MILWAUKEE -- Reliever Francisco Rodriguez has secured his work visa and is expected to report to a Brewers Minor League affiliate next week to begin his comeback bid in earnest.
The Brewers brought back Rodriguez on a Minor League contract April 17 that gave the team 30 days to evaluate the 31-year-old right-hander and determine whether he could be a fit for their Major League bullpen. He had been pitching in extended spring training while awaiting his visa, and, with that hurdle cleared, will report next week to advanced Class A Brevard County, according to assistant general manager Gord Ash.
After three to five days there, Rodriguez could earn a promotion to Triple-A Nashville. By mid-May, the Brewers will have to decide whether to add Rodriguez to the Major League roster or offer him his release.
Ash stressed that it must be a good fit for both sides.
"He could be pitching extraordinarily well, and if we don't need him, we don't need him," Ash said. "And on the other hand, if we're pitching poorly and he's pitching poorly, then that doesn't make sense either. Once you add him, it's guaranteed. It's not like you can change your mind a week later and save the money."
Rodriguez would earn a prorated portion of a base salary just north of $2 million.
Rodriguez spent the last two years with the Brewers after collecting at least 20 saves in seven straight seasons with the Angels and Mets. He struck out 72 batters in 72 innings last year with a 4.38 ERA but faltered when offered an opportunity to close games in mid-July. The Brewers let Rodriguez depart via free agency after the season.
Back from injury, Bianchi embraces utility role
MILWAUKEE -- Jeff Bianchi's arrival Thursday briefly gave the Brewers five -- count 'em, five -- shortstops on the 25-man roster.
Bianchi, Yuniesky Betancourt, Alex Gonzalez, Josh Prince and Jean Segura have all manned shortstop this season, Bianchi and Prince in the Minors and the others for the big league Brewers.
Segura, 23, is the Brewers' present and future at the position, so he is playing there every day. Prince was optioned back to Triple-A Nashville on Thursday night to clear the way for third baseman Aramis Ramirez's return from the disabled list. The others are proving their versatility elsewhere, including Bianchi, who was activated from the disabled list Thursday afternoon and will serve as a utility man.
"I'm ready to help contribute in any way possible," he said.
It could mean playing the outfield in a pinch. Bianchi made his first career appearance in left field Wednesday night for Triple-A Nashville in Oklahoma City.
"No fly balls," Bianchi said. "Last night was a good night not to get any. The wind was swirling really bad, 20-30 mph. But I've been getting reads out there [during batting practice] all the time, going back to last year. I was definitely ready."
His Major League season debut has been a long time coming. Bianchi was a day away from joining Team Italy for the World Baseball Classic when he sustained a groin injury during a March 2 exhibition against the Angels. That injury led to bursitis of his left hip and a season-opening stint on the 15-day disabled list.
After a rehab assignment that took him to Double-A Huntsville and Triple-A Nashville, Bianchi was ready for the Majors by Thursday. He took a roster spot vacated the day before by outfield prospect Khris Davis, who was sent to play every day in Nashville.
"At this point, I'm feeling good," he said. "I feel really good to be back."
Roenicke: No set eighth-inning man for now
MILWAUKEE -- A day after John Axford surrendered his sixth home run of the young season and received his third loss, Brewers manager Ron Roenicke said matchups would determine his eighth-inning strategy in the days to come.
"Right now, [Jim] Henderson will be the closer," Roenicke said, "but the other guys, we'll look at the lineups. What worked really well is when we figured out what lineup for Ax, what lineup fit the left-handers [Michael] Gonzalez and [Tom] Gorzelanny, and do it that way.
"Whether it's the seventh, eighth [for Axford], I don't know for sure. It's probably easier on us, when we're looking at lineups, to do it that way. I know the players want to be in a role, but sometimes those hitters don't match up with what you're putting out there."
Axford was charged with four runs, three earned, Wednesday on four hits, including a tying, two-run home run to Starling Marte and three singles. One was a bloop hit that second baseman Rickie Weeks accidentally kicked farther into right field while the Pirates' go-ahead run scored. The Pirates then added an insurance run charged to Axford that scored after he left the game.
The outing represented an abrupt end to an eight-game stretch during which Axford posted a 1.23 ERA and a .192 opponents' average.
Roenicke did not consider his "eighth inning by committee" approach a significant change.
"I didn't talk to Ax about his pitching the eighth [in the first place]," Roenicke said. "I don't need to talk to him. He knows that somewhere there, later on when it matches up, that he's going to be available. We'll do that for a while and see how it goes. It was working well for a while, and I think it can work well."
• Ramirez, sidelined since April 5 by a sprained left knee, took another round of batting practice on Thursday and will be activated from the 15-day disabled list before the Brewers-Cardinals series continues Friday night. His bat will be a welcome addition to the lineup; the Brewers and Royals were the only Major League teams as of Thursday afternoon without a home run from a batter in the four-hole.
• Triple-A Nashville second baseman Scooter Gennett and Double-A Huntsville right-hander Jimmy Nelson were named the Brewers' Minor League player and pitcher of the month for April. Gennett, the Brewers' No. 6 prospect according to MLB.com, batted .403 for the month and reached safely in all 19 games in April, and he began May by extending that streak to 20. Nelson, the No. 8 prospect, was 3-0 with a 1.30 ERA in five starts while holding opponents to a .178 average.