GENARO C. ARMAS
AP Sports Writer
PHOENIX (AP) -- An overlooked candidate in the competition for the Milwaukee Brewers first base job sent two big reminders that he's in the running.
The quiet Juan Francisco can leave quite the impression at the plate. He hit solo home runs in consecutive at-bats against the Athletics this week in the Brewers' spring opener.
"When he squares up balls, it doesn't matter what part of the park" that he hits it, Brewers manager Ron Roenicke said. "Only a handful of guys have his kind of power."
Like the 502-foot homer Francisco crushed in 2011 as a member of the Cincinnati Reds that cleared Great American Ballpark. It's still impressive to watch replays of that blast.
"Nah, I'm not that powerful ... No, no," Francisco said Friday, blushing after being relayed Roenicke's praise.
But the left-handed slugger has never found a comfortable home. The strikeouts hurt.
Traded at midseason from Atlanta last season, Francisco was moved from third to first to try to fill the hole left by the injury to Corey Hart. Francisco ended up hitting 13 homers with 32 RBIs in 89 games for the Brewers, hitting .221 with 95 strikeouts.
Not good enough to start regularly down the stretch, let alone ensure a spot in 2014. The Brewers signed veterans Lyle Overbay and Mark Reynolds to minor league deals with designs that they might also be potential options at first.
Francisco went back to his native Dominican Republic in the offseason and played winter ball, where he said he worked on getting rid of a hitch in his swing. According to Roenicke and hitting coach Johnny Narron, Francisco was trying to get away from a leg kick and working on keeping both hands on his bat.
Whatever he did, it worked on Day 1.
"I have to keep working," Francisco said.
He's a man of few words to reporters. Going into his sixth year in the league, Francisco feels a bit more comfortable talking to fellow Latin players, Roenicke said.
Mainly though, Francisco appears to keep to himself. With a quiet, intense demeanor, the 6-foot-2, 238-pound Francisco can strike a downright intimidating frame befitting of someone who hopes to be a feared power hitter.
Makes sense that one of his idols is 6-foot-4 slugger David Ortiz of the Red Sox.
"I like his hitting. He's my favorite," Francisco said.
Ultimately, Francisco may have to show he's just as adept around the bag. The Brewers liked Reynolds and Overbay because each player had extensive experience at first, especially Overbay.
When asked, Francisco said footwork around the bag was one area of concentration. If he can keep hitting homers this spring, it will be hard for the Brewers to not find a spot for him.
NOTES: RHP Kyle Lohse is supposed to work the Brewers' spring home opener Saturday against the Dodgers, if the game isn't postponed by bad weather. ... Roenicke said he'd look at Rickie Weeks, Scooter Gennett and Jean Segura in the leadoff spot this spring, and perhaps Carlos Gomez once in a while. Gennett led off Friday against the Giants and played second.
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