MIL@SD: Estrada fans three over 6 1/3 solid innings

CINCINNATI -- The Brewers re-aligned their pitching rotation for the start of a long road trip, slotting Hiram Burgos back into the mix for Saturday's game against the Reds and bumping Marco Estrada two days -- from Saturday in Cincinnati to Monday in Pittsburgh.

This was mostly about Estrada, who has surrendered 13 earned runs and four home runs in 8 1/3 innings over his last two starts, including a rough outing against the Cardinals last Sunday in which he issued a career-high five walks and surrendered nearly as many earned runs (eight) as he recorded outs (10). Estrada said after that game he felt "lost" on the mound.

"I would say if it could have worked out where we could have completely missed a start with him, we would have thought about doing that," manager Ron Roenicke said. "Where we can just try to regroup and see if we can get some things back, a couple of bullpens with [pitching coach Rick Kranitz]. We're just trying to figure how to best get him back the way he was."

The schedule did not allow the Brewers to skip Estrada. Friday marked the first of 13 consecutive game days.

Did they consider bringing in another starter to give Estrada a break?

"No, we didn't talk about that, and hopefully it doesn't get to that," Roenicke said. "We all know what he's like when he's pitching well. All of us would like to see, somehow, how he we get him back to that point. He feels fine."

Asked for his thoughts, Estrada said simply, "They just thought it would be best to give me two extra days."

As a result of the move, Estrada will make four consecutive starts against the Pirates and Cardinals, but will miss the Reds and cozy Great American Ball Park. Instead, his next start will be at spacious PNC Park, where Estrada has allowed only two runs on 10 hits in 14 innings in two previous starts.

But Estrada will then have to pitch against the Cardinals, whom he would have missed in the original alignment. He is 0-4 with a 6.59 ERA against St. Louis, with a .311 opponents' average.

As for Burgos, who had been skipped in the rotation because of two team off-days in the span of four days, he will take the mound on Saturday having gone nine days between starts. He reported to Miller Park at about 2 p.m. CT on Thursday to throw a bullpen session, and said the long layoff would be no big deal.

"I had to do it because the team needed it, and I was fine with that," Burgos said. "I stayed in the bullpen for the series with the Texas Rangers, and yesterday on the day off I threw a bullpen. I was still on the mound. I did my workouts. My arm feels good. Whenever I get the chance to pitch, I have to do my job."

Dealing with the abnormal schedule, Burgos said, "is more mental. I'm ready to pitch. Like I always say, I want the ball."

Road trip to test Aramis' knee

TEX@MIL: Aramis lines an RBI double to plate Braun

CINCINNATI -- Brewers third baseman Aramis Ramirez said he is feeling good since returning from a month-long stint on the disabled list, and he's looked good, too, going 6-for-10 with a home run and two RBIs in his first four games. On Wednesday against the Rangers, he played all nine innings for the first time since getting hurt.

Now comes a stiff test for Ramirez's still-improving left knee: Thirteen games scheduled for as many days.

"We'll wait and see with it, but I talked to him, and he won't be playing nine innings for [13] straight," manager Ron Roenicke said. "What I wanted to do was have a tentative plan with him and then adjust."

That plan remained in-house, but so far, the returns look promising. Ramirez missed a month with a sprained knee and returned to the lineup last week without a Minor League rehab assignment.

"I prepared myself for that," Ramirez said. "I did a lot of cage work, tried to simulate the game as much as possible, and it paid off. If you prepare yourself and keep yourself in shape, you should be able to do that."

The one thing no hitter can prepare for, short of going on a rehab assignment, is seeing live pitching for the first time after a long layoff. Yet Roenicke saw only one poor at-bat in Ramirez's first four games back: A fourth-inning strikeout against Rangers right-hander Justin Grimm with the bases loaded on Wednesday.

"That's the hard part -- live pitching," Ramirez said. "You go out there and battle. My first few at-bats, even though I got a few hits, I wasn't comfortable. But I still tried to go out there and battle."

Ramirez played six innings in each of his first two games off the DL, then played eight innings on Tuesday and all nine the next night against the Rangers. He called the team's current 10-game road trip to Cincinnati, Pittsburgh and St. Louis a big one, and said he would like to play full games on a more regular basis.

"If the game is close, yeah," Ramirez said. "If the game is out of line -- if we're losing by a lot, winning by a lot -- it makes no sense for me to play nine innings. We'll see how it goes. I don't like to get too far ahead of myself. If I feel good, I'll be out there."

Last call

• Brewers right fielder Norichika Aoki led off Friday's game with his 11th infield hit this season, tops in the Majors. He entered the day tied for the lead with the man hitting behind him, shortstop Jean Segura.

• It has not escaped Roenicke's notice that most of the Brewers' World Baseball Classic participants are off to subpar starts, including reliever John Axford (Canada), starters Yovani Gallardo and Estrada (both from Mexico) and catchers Jonathan Lucroy (U.S.) and Martin Maldonado (Puerto Rico).

Lucroy played a reserve role for the U.S. and was limited to five at-bats in the tournament. He has not found a comfort zone at the plate since returning and entered Friday batting .224.

"I've had some conversations with him and he's disappointed in what he's doing, but I think he'll get it going," Roenicke said. "I really think this guy is a good hitter. He's one of those guys that will get through this part and will be a consistent, good hitter throughout his career. [Right now] he'll have a good at-bat, and then three so-so at-bats. He's trying to figure out what it is he's not able to reproduce all of the time."