PHOENIX -- Anyone who expected the addition of Kyle Lohse to clarify the final spots on the Brewers' Opening Day roster was mistaken. Five days before the season opener, club officials were still mulling some fundamental decisions:
When will Lohse, who just signed Monday, be ready to slide into the starting rotation? Considering his accelerated timetable, should they temporarily carry an extra pitcher in the bullpen? If they do start the season with 13 pitchers, how does that affect the decision on the fourth and final bench spot? If they add a non-roster invitee or two, where will they find space on the full 40-man roster?
Manager Ron Roenicke said the official answers probably will not come until the weekend in Milwaukee, when the Brewers will finalize the roster ahead of Monday's Opening Day matchup with the Rockies.
"It is complicated," Roenicke said. "It's complicated because there are certain guys you want to keep on your team, and you guys know how I feel -- I like a five-man bench. It's very difficult to maneuver when we have four, but I realize where we are in our rotation and now with Kyle being added. To think we could go with 12 [pitchers], I don't know if that is realistic. The last two years were smoother."
One player whose fate hinges on those decisions is right-hander Mike Fiers, who could be the odd man out in the starting rotation with the arrival of Lohse. He has had an inconsistent spring, but was sharp, according to pitching coach Rick Kranitz, in a 6 1/3-innings start in a Minor League game Tuesday.
As of Wednesday morning, Fiers was unsure of his status.
"Whatever is best for the team, that's what they're going to do," Fiers said. "It's the same as last year -- I started in [Triple-A] Nashville last year, and they gave me the opportunity and I was grateful for that. If I start this year in Nashville, it won't be the worst thing."
Fiers could also begin the season in the bullpen as a long reliever. He would make a seven-man relief corps with closer John Axford, left-handers Tom Gorzelanny and Michael Gonzalez and right-handers Jim Henderson, Burke Badenhop and Brandon Kintzler. If the Brewers carry an eighth reliever, it would come down to non-roster invitees Donovan Hand or Alfredo Figaro, both of whom remain active in camp and have been impressive.
On the bench, the Brewers already have three spots set with catcher Martin Maldonado, outfielder Logan Schafer and recently-signed infielder Yuniesky Betancourt. A 13-man pitching staff would leave room for only one of outfielder Khris Davis or catcher/first baseman Blake Lalli. Davis is on the 40-man roster; Lalli is not, but remains a solid candidate.
"We've talked about him a lot," Roenicke said.
Whatever decisions are made this weekend, Roenicke said more changes could come a week or two into the season as the pitching picture becomes clearer.
Betancourt passes physical, inks one-year deal
PHOENIX -- Infielder Yuniesky Betancourt passed a physical exam Wednesday and signed his one-year contract with the Brewers, who will use the 31-year-old as a utility infielder.
In a related move, non-roster invitee Donnie Murphy asked for and was granted his release from a Minor League deal. Murphy was informed on the previous day that he would not make the team.
"I think Donnie Murphy is a Major League utility man," Brewers manager Ron Roenicke said. "The thing with the opportunity to get Yuni is, we had Yuni [in 2011], we liked what he did for us, we think he could be a really good utility man. We're more familiar with Yuni than we are Murphy."
Betancourt will wear No. 3, the same number he donned while batting .252 with 13 home runs and 68 RBIs as the Brewers' starting shortstop in 2011.
Lohse looks to work his way into starting rotation
PHOENIX -- Kyle Lohse was immediately popular in his new clubhouse. Brewers pitchers went out to dinner Tuesday at Scottsdale's City Hall Steakhouse, and Lohse picked up the tab.
"It's been a crazy two, three days," said Lohse, the veteran right-hander who signed a three-year, $33 million contract on Monday. "You're talking about family stuff, too, finding a place to live. … But I got to know some of the guys last night and paid my dues for being late."
By that time, he had already gone to work for his new employer. Lohse said a Tuesday bullpen went well, that he was eager to face Major League hitters for the first time on Thursday against the Rockies and that he is hoping to be in the Brewers' five-man pitching rotation right from the start of the season. That's a possibility, according to both manager Ron Roenicke and pitching coach Rick Kranitz.
The plan will hinge on whether Lohse looks ready against the Rockies. He reached 95 pitches in a simulated game before signing with the Brewers, but he will probably be limited to 50-60 pitches on Thursday.
For now, the Brewers still plan to start Yovani Gallardo, Marco Estrada and Wily Peralta in the season-opening series, which is also against the Rockies at Miller Park. That could change, Roenicke said, but Lohse spoke Wednesday about sliding into the rotation during the next series, also at home, against Arizona.
Roenicke said the team had mapped out several options, but he declined to offer specifics.
"The worst thing that we can do is to overextend him, and then you're constantly fighting an uphill battle to get him back in his regular rhythm," Kranitz said. "We have to be smart about this. It's all going to depend on [Thursday] and how he feels, how he throws, and, even moreso, how he bounces back the days after."
Lohse understood the club exercising caution, but he has an aggressive timetable in mind.
"Until they see it, I have to gain that confidence," Lohse said. "My plan is to be in that first time through. I know they can get by without that, but in all honesty, I'm ready. I'm going to enjoy getting out there [Thursday] and facing the big league guys rather than the college guys I had been facing."
The Brewers did not scout Lohse's most recent outing against Scottsdale Community College, so they got their first look on Tuesday. Kranitz liked what he saw.
"He was as advertised," Kranitz said. "Strikes with four pitches, moves the ball around, has an idea what he's doing. Now, we'll see."
Hart, Bianchi headed to 15-day disabled list
PHOENIX -- The Brewers placed first baseman Corey Hart and infielder Jeff Bianchi on the 15-day disabled list on Wednesday in a pair of expected moves.
For Hart, who is still in the middle stages of his recovery from right knee surgery, the 15-day designation was significant. Club officials had also considered freeing a spot on the full 40-man roster by assigning Hart to the 60-day DL instead, which would have delayed a potential return until very late May. From the 15-day DL, Hart can return sooner if he is ready.
He has a long way to go. Hart has been working out on an elliptical machine, but has yet to begin running.
"The thing right now is getting strong," Hart said. "The quad doesn't want to fire. The knee feels strong, but every time I try to do something, it's like I have to tell my legs to do it."
Bianchi would have made the Opening Day roster as a utility man if not for nagging groin and hip injuries that limited him to one game after March 2. The Brewers termed his latest ailment left hip bursitis and backdated his DL assignment to March 22.
"He's probably going to be a while," assistant general manager Gord Ash said.
The latest moves gave the Brewers five players ticketed for the Opening Day DL: Hart, Bianchi, first baseman Mat Gamel (knee surgery), infielder Taylor Green (hip labrum injury) and right-hander Mark Rogers (shoulder instability). Green is expected to be the first to come off that list.
Rogers 'on board' with placement on DL
PHOENIX -- Right-hander Mark Rogers said he was "on board for sure" with the Brewers' decision to place him on the disabled list, giving Rogers some time to reclaim his missing velocity.
He met with assistant general manager Gord Ash and members of Milwaukee's athletic training staff on Wednesday morning to set what Ash called "a very specific plan" for the next two weeks.
"Like we talked about before, I'm extremely confident my velocity will be back sooner rather than later," Rogers said. "It's just a matter of continuing to get stronger and allowing myself the time to get there. I'm feeling better every day. I'm excited to have the opportunity to get stronger, and hopefully be back with the club when the 15 days are up. I just have to listen to my arm."
Rogers, whose bid for the Opening Day roster was scuttled by his diminished velocity, will remain at Maryvale Baseball Park when the rest of the team departs Thursday. Once he's ready to pitch, the Brewers can keep Rogers on a rehab assignment for up to 30 days.
He is out of Minor League options, so the Brewers would have to bring Rogers to the big leagues at the end of his DL stint or expose him to waivers.
"I want to get to 100 percent," Rogers said. "I'm not going do myself any justice, or the club any justice, if I pitch at less than 100 percent. That's what the goal is for the next couple of weeks."
• With Lohse pitching against the Rockies on Thursday, right-hander Marco Estrada will work in a Minor League game instead. That works out well, because Estrada is lined up to start the second game of the regular season, also against Colorado, and the Brewers prefer not to "show" him so close to a real game. Closer John Axford will also get work in Minor League camp for the same reason.
• All 28 players still active in big league camp, plus some others, will make the trip to Milwaukee on Thursday for the Brewers' weekend exhibitions against the White Sox. Some of those players, including catcher Anderson De La Rosa, have already been informed they will not make the Opening Day roster.
• Minor League coach Al LeBoeuf, who shared his story of perseverance to MLB.com earlier in camp, achieved a personal milestone on Wednesday morning. Struck by a form of blood cancer last year that caused his legs to go numb from the knees down, he walked from his hotel room to the elevator to the lobby on only one crutch.
"That was my goal and I actually did it today for the first time, and I was really excited," LeBoeuf said. "I know some people have said I've been an inspiration to them, but believe me when I tell you, they've been an inspiration to me."
LeBoeuf will take a leave of absence at the start of the season to undergo a stem cell transplant, a previously-planned procedure that is part of his road to recovery. He is aiming to be back on the field by July.