PHOENIX -- Brewers first baseman Corey Hart was cleared to begin intensifying his rehabilitation from right knee surgery after an MRI scan on Friday showed sufficient healing in the joint.
Hart has proven a quick healer in the past, but manager Ron Roenicke said the club would continue to operate under the original four-month timetable for Hart's return, a path that would put him back in the Brewers' lineup in late May.
"If he heals faster, great," Roenicke said.
Hart had surgery on Jan. 25 to repair torn cartilage and address an imperfection in his knee joint, a process in which the surgeon induced bleeding to promote bone healing. Friday's MRI scan was intended to examine whether a depression in Hart's knee had filled in.
Even with this bit of good news, Hart is still some weeks away from baseball activity.
"They liked what they saw. Corey is off crutches and can drive again, so he's a happy camper," Roenicke said.
Roenicke also received a positive report Friday about the team's other injured first baseman, Mat Gamel, who underwent successful surgery earlier in the day for a torn ACL. Gamel had a similar procedure last May and missed the final five months of the season; he'll miss all of 2013.
Gonzalez knows playing first isn't easy
PHOENIX -- Every fan seems to have an easy answer for the Brewers' vacancy at first base. Some say they should move Logan Schafer in from the outfield. Some want Cactus League Most Valuable Player candidate Khris Davis. Most believe first base is easy and anyone should be able to play it.
Well, Alex Gonzalez has a response:
"It's not easy," he said.
Gonzalez is one of baseball's greatest defensive players, a career shortstop who is trying his hand at first base this spring, while Corey Hart works back from right knee surgery. At the moment, Gonzalez is far and away the Brewers' most likely internal solution, perhaps in a righty-lefty platoon with Taylor Green.
Gonzalez says the key to learning a new position is to relax and have fun. So, is he having fun?
"After as many years playing shortstop, going to first, it's kind of..." he said, trailing off into a long pause.
Gonzalez thought about it for a moment.
"I don't know what I want to say," he said. "It's not real fun to play first for me. I've tried to make adjustments, be relaxed at first and let the thing happen."
It makes sense for Gonzalez to accept the move, however hesitantly, because it is his clearest way into the lineup. The Brewers remain committed to 22-year-old Jean Segura at shortstop, the only position Gonzalez has played in his 1,559 regular season Major League games.
"The time comes where I will feel comfortable there," Gonzalez said. "But right now, I'm learning how to play, all the kind of stuff [you need to know] to play first. ... I go out there every day and try to 'get it.'"
Manager Ron Roenicke knows well the challenges associated with such a move. He was a natural outfielder who played first base 81 times in the Minor Leagues and eight times in the Majors.
"Just knowing where to be when balls are hit," Roenicke said of those challenges. "Ground balls, that's easy. Picking balls out of the dirt, that's easy. And when I say that, I mean you either have good hands or you don't. For Alex, with his hands, that part's easy for him.
"But it's the positioning. Say there's a guy on second base, and you're in a position where you're deep and there's a base hit to center field, and you have to fly in there and be a cutoff man. Or you're holding a runner on, and a ball is hit toward the second baseman -- do I come and get that ball, or is he going to get it, and I have to get back to the bag? Those take a while in games played to get comfortable where you are.
"That continues to get better as you play. What doesn't get better is, you either have the instincts or you don't. Alex has really good instincts."
Said Gonzalez: "I'm getting close. It's not easy, but with more time, it's more comfortable."
Escobar thinks he'll be ready to play this season
PHOENIX -- Veteran right-hander Kelvim Escobar has essentially hit the reset button on his comeback bid, but he said this week's setback will not scuttle his chance to win a job in the Brewers' bullpen.
Escobar said he felt fine in a bullpen session on Thursday, four days after he had to exit an outing against the Cubs with weakness in his right hand. Doctors told him the problem was related to a nerve that runs down his arm, and can be overcome with time and treatment.
"I'm pretty much ready, because I was pitching in Venezuela," he said. "And we still have three weeks left in Spring Training. That's enough to show them there is something left for me."
Escobar's 2/3-inning stint against the Cubs was his first official Spring Training appearance since 2009. He has not pitched in a Major League game since June 6 of that year because of ongoing shoulder injuries.
Manager Ron Roenicke said Escobar's next step was to be determined.