HOUSTON -- Juan Francisco suddenly leads the Brewers in well-struck baseballs, a good sign for a team hoping to reap his power this summer.
Francisco, acquired in a June 3 trade with the Braves, had three hits in Tuesday's loss to the Astros, equaling his hit total from his first 11 games with Milwaukee. Just as encouraging was the nature of those hits -- a triple to center field in the third inning, a single off the tall left field wall in the fourth and a sharp infield single in the ninth.
Two days earlier in Cincinnati, Francisco was 0-for-4 with two "loud" lineouts. The day before that, he had three RBIs, including his first Brewers home run.
"Finally, with the help of a couple of teammates and the coaching staff, I've started getting better and better," Francisco said, with catcher Martin Maldonado interpreting. "I'm trying to swing at strikes, stay more focused on the strike zone and put the ball in play.
"I know I have power, but I know I can hit the ball on a line, put a good swing on the ball, it can go out. I'm more focused on line drives."
Francisco has been "great" at first base, according to infield coach Garth Iorg, a position Francisco had never played in the Major Leagues before his Brewers debut. If he continues to hit for the power Brewers officials expect him to, he could give the Brewers an option at that position or his natural spot, third base, where Aramis Ramirez has been playing on a bum knee.
If Ramirez becomes trade bait nearer the non-waiver Trade Deadline, Francisco is a potential replacement.
"Hopefully, whether it's that he's relaxing or just more comfortable and confident, whatever the case, we see the guy that we hoped we'd get when we brought him over here," manager Ron Roenicke said. "He's an intriguing guy. He's got some really ridiculous power. If we can just smooth out some of the things with his mechanics, he's a nice fit."
Amazing catch on Tal's Hill not Gomez's favorite
HOUSTON -- Kneeling on the mound of turf known as Tal's Hill and holding the baseball high in the air, the look on Carlos Gomez's face said it all: Wow.
Gomez made one of the Brewers' finest defensive efforts of the season in the seventh inning of Tuesday's loss to the Astros. Manning center field, Gomez sprinted straight back for a Jason Castro fly ball, scaled the hill named for former Astros executive Tal Smith and made an over-the-shoulder catch for the first out of the inning.
"I worked on it [in batting practice]. I got a few balls like that in center field kind of like that, and I dropped them," Gomez said. "It was good practice."
Gomez said he'd made a similar catch before, in Johnson City, Tenn., home of the Cardinals' rookie league team. That hill has since been removed.
Was it the best catch of Gomez's career? No, he said. He would pick one of his home run-robbing grabs, because they more directly affected the ballgames.
But considering the degree of difficulty, the fact Gomez made the catch about 430 feet from home plate on a hill bearing a flagpole, this one was pretty good.
"Like Jason said, 'I can't hit a ball any better than that. The only way I could hit it any better is if the pitcher threw it harder,'" Astros manager Bo Porter said. "You tip your cap because it was a great play by Gomez."
Aoki heads home for birth of son; Prince called up
HOUSTON -- The Brewers placed right fielder Norichika Aoki on the paternity list and sent him back to Milwaukee on Wednesday after his wife, Sachi, began having early signs of labor.
Aoki traveled home to be by her side for the birth of the couple's second child, and their first son. Utility man Josh Prince was hastily summoned from Triple-A Nashville to take Aoki's place, and, assuming no complications, Aoki is expected to be back in action on Friday night at Miller Park.
"For me, personally, it's really important that a player is there," Brewers manager Ron Roencike said. "I know it's difficult when we go on the road, depending on where we are and the flights getting back. If your wife goes into labor and it's a quick labor, you may not be there for it. I really don't want that to happen [for Aoki].
"I think your family life is so important to you and how you grow as a family in the future, but I also think if you're happy in that area, if you're good in that area, you're going to play well, too. So I think any time we can do things for the players to make it easier for their families, then we try to do it."
Major League Baseball added the paternity leave list in 2011. A player added to the list must miss at least one game and as many as three.
Prince, who was previously with the Brewers from April 6-May 2, was lucky that he forgot to switch his phone to vibrate on Tuesday night, because it rang in Des Moines, Iowa at 8:30 a.m. CT Wednesday with a call back to the big leagues. During a quick layover at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport, he received a text message indicating he was in line for his first Major League start.
He arrived at Minute Maid Park about 20 minutes before the team stretched for batting practice and hurriedly prepared for his latest Major League milestone.
"It is kind of hectic," Prince said. "I think once I get out there for BP it will all slow back down and be a normal day, a normal routine. I'm just in a rush to get out there."
Prince is one of the six Brewers to have made his Major League debut this season. For his first MLB start -- Prince was the left fielder -- he had about 30 family members in the stands who made the drive of less than two hours down Interstate 10 from Prince's hometown in St. Charles, La. The group included his parents, his brothers and his grandmother, whom Prince affectionately calls, "Smurf." "I'm just very appreciative to be here and get the opportunity to play the game that I love," Prince said.
• Roenicke said right-hander Marco Estrada's rehab start had been pushed back a few days at the request of head team physician William Raasch. Estrada, recovering from a left hamstring strain, will throw another bullpen session before an assignment to a Minor League affiliate, Roenicke said.
• Another rehabbing pitcher, Chris Narveson, worked five-plus innings for Triple-A Nashville in Game 1 of a doubleheader on Wednesday, allowing two runs on four hits with a walk and two strikeouts. He threw 80 pitches. The next step could be a return to the Brewers' bullpen or starting rotation.