first 17 appearances since the callup, he allowed one earned run and only eight hits in 17 1/3 innings, for a 0.55 ERA and a 0.67 WHIP. He logged six saves in that span, including the 300th of his career on June 22.
Roenicke said he had spoken with his relievers about the current plan.
Hand feels 'fine' after comebacker to pitching arm
PITTSBURGH -- Right-hander Donovan Hand, who has seen the "spot" dropped from his spot starter designation and has joined the Brewers' pitching rotation, was feeling no ill effects Sunday from a line drive off his pitching arm the night before.
Hand threw 53 of his 64 pitches for strikes while delivering five innings of two-run ball against the Pirates on Saturday, and he would have been sent out for the sixth, manager Ron Roenicke said, if not for the Jordy Mercer comebacker that struck Hand on the right wrist to lead off the fifth inning. Hand threw Mercer out and finished the inning, then came out of the game due to precaution.
"It's fine," Hand said Sunday morning. "We didn't want it to tighten up, and I was up there in pitches, anyway. Sixty-four is not a lot, but they're just trying to ease me into [starting], I think."
It's a role he has not filled extensively since 2009 at Double-A Huntsville, where Hand was an All-Star reliever in the first half and then made his final 11 appearances as a starter. He moved back to relief in '10.
He was needed this season to help plug a Brewers pitching rotation beset by injuries. Saturday marked Hand's second start (he has allowed two runs in 9 2/3 efficient innings in that role), and he is penciled in for another on Independence Day in Washington, D.C.
Considering he has started games, worked long relief and even closed on occasion, Hand refers to himself as a "utility man."
"Like I've always said, if I'm in the big leagues, anything they tell me to do, I'll try to do to the best of my abilities and see what happens," Hand said. "I look at it as an opportunity."
The 27-year-old is one of 10 different pitchers to make a start for Milwaukee this season, one shy of the team's total from all of 2012. The Brewers will have decisions to make when Marco Estrada (hamstring) and Alfredo Figaro (rib cage) return from the disabled list.
"For me, I like [Hand] there," Roenicke said. "You look at what he did with his ball-strike ratio to start the game; we don't have other guys that do that. If he doesn't take the ball off the arm, he can go deeper in that game."
Potential starter Thornburg to begin with middle relief
PITTSBURGH -- Tyler Thornburg's 2013 season is beginning to feel a lot like '12, bouncing between the Brewers and the Minor Leagues. A right-hander who pitched three separate stints in the Majors last season, Thornburg, the club's top prospect, rejoined the team Saturday for the second time in '13.
"Hopefully, I pitch well enough to stick around," Thornburg said. "I know that throughout your career, you might have to bounce around. I think it's a good experience."
The Brewers have already employed 10 different starting pitchers this year, and when he was asked whether he could see Thornburg joining that list, manager Ron Roenicke quipped, "At this point, I could see anybody getting a start."
But for now, Thornburg's role will be middle relief.
"We like some of the outings out of the bullpen," Roenicke said. "If he's able to do both [starting and relief], it's going to help him stay in the Major Leagues, which is what he wants to do. Somewhere along the line, I'm sure he's going to get a chance to start. He'll help us.
"Any time you start doing different jobs, it's gets easier. And the thing is, it's not like we're taking a guy who was lights out in Triple-A and then just kind of messing with him [Thornburg was 0-9 with a 5.79 ERA in 15 starts]. We're trying to figure out a place for him, where he fits -- whether it's as a starter for us, whether it's a long guy, whether it's maybe a one-inning guy late in ballgames. But he's got great stuff, and we have to figure out how that plays into our team and our needs."
That decision is not imminent, Roenicke stressed.
"I don't want to make any quick judgments to say he is not a Major League starter, because I have seen him out there starting where he's done a real nice job," Roenicke said. "I don't know. It's just that we've got so many guys who seem to be in this area where, 'OK, we'll give them a shot to start,' and then either they get hurt or they don't do as well and we make a change. I'm still waiting for some of these young guys to really grab it."