MILWAUKEE -- Right-hander Marco Estrada moved closer Sunday to a Minor League rehabilitation assignment, and the Brewers are planning to return him to the starting rotation, not the bullpen, when he's ready.
Estrada, on the disabled list with a right quad strain, threw a bullpen session on Sunday morning and is slated for a simulated game early Tuesday afternoon at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City. After another bullpen, he could then be cleared for a rehab start on Saturday, perhaps with one of the Brewers' Class A clubs, so Estrada would not have to bat. The Brewers think he'll need two Minor League starts.
"He's doing pretty good," manager Ron Roenicke said. "He still can't run 100 percent when he's running straight out, but in bullpens, he doesn't feel it at all."
Estrada started the season in relief, but moved to a starting role after left-hander Chris Narveson suffered a season-ending shoulder injury. Estrada was hurt himself on May 23, when he strained his right quadriceps legging out a double in a Brewers win over the Giants.
Right-hander Mike Fiers made his third start in Estrada's place on Saturday, losing to the Padres. Fiers will make at least one more start, Roenicke said, probably Saturday at Minnesota.
After that, the Brewers won't require a fifth starter until June 26 at Cincinnati. That date perfectly coincides with Estrada's projected return, assuming he is ready after two rehab starts.
"If Marco isn't ready, then Fiers will go longer than that," Roenicke said.
Tony Plush more elusive this season than last
MILWAUKEE -- Tony Plush made a rare appearance at Miller Park on Sunday -- 5,000 appearances, actually.
It was Nyjer Morgan's bobblehead day, and a sellout crowd received figurines of the outgoing outfielder who took Milwaukee by storm in 2011 by batting .304 and driving up TV ratings with appearances by Plush, Morgan's outspoken alter ego. A select 5,000 of the figures distributed on Sunday depicted Plush, making a "T" with his arms.
But T. Plush has been elusive this season, mostly because Morgan has not had much to celebrate. He was batting .230 entering Sunday's series finale with the Padres after what he calls a "chilly" start.
"It's there. I guess when you go with the slow start that I had, you want to pick it up before you bring [Plush] out and start doing all the antics," Morgan said. "You still have to respect the game, and, plus, you don't want to rub people the wrong way."
It may also be a function of the team. Last year's "Beast Mode" Brewers, who demonstratively celebrated big hits on the bases, are gone, and so is their most fiery player, Prince Fielder. This year's club is quieter, and also struggling to the tune of a 27-32 record as of Sunday morning.
"It's still a great group of guys here. I can't really pinpoint it," Morgan said. "I just think because it's a new crowd, we have to understand each other more and more as we work together."
Personally, Morgan has picked things up lately, "slowly chipping away," he said, by hitting .304 over his last 10 games before Sunday. After going without an RBI in his first 138 plate appearances, a Major League record, Morgan drove in a run with a solo homer on June 1 against the Pirates, one of his former teams. He went deep again two days later.
But Morgan was not in Milwaukee's starting lineup Sunday. Norichika Aoki, riding a hot streak, started in center field, and manager Ron Roenicke put Corey Hart in right field and Taylor Green at first base, preferring Green's power potential in the five-hole. Had Roenicke started Hart at first base and Morgan in right, he would have had second baseman Rickie Weeks hitting fifth and Morgan sixth.
"I respect the manager's decision to do whatever he has to do to win," Morgan said. "It's all about winning. ... As an older player now, I understand the situation."
Morgan says he learned that lesson from Nationals manager Jim Riggleman, who mixed and matched outfielders in 2010, the year before Washington traded Morgan to Milwaukee.
Roenicke has had a number of conversations with Morgan about channeling his inner T. Plush in a positive way.
"The spark he gives us is really important to this club," Roenicke said. "But he wants to make sure it's always on the positive end. In that way, I think he's matured. He's gone through a tough season this year. Last year, he came out and things were great from the get-go. This year, he's going through a trial here, where, really, your character is tested and the emotions are tested. I think he's done a real nice job with it."
Morgan counted the bobblehead day as an honor. The Brewers gave him 100 to distribute to friends and family.
"It's cool for the fans, too," he said. "Personally, it's just a lot of hard work to get to this moment. I'm embracing it. Words don't explain just how I feel."
• Manager Ron Roenicke is convinced that Zack Greinke will not be distracted in his return to Kansas City on Tuesday. Greinke is slated to start the opener of the Brewers-Royals Interleague Series.
"I think as much as he puts in to preparation for that start and the team that he's facing, he's so 'business' when he goes about this that I don't think it's going to affect him that much," Roenicke said. "Sure, he's going to be amped, maybe a little bit more, but I think he liked it [in Kansas City], he was comfortable there and he knows what he needs to do in every start. I expect him to be pretty much the same guy."
• Brewers pitching prospect Tyler Thornburg was ejected Saturday for the second time in three starts for Double-A Huntsville after his involvement in a brawl with Mobile. It started when Thornburg hit Mobile batter Alfredo Marte for the second time in the game in the fifth inning. Marte charged the mound, where, according to the Mobile Press-Register, Thornburg ducked under a punch and wrestled Marte to the ground. Five players were ejected.
Thornburg was also ejected on May 30 after arguing an umpire's call from the dugout.
Thornburg won that game, but was not as fortunate on Saturday, taking his first loss of the season after allowing six runs, four earned, in 4 2/3 innings. Thornburg is 8-1 with a 3.00 ERA in 13 starts for the Sounds this season.