SAN FRANCISCO -- Two months after trading for his power bat, the Brewers remain open-minded about Juan Francisco's glove work at first base and whether he fits the team's plans for next season.
Francisco's run-scoring error on a potential double-play ball Monday night was his eighth error at first base, where he has played only 42 games and started 38. Before a trade sent him from Atlanta to Milwaukee on June 3, Francisco, a third baseman by trade, had never played first in the Major Leagues.
"I think it's just a guy who hasn't played there before," said Brewers first-base coach and infield instructor Garth Iorg. "He's got good hands, a good arm. At third base, you're used to having everything in front of you. At first, all of a sudden it's at your back. There is a [learning] curve to it."
He added: "It could work with time."
Francisco, 26, figures to be among several players in consideration for the Brewers' first-base job in 2014. If the Brewers let Corey Hart exit via free agency (he will miss all of this season after two knee surgeries), the in-house options other than Francisco include Mat Gamel, who has torn his ACL in each of the past two seasons, and prospect Hunter Morris, who hit his 22nd home run for Triple-A Nashville on Tuesday.
"[Francisco] has got some work to do, there's no question," manager Ron Roenicke said. "He has to be more consistent at the plate. When you hit a home run or a nice base hit, are you doing it with people in scoring position or are you doing it only when nobody's on base?
"The first-base part, he needs to catch balls. When there are plays that he should make, he needs to make the plays. We're not asking him to make super plays. That's going to get better the more comfortable he becomes."
At the plate, Francisco has appeared more comfortable. His home run Monday night was his 10th as a Brewer.
"That's why he keeps having people look at him and remain interested in him," Roenicke said. "If he ever does refine what he's doing and makes more contact, then you have something."
Estrada returns early to fight for starting job
SAN FRANCISCO -- Right-hander Marco Estrada expected to spend two weeks on the disabled list with the left hamstring strain that struck in June. Two months later, he is finally ready to pitch.
Estrada will be activated from the DL to start for the Brewers against the Giants on Wednesday night in place of Tom Gorzelanny, who is dealing with the effects of a bruised elbow. Estrada's pitch count will be limited because he only made two Minor League rehabilitation starts, throwing 47 pitches in his most recent outing for Triple-A Nashville.
Infielder Scooter Gennett was optioned to Nashville after Tuesday's 3-1 victory in San Francisco to open a roster spot.
What is at stake for Estrada in what remains of the regular season?
"My job," he said after arriving at AT&T Park on Tuesday afternoon. "I mean, I don't see why it wouldn't be. It's been two months since I've pitched. I've got to show them I can still do it. I've been keeping up with guys and I see that everyone is pitching really well now. Obviously I've got to fight for my job, and hopefully, they like what they see."
The Brewers liked Estrada so much in 2012, when he posted a 3.64 ERA in 29 appearances (23 starts) that they lined him up to pitch the second game of 2013. But he pitched to a 5.32 ERA in his first 12 starts before suffering a strained hamstring in a June 3 start against the A's.
His role for 2014 is up in the air. Estrada is earning $1.955 million this season and will be arbitration-eligible for the second time.
"It's important for him to finish up well," Brewers manager Ron Roenicke said. "We know he can also go to the bullpen, but it's important for him to finish up well if he wants to continue starting, to show us what he did last year. It's different this year. I don't know why, but it's different."
Estrada is used to fighting for his job. Before this past spring, he had never been assured a spot in a professional starting rotation.
"I've been dealing with it my entire life," Estrada said. "Last year was probably the first time I felt like I was going to be OK [in terms of having a roster spot], and even this season I felt like I was going to be OK. But with this injury now, you start thinking about it. I'm trying not to think about it too much, but it's there. I know I've got to come out and do my job, and if they don't think I'm ready then who knows what's going to happen? But hopefully I show them that I'm ready to pitch here and hopefully they'll want me here."
Estrada's return from the DL was delayed by back tightness, but on Tuesday he declared himself fit to pitch. He was supposed to make one more Triple-A start Wednesday, but the Brewers accelerated the schedule in the wake of Gorzelanny's injury.
Gorzelanny will rejoin the rotation when he is ready, Roenicke said, instead of going back to the bullpen. Gorzelanny is scheduled to throw a bullpen session Wednesday, and the result will dictate where he is slotted back into the rotation, probably at Donovan Hand's or Tyler Thornburg's expense.
"I think [Gorzelanny] is a possibility for next year, and the more we see of him right now, it's easier for us to make a decision on next year," Roenicke said.
• After fielding ground balls Tuesday in a test of his healing left knee, third baseman Aramis Ramirez remained on track to return to action, probably as the designated hitter, this weekend in Seattle. Ramirez ran the bases Monday and will repeat that exercise Wednesday, Roenicke said.
• Roenicke met Tuesday with struggling reliever John Axford and discussed a modified role. Axford had either surrendered a run of his own or allowed an inherited runner to score in six straight outings through Monday's loss to the Giants.
"I think I'll back off when I can, and then when it's a situation I need him to be in there, he'll be in there," Roenicke said. "I had a discussion with him today, and we're just trying to figure out some different ways to get him back to where I think he should be."