MESA, Ariz. -- The Brewers pitching staff had a good day Tuesday before anyone threw a pitch against the Chicago Cubs at HoHoKam Park.

Closer Francisco Cordero threw 26 pitches against Minor League infielders Ozzie Chavez and Yohanis Perez in a simulated game Tuesday morning, and was then penciled in to pitch his first Cactus League game Friday against the Royals.

The team has taken a slow approach with Cordero, who experienced shoulder soreness last spring when he was with the Rangers. At the time, Cordero was rushing to prepare for the inaugural World Baseball Classic, from which he eventually was forced to withdraw.

"It went well," pitching coach Mike Maddux said. "He's right on schedule. He's going to pitch Friday and fall right into the schedule. We didn't figure our closer needed 12 innings in the spring, so we're going to give him nine."

Cordero looked so sharp that the guy behind the plate, Vinny Rottino, wasn't sure why Cordero was being held back.

"Same old guy," Rottino said. "He had bite on his slider, threw some changeups. I thought he looked great."

The Brewers exercised a $5.4 million option to bring Cordero back this season. They acquired him last July 28 from Texas in the Carlos Lee deal, and Cordero notched 16 saves and posted a 1.69 ERA in 28 Brewers appearances. He was named the team's pitcher of the year.

How do you spell relief? The Brewers borrowed former top prospect Brad Nelson from Minor League camp on Tuesday in an effort to give Rottino a chance to play something other than first base. Rottino switched from first to third when Nelson entered the game in the sixth inning.

"All of the third basemen are hurt and all of the first basemen are hurt," manager Ned Yost said. "Vinny's going to be the first player in the history of the game to get 500 Spring Training at-bats."

Relief is on the way. Craig Counsell, who has been nursing a sore throwing shoulder, made his first start in the field on Tuesday and played third base. Ryan Braun, nursing a sore throwing elbow, said he expects to be back in a game by Thursday and will rejoin the third base battle.

Help is on the way at first base, too. Tony Graffanino, sidelined earlier in camp by a twisted ankle, is back in the fold and will probably see some time at both corner infield spots. And Prince Fielder is expected back in the lineup Wednesday after missing a week with a strained quadriceps.

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Those returns will allow Yost to get a look at Rottino at other positions. Rottino has been working this spring at the infield and outfield corners and at catcher, and spent time in the Arizona Fall League working behind the dish. Yost said he wants to get a look at the Wisconsin native at catcher in some Cactus League games.

Sidelined: Braun has been traveling with the team to games, but for the last three days, he has been limited to taking ground balls but not throwing across the diamond to first base.

"It's nothing I'm overly concerned about," Braun said. "Hopefully, I'm back there soon, because I need to get my work in. It's a little frustrating, but I understand the reasoning for it. I'd be surprised if I wasn't back in there [Thursday]."

Braun said that he and the training staff will have input in his return to action, but several club officials have indicated disappointment that it is taking so long.

Better results: After struggling through his Cactus League debut last week, right-hander Claudio Vargas surrendered two runs on three hits in his first inning of work against the Cubs on Tuesday. But he settled down and surrendered one hit over two more scoreless innings.

"I felt much better today than I did my first time," Vargas said. "I've been working a little bit with my mechanics to get ahead [of hitters] a little bit more."

Vargas said he has been working with both Maddux and bullpen coach Bill Castro.

"We're getting a little bit more confident as we're working more," Vargas said. "They've told me everything they see."

Sneak peek: The team's annual "Brewers On Deck" open house will once again take place on the Sunday before Opening Day, April 1 at Miller Park. Parking and admission are free to all fans for the event, which features autograph sessions, interactive games, a Brewers Charities rummage sale and a full-squad workout. Parking lots will open at 10 a.m. CT and gates to the ballpark open at 11 a.m.

"It's a chance for our fans to welcome the team back from Spring Training and gear up for an exciting season of Brewers baseball," executive vice president of baseball operations Rick Schlesinger said in a statement.

Autograph sessions begin at noon at eight locations around the park, and each player on the Opening Day roster will sign for 45 minutes. A program will be distributed to all fans in attendance with times and locations for each player's session. Batting practice begins at 2 p.m.

The event will also be broadcast on WTMJ-AM 620. In its first two seasons, Brewers On Deck has attracted more than 25,000 fans to Miller Park.

On deck: Fielder should see his first Cactus League action at Maryvale Baseball Park on Wednesday, when a Brewers split-squad hosts the San Francisco Giants. Dave Bush is scheduled to start that game for the Brewers against Giants lefty Noah Lowry. Carlos Villanueva will lead the other Brewers squad to Tucson for a game against Josh Fogg and the Rockies.

It's the final split-squad day of the spring for the Brewers, though the team has a "B" game planned against the Rangers on March 12.