MILWAUKEE — In his first 14 major-league seasons, Alex Gonzalez played in 1,559 games and made 1,504 starts for seven teams in both leagues.
All of them came as a shortstop.
Now, the 36-year-old is the primary first baseman, an unusual position switch for a middle infielder. He made his first start there Monday.
“It’ll be the first time, I guess,” Brewers general manager Doug Melvin said before the team’s season opener. “I don’t know how many games Ernie Banks played before he went to first.”
Banks made 1,121 starts at shortstop before moving to first base, which he actually played for a longer period of time (1,226 starts over 11 seasons), making Gonzalez’s feat rather unique.
“Not many shortstops move to first,” Melvin said. “They usually move to second or third. Alex has handled that very well.”
Manager Ron Roenicke said he looks like a natural.
“It’s pretty impressive,” Roenicke said. “It looked like he’d been playing it for 10 years. Great instincts, great hands, really good baseball sense.
“With Alex there, defensively, we’re going to be really good there.”
He played flawless defense Monday and used his shortstop experience to help take advantage of a baserunning blunder by running directly at the Rockies’ Chris Nelson, who was caught in a rundown.
Gonzalez wasn’t the Brewers first — or second, or third — option at first base. Incumbent starter Corey Hart is out until May after offseason knee surgery. Mat Gamel, who had the Opening Day job last year, tore his ACL for the second time in a year during spring training. Then, 2011 Brewers minor league player of the year Taylor Green suffered a hip injury.
The offense may take a dip, but Roenicke is confident Gonzalez will still be productive.
“Offensively, he’s not Corey Hart,” Roenicke said. “But Alex gets big hits. With games on the line, and you need a guy to come through, I really feel good about Alex at the plate.”
Gonzalez was the Brewers shortstop at the start of last season and batted .259 with four home runs and 15 RBI in 24 games.
Other options at first base include another shortstop, Yuniesky Betancourt, the Brewers’ 2011 starter who signed with the team again last week, and backup catcher Martin Maldonado.
WEEKS NOT WORRIED: If there’s one player who’s eager to get out to a hot start and put the 2012 season behind him, it’s second baseman Rickie Weeks.
After an ankle injury cut short what some considered his finest professional season in 2011, Weeks struggled in 2012, batting just .230 with a .328 on-base percentage and a .400 slugging percentage, all well below his career averages.
But Weeks couldn’t care less about his personal stats.
“The biggest thing right now is to help the team win,” Weeks said. “Team-wise, we finished pretty good last year, and we hope to keep that momentum going.”
Part of the reason was Weeks, who batted .282 over the final 65 games of the season as the Brewers made a mad dash for a Wild Card spot only to fall a few games short.
“Early on last year we had a bunch of new guys come in, and it was hard to gel together,” Weeks said. “Hopefully, we can just keep it going and build off that momentum.”
LEFTY OPTIONS: Roenicke said one of the things he likes most about the Brewers new-look bullpen is the left-handed options he has available.
Veterans Tom Gorzellanny and Michael Gonzalez were signed in the offseason, and Chris Narveson is back after missing most of last season with a torn rotator cuff.
Narveson is more of a long-relief option and could rejoin the rotation if needed, while Gorzellanny and Gonzalez could be called upon for specific situations.
But Roenicke said that once the Brewers go from a 13-man to a 12-man bullpen, he’ll probably use Gorzellanny or Gonzalez for a full inning rather than just to face one batter.