MILWAUKEE -- Last season, the Brewers changed closers after one week. This season, they changed closers before the season's first pitch.
It was Francisco Rodriguez, not presumptive closer Jim Henderson, who logged the final three outs of Monday's 2-0 Opening Day win over the Braves for his 305th career save, a switch surprised a sellout crowd at Miller Park and some players on the field alike.
"I didn't know what was going on there," third baseman Aramis Ramirez said.
Brewers manager Ron Roenicke explained.
"We had a conversation about Henderson yesterday, and until we feel like he's throwing the way he can and was last year, we're going to put him in a role that we can give him a couple outings to get his stuff back and his confidence going," Roenicke said. "That's just a decision we had to make. I talked to him about it and I talked to Frankie today about closing. We feel good about it."
Henderson did not allow a run in any of his final four Spring Training appearances, but pitched with diminished velocity and "life," to the point Brewers officials were concerned. Rodriguez also had an uneven spring, missing time in March after he stepped barefoot on a cactus and then allowing at least a run in each of his final three outings.
Rodriguez pulled four more cactus spines from his foot on Sunday, but he is now pitching without pain, and while Roenicke indicated he would eventually like to restore Henderson to the role, Rodriguez is Milwaukee's closer until further notice.
"Definitely, I was surprised," Rodriguez said. "Especially [because] coming out of camp, 'Hondo' was supposed to be the guy who was throwing the ninth inning. At the same time, it's a challenge that I'm looking forward to."
Henderson took the news in stride.
"That's how it's going to start off, and we'll take another 162 games just like that [victory] today," Henderson said. "I'm a reasonable teammate and player, and I realize I didn't have a great spring. It was fine. Whatever is best for the team."
With Segura in lineup, Crew in good shape
MILWAUKEE -- Jean Segura shook off a sore shoulder to start on Opening Day for the Brewers, who managed to begin their season in remarkably good health.
The only player on the Opening Day disabled list was left-hander Tom Gorzelanny, who is still recovering from offseason shoulder surgery. The Brewers stayed mostly injury-free in Spring Training, save Francisco Rodriguez's unfortunate step on a cactus and Segura's sore shoulder.
"I like where we're at right now," Brewers manager Ron Roenicke said "Segura was the big question, whether we were going to be at full strength. With him feeling well and doing the things he did [Sunday], I feel good."
Segura tested his arm in throwing drills on Sunday afternoon and took six at-bats against Brewers right-hander Wily Peralta, who pitched a simulated game to tune up for his first regular-season start in Boston on Saturday.
When he took the field in the top of the first inning on Monday, it marked Segura's first action in a Major League game since March 18.
"I'm so happy I could make it back to the team," Segura said. "I don't want to miss any games."
Roenicke said he plans to ease Segura back into action, and the Brewers' schedule helps. After three games against the Braves, the team is off Thursday ahead of an Interleague series in Boston, where Segura could serve as designated hitter. The Brewers also have a day off next week during a three-game series at Philadelphia.
"He was pretty adamant about playing," Roenicke said. "He may not be 100 percent, but we always talk about, 'How much during a season is a player 100 percent?' He feels like that's where he is. This first week we'll manage him a little bit; probably won't play him every day. But if he hits better and he tells me, 'Hey, it's gone,' maybe I change my mind in what we're thinking. Every day it keeps getting better."
Off the field, Opening Day meant the end, for now, of discussions between the Brewers and Segura's agent about a contract extension. Segura had said several weeks ago that he did not want the matter to overlap with the regular season, and Brewers general manager Doug Melvin confirmed to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel on Monday morning that the sides had tabled talks.
Brewers confident in financial flexibility
MILWAUKEE -- The Brewers took the field Monday with the highest Opening Day payroll in franchise history, but they still have room to make in-season acquisitions, principal owner Mark Attanasio said.
The Brewers' internal payroll figure is higher than the $102,724,338 reported this week by USA Today, because the club budgets for bonuses, midseason callups and other costs. But used as a tool for comparison, the Brewers rank 15th of the 30 teams in spending on players and third in the National League Central, behind the Reds and Cardinals but ahead of the Pirates and Cubs.
"One of the benefits of being conservative fiscally all these years is we will always have flexibility to make moves," Attanasio said. "Maybe not the flexibility of the large-market deals, but if we're in contention at midseason and we need to add people, we will add people, for sure. [General manager] Doug [Melvin] often says the players dictate what we do."
Melvin made that point to the players when he addressed the team in Spring Training.
"I tell the players their performance will take our pulse as to whether or not we go out and get someone to continue a drive to postseason," Melvin said. "We leave it up to them. Their talents and performance will dictate that. I've been in a position before where you're a week before the Trade Deadline and you still don't know. You're always prepared, and Mark's always been there if we needed somebody -- we haven't been afraid to make trades."
By USA Today's standardized measure, third baseman Aramis Ramirez owns the team's highest salary at $15.1 million, followed by right-hander Matt Garza at $12.2 million and second baseman Rickie Weeks at $12 million.
Puppy love: Hank a big hit with Brewers fans
MILWAUKEE -- Monday marked Ryan Braun's comeback from last year's suspension, a trio of Wisconsin-born Olympians delivering ceremonial first pitches and the return of baseball after a brutal winter.
And yet it was a little white dog who garnered the biggest ovation on Opening Day in Milwaukee.
Hank, the pup who wandered into the Brewers' hearts at Maryvale Baseball Park at the start of Spring Training, made his Miller Park debut on Monday when he joined players streaming out of the clubhouse. Bernie Brewer accompanied Hank to home plate, then walked him down the right-field line and out of sight before Yovani Gallardo delivered the season's first pitch.
"It's always nice when an act of human kindness like that can make so many people feel so good," said Brewers principal owner Mark Attanasio. "Fortunately for Hank, I just saw him outside and he's gained about four pounds since he wandered into Maryvale. When you're 11 pounds and go to 15 pounds, that's a big percentage."
With bunting hanging all over the ballpark and a sellout crowd slowly filling the seats, Hank's appearance capped the run up to the 46th season in franchise history. Players were introduced along the foul lines, including five Brewers enjoying their first Major League Opening Day (Jeff Bianchi, Scooter Gennett, Will Smith, Tyler Thornburg and Wei-Chung Wang). Per tradition, Attanasio's father, Joseph, sang the national anthem. Sochi Olympians Matt Antoine of Prairie du Chien, Wis., Brianna Decker of Dousman and Jessica Vetter from Cottage Grove threw first pitches.
Then came Hank. Some fans in the stands were already wearing Hank T-shirts, which the Brewers have been selling at both Maryvale Baseball Park and Miller Park, with part of the proceeds going to the Arizona and Wisconsin Humane Societies.
"What we're trying to do, and it's a very hard balance, is share him and his feel-good story with everyone," Attanasio said. "Talk about redemption, you have this dog who was rolled by a car and barely 11 pounds and had two chipped teeth and a few other issues … now he's 15 pounds, we're still working on the teeth, but he's happy and barking now. He was very timid when he first came in. It's a good story for everybody, so we try to share that, and share the proceeds with the Humane Society both here and in Arizona and raise awareness, which is good.
"I told [Brewers vice president and general counsel] Marty Wronski -- Hank was adopted by her family-- any time she wants to say no, the answer is no. he has to be a dog first. We all feel really good about it."