MILWAUKEE -- The Brewers were missing the heart of their batting order on Sunday, though left fielder Ryan Braun nearly made his presence felt off the bench.Braun missed the start with a strained right Achilles and third baseman Aramis Ramirez was out with a strained left quadriceps, the first time this season that the Brewers' 3-4 hitters missed the same start. With catcher Jonathan Lucroy on the disabled list with a fractured hand, the Brewers played without their top three run producers. But Braun nearly gave the Brewers a spark, igniting the Miller Park crowd when he pinch-hit in the eighth inning with two runners on, two outs and his team down a run. Braun hit Pirates reliever Jason Grilli's first pitch to the right-field warning track, only a few feet shy of a go-ahead home run, and the Brewers went on to lose, 6-5. "I knew I hit it on the barrel and it had a chance, but I didn't think it was going to get out," Braun said. From the on-deck circle, teammate Brooks Conrad saw differently. "I thought he had it, I really did," Conrad said. The Brewers hope to get more than one at-bat out of Braun and Ramirez on Tuesday, when the team returns to action against the Cubs. Manager Ron Roenicke said decisions would not be made until Tuesday afternoon. Asked whether he might be back in the lineup that day, Braun said, "I hope so." Ramirez was asked the same question. "I should be good for Tuesday," he said. Roenicke would welcome both hitters' return. Sunday's lineup -- different for the 18th consecutive game -- was the most difficult to set this season, Roenicke said. "It's been a weird season so far," he said. "But I still think, with the pitching staff and whoever we put out there -- just like [Sunday]. We've done a lineup similar to this before, and we scored 16 runs so it's hard to predict what's going to happen." Ramirez was hurt in Saturday's 5-1 win legging out a double. Braun has been bothered by a tight right Achilles since May 1. Trying to protect his Achilles, Braun slid awkwardly on Friday, re-injured the Achilles and also agitated his right hip.
Hart continues to impress with durability
MILWAUKEE -- The Brewers spent Spring Training concerned about the Opening Day status of Corey Hart and his surgically-repaired right knee.Turns out they were worried about the wrong guy. As of Sunday, Hart was the Brewers' only Opening Day position player who had not missed a regular-season game with an injury. First baseman Mat Gamel and shortstop Alex Gonzalez were lost for the season to knee injuries. Catcher Jonathan Lucroy is out six weeks with a fractured hand. Center fielder Carlos Gomez spent two weeks on the disabled list in May with a strained hamstring. Second baseman Rickie Weeks missed a few days after being struck on the left hand by a pitch. And left fielder Ryan Braun (Achilles) and third baseman Aramis Ramirez (quadriceps) were both out of the lineup Sunday with ailments the Brewers believe will be short-term setbacks. Hart, meanwhile, has had two days off, both simply to rest. He made his 52nd start on Sunday. "The knee hasn't been a problem for a while," said Hart, who had surgery March 6 to repair a torn meniscus. "I've had some aches, and the colder weather days were worse. But we got off to such a rough start with injuries that it never really came into play." In other words, he has not had the luxury of taking days off. The Brewers have needed his bat. "I think I started a trend in Spring Training, a bad trend," Hart said. "It's been very unfortunate here so far, [but] guys have been stepping up."
Estrada nearing return to mound
MILWAUKEE -- Brewers right-hander Marco Estrada expects to throw off a bullpen mound on Tuesday, a big step in his comeback from a right quadriceps injury."I wanted to do it today, but they told me no," said Estrada, who is eligible for reinstatement beginning Friday, but will need more time to rebuild strength. "I get it, but I want to get out there, already ... Hopefully, I just throw a 'pen or two and then head on out." He expects to make at least one Minor League rehabilitation appearance. Estrada played long toss with no restrictions for the first time on Saturday and said the leg he injured legging out a double on May 23 feels great. But Brewers manager Ron Roenicke expressed a much more cautious outlook. "I think at the beginning this is what the number they said -- a month -- but he was coming along quicker, so in my mind I was thinking, 'OK,' and we're looking at the schedule and where we can skip a start," Roenicke said. "We were thinking maybe it would only be two starts, but it's going to be a while." Twenty-six-year-old call-up Mike Fiers made his second start in Estrada's spot on Sunday.
Conrad and Ransom happy to share big days
MILWAUKEE -- When Brewers infielder Brooks Conrad belted a two-run homer on Saturday to break his 0-for-27 start with the team, he had a familiar face waiting for him at home plate.
Conrad and fellow infielder Cody Ransom were previously teammates for two years with Triple-A Round Rock in 2006 and 2007. They roomed together on the road and now both live in Gilbert, Ariz.
The two have developed a close friendship, so after Ransom singled and Conrad followed with the home run, he was greeted with a handshake and a message.
"He just said, 'It's about time,'" Conrad said laughing. "He was razzing me a little bit about not having a hit yet, so it was good."
Conrad first was called up from Triple-A in early May after first baseman Mat Gamel went down with a season-ending ACL injury. Ransom, meanwhile, was claimed off waivers on May 23, and Conrad said it has been fun reuniting.
With Conrad registering a sacrifice fly in the second inning and Ransom driving in two runs on a single, the duo combined for all five Milwaukee RBIs on Saturday.
"With some injuries and things like that going on, this is a time where the bench players need to step up and get the job done here," Conrad said. "So that was a big win for us yesterday."
Conrad and Ransom were in the Round Rock lineup on June 25, 2007, when then-Brewers prospect and current Brewers reliever Manny Parra pitched a perfect game for Triple-A Nashville.
Adam McCalvy is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Brew Beat, and follow him on Twitter at @AdamMcCalvy. Jeremy Warnemuende is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.