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Gonzalez impressing as first baseman

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- It certainly is not true that just anybody can play first base. Brewers manager Ron Roenicke is adamant when it comes to that.

"First base, to me, is way more important than people think," Roenicke said. "They handle the ball more than any player out there besides the pitcher and catcher. You save a lot of runs if you're good there. And you can lose a lot of runs if you don't pick up your infielders."

It is understandable why Brewers fans might be starting to think first base is easy. Corey Hart transitioned there seamlessly last year, and Alex Gonzalez is on a similar track this spring as the Brewers search for a replacement for Hart (knee) and Mat Gamel (anterior cruciate ligament).

Only a handful of games into the Cactus League season, Roenicke already is impressed with the veteran's handling of first base.

"There's some guys that … when you move them to a different position, it doesn't look like a different position," Roenicke said. "Alex is one of those guys."

Gonzalez, a natural shortstop who has not appeared elsewhere in a Major League game, started at short Wednesday in Milwaukee's 3-2 loss to the Royals at Surprise Stadium. That opened first base for non-roster invitee Blake Lalli, who is in camp as a catcher but has actually appeared in more Minor League games at first base (340) than behind the dish (126).

Because of Lalli's defensive experience at first base -- and that of Hunter Morris, who is also expected to get a chance to compete for the first-base job -- Roenicke said he would try to give Gonzalez as many repetitions at first base as he can, with the others getting time at first and as designated hitter to get in their at-bats.

"Alex, he's going to be out of position sometimes -- you have to be [while switching positions]," Roenicke said. "But the stuff that mostly you see in the ground balls to him, the turning double plays, scooping balls out of the dirt, those things he's going to be great at."