Notes: Hart impressive this spring
Outfielder making bid for starting spot in right field
PEORIA, Ariz. -- A lot of people are assuming Corey Hart will be Milwaukee's Opening Day right fielder, but Hart isn't one of those people.
"I don't want to think I've been given anything yet because I haven't," Hart said. "I'm just trying to do the best I can and win a spot on the roster. I hope I am [starting], obviously, but nothing is certain."
Perhaps not, but after leading the team with 20 RBIs in 26 games during the final month of the 2006 season, Hart solidified his ranking as the Brewers' reigning right fielder in many observers' minds.
Hart's final month put the exclamation point on a season during which he hit .283 with nine homers and 33 RBIs in 87 games for Milwaukee and .320 in 26 games at Triple-A Nashville.
The 25-year-old native of Bowling Green, Ky., has a powerful arm and has started to tap the power potential at the plate from his 6-foot-6 frame. In his last two seasons, he has hit a combined 13 and 19 homers, respectively, for Nashville and Milwaukee. His strikeouts, however, were up and Hart is working to cut down on those without cutting down on his slugging.
Through his first 10 games this spring, Hart is hitting .385 with four extra-base hits. Hart had a four-game hitting streak snapped on Tuesday and is 6-for-13 with six RBIs in his last five games.
"So far, it's going all right, but not as good as I hope it will be by Opening Day," Hart said. "The more pitching I see, the more comfortable I'm getting. It seems like I pick up something else that helps me every day."
Brewers manager Ned Yost said he's been very impressed with Hart.
"We had a pretty good idea that he was ready to be an everyday player. He showed that last year and came in this spring and continued that," Yost said.
Does that mean the starting job in right is Hart's?
"Come to the park every single day, that's what I tell them," Yost replied.
Gwynn getting on: Outfielder Tony Gwynn Jr. is hitting .368 (7-for-19) in his bid to crack the Brewers' crowded outfield situation. Barring a trade of one or more of the other veteran outfielders on the roster, Gwynn seems ticketed for Triple-A Nashville.
Gwynn, 24, hit .300 in 112 games at Nashville last season and .260 in 32 games with the Brewers. The last three seasons, he has averaged 34 stolen bases per season. He can also play all three outfield spots though center field is his best position.
"I'm still getting used to left. Right comes a little easier for me after standing out in right field with my dad all those years. I kind of have a better feel for right than I do left, but I can play all three of them pretty well," Gwynn said. "Right now, I'm at a stage where I still think it's important for me to play every day. You want to be in the big leagues. You want to be the guy and up there starting, but right, now there are guys who are frankly at better stages of their careers than I am. I'm still learning the game and different aspects, so I think playing every day is a lot more beneficial for me than being a utility guy."
Some day, Gwynn figures to be a top-of-the-order guy in the Brewers' regular lineup.
"My hitting style is similar to my dad's," Gwynn said. "The consistency isn't there yet, as it was with my dad. But as far as what I do, early in my dad's career our games probably match up pretty well. He could bunt, go gap to gap, he was a base hitter and that's pretty much what I am right now. I'm not a burner, but I have above average speed, but I have to use that to be successful. Last year, I used it more and was able to bunt more."
With a name like Tony Gwynn the expectations are something the Brewers outfielder has to deal with every day.
"You've been dealing with it since Little League, so at this point it's like putting on your pants. It's something you have to do every day," he said. "There's probably greater expectations on the outside world looking at me, but I don't put any extra expectations on myself."
Balfour getting a look: Grant Balfour, claimed off waivers from Cincinnati in October, is trying to win a spot in the bullpen. The right-hander last pitched in the Major Leagues in 2004, when he was 4-1 with a 4.35 ERA in 36 relief appearances for Minnesota.
Balfour, 29, missed all of 2005 and most of the 2006 season after undergoing Tommy John elbow reconstruction surgery. Current Brewers advisor Dan O'Brien was Cincinnati's general manager when the Reds signed Balfour. Balfour made nine Minor League appearances near the end of the 2006 season in the Class A Florida State League.
Balfour's early results this spring have not been anything to write home about: Seven hits, five walks and six earned runs allowed in 3 1/3 innings.
"So far, not that great a couple of games," said Balfour, who was born in Sydney, Australia. "I feel like I got some ground balls. There are other parts of the game where I could have made a better pitch and helped myself buy getting out of the inning. With two outs, I kind of let things slide instead of bearing down and getting more focused and getting the hitter out."
Balfour, who throws a fastball, curveball, slider and changeup, said his elbow is fine and that improvement is just a matter of getting more innings.
"I feel healthy. I feel good," he said. "I feel like my stuff's working. Everything's there and I feel like my velocity's good, so it's encouraging. If I can locate my fastball more consistently, I think I'll be all right. I've just got to keep on getting innings. You know what I mean?"
Capuano on track: Chris Capuano, who will start Wednesday's game against the Chicago White Sox in Tucson, Ariz., said he is right where he needs to be in his preparations for the season.
"It's a normal progression every year, when you throw that first outing you're tinkering with things and you don't really feel in sync at all," Capuano said. "Then it gradually comes back to you. At this point, I'm up to four innings in my next outing and I feel healthy, which is the No. 1 thing."
Capuano will continue to work on locating his fastball.
"If I can throw my fastball where I want to, then everything works out best," the left-hander said. "My No. 1 priority this early in camp and in my side sessions and in games is to locate a good strike low and outside, locate a strike inside and then work on breaking stuff and fine-tune that."
Last call: The Brewers will be without outfielder Laynce Nix for approximately seven days due to a strained right oblique muscle. Nix was injured during his final at-bat of Monday's game against Texas. He is hitting .235 in 10 games. ... Outfielder Gabe Gross (mild right hamstring strain) and catcher Damian Miller (moderate left calf strain) are day-to-day. Third baseman Corey Koskie (post concussion syndrome) is out indefinitely. ... The Brewers entered Tuesday's game against Seattle leading the Major Leagues with a .335 batting average and 106 runs scored. Milwaukee's 17 home runs are tied for the third most in the Majors. ... Center fielder Bill Hall leads the Majors in runs (12) and is tied for third in homers (3). ... Infielder Hernan Iribarren is hitting .435 (10-for-23) with two homers and 12 RBIs -- the second-most RBIs in the Majors this spring behind teammate Johnny Estrada's 14.
On deck: Capuano will make his third start of the spring when he faces right-hander Jon Garland and the Chicago White Sox at Hi Corbett Field. Also scheduled to pitch are Dennis Sarfate, Brian Shouse, Greg Aquino and Balfour. First pitch is scheduled for 3:05 p.m. CT.
Jim Molony is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.