By OnMilwaukee Staff Writers   Published Apr 14, 2008 at 5:23 AM

During the off-season, most people focused on general manager Doug Melvin's efforts to reshape the Brewers' bullpen. But it was the team's signing of Jason Kendall that may turn out to have the biggest impact of the season.

The veteran catcher has been on fire to start the season, batting .405 with five doubles and seven RBI. He's struck out just three times in 37 at-bats and has a .452 on-base percentage.

Kendall is a .298 career hitter but saw his average drop to .242 last season, when he split time between Oakland, where he hit .270 and the Chicago Cubs, with whom he hit a paltry .226 in 80 games.

When asked earlier in the season about his approach, he treated reporters to a mantra they've heard a lot of this season, and will hear even more of if Kendall keeps hitting:

"See it, hit it, hope it falls in," is how Kendall explains it. "If it doesn't, go up there next time and hope it does."

Seeing the ball is a lot easier this season for Kendall after undergoing Lasik surgery during the off-season.

Manager Ned Yost is more than happy with Kendall's offensive input, which is a welcome change from the contributions of Henry Blanco, Chad Moeller, Damian Miller and Johnny Estrada in years past. But it's that ability to work with the staff that has him smiling.

"I don't care one iota about his offensive performance," Yost said. "Whatever he gives us offensively is gravy. What I care about most, and what I love about Jason Kendall, is his passion to work those pitchers and to be defensive-minded."

Switching things up: Prince Fielder and Ryan Braun went to hitting coach Jim Skaalen after Saturday's game against the Mets and asked to be switched in the lineup.

Last season, Braun hit 36 home runs batting third while Fielder belted 50 in the cleanup spot. Yost flip-flopped the two this season in an effort to take advantage of Braun's speed and to provide better protection for Fielder.

Both have struggled out of the gate. Braun was hitting just .229 heading into the game Sunday while Fielder is hitting .222, and has yet to hit a home run.

"I don't think it had anything to do with us being uncomfortable where we were at," Braun told's Adam McCalvy. "I think it was more of us being more comfortable with me being three and him being four.

We understood the logic ... but it gets to the point where neither one of us is having too much success, and it feels like it is in our best interests and the best interests of the team to at least try it."

Sunday, Braun went 1-for-5 with two strikeouts and a pair of RBI while Fielder went hitless in four at-bats. He also walked and struck out.

Food for thought: Closer Eric Gagne has earned the scorn of some Brewers fans for blowing a pair of saves in the first seven games of the season after being signed to a $10 million contract last winter.

After blowing two of his first three save opportunities, Gagne has settled down and notched two in a row. His ERA has gone from 12.00 to 7.20 in his last two outings.

For all the criticism he's drawn, he isn't the only high-profile closer to struggle this season. The Padres' Trevor Hoffman is 0-2 with four saves in six outings this season. He blew his first three save opportunities and has an ERA of 9.53.

Ironically, Gagne and Hoffman finished first and second, respectively, in 2003 NL Cy Young Award balloting.

Gallardo update: After spending the weekend in New York as an insurance policy against possible bad weather, Yovani Gallardo was returned to Class AAA Nashville, where he will pitch a third and final rehabilitation start today.

Gallardo made his second rehab start since undergoing surgery on his left knee on April 8. The right-hander pitched 5 1/3 innings for AAA Nashville in a rain-shortened, 2-1 loss in Oklahoma City on April 8.

Gallardo allowed two runs on six hits with seven strikeouts. He walked one batter and took the loss; his first decision of the season. Fifty-eight of Gallardo's 90 pitches were strikes.

Before returning to Nashville, Gallardo lobbied to remain with the Brewers, but Yost would like to see the young pitcher surpass the 100-pitch mark. In his first two rehab starts, Gallardo is Gallardo is 0-1 with a 4.82 ERA in 9.1 innings. He's allowed five runs on 13 hits with two walks and 11 strikeouts.

Announcing his presence with authority: The Brewers got their first look at Cincinnati right-hander Johnny Cueto Tuesday night and were fairly impressed. The rookie struck out eight Brewers -- including all three batters he faced in the second inning.

"We've heard about this kid for the last year or two," Yost said. "It wasn't like he just popped up on the radar. Our scouts have watched him throw, and we've heard how good this guy was for the last year or two. Very polished. Throws the ball very hard and commands it.

"The kid's a top-notch prospect. He's the real deal. He's got a chance to be really good."

The Brewers could face Cueto again next weekend when the team travels to Cincinnati.

Road warriors: The Brewers won their first two road series in a season for the first time since 1995 when they went 1-0 at Chicago (AL), 2-1 at Baltimore and 2-1 at New York (AL) over their first three road series. Milwaukee opened the 2008 season by taking two of three games against the Cubs at Wrigley Field.

Injury report: OF Tony Gwynn is still sidelined with a hamstring injury sustained in the opening series at Wrigley Field. He worked out briefly last Tuesday, doing some light running and taking early batting practice and the Brewers eventually placed him on the 15-day disabled list. ... Left-handed reliever Randy Choate was recommended to spend two more weeks resting his left hand, which he broke in spring training.

Quick hits: The Brewers are 3-0 in one-run games this season. ... Before switching Fielder and Braun, Yost used four different starting lineups in the Brewers' first 11 games, the fewest of any National League team. ... LHP Brian Shouse has stranded all eight of his inherited runners this season. ... After opening the season in a 1-for-17 slump, shortstop J.J. Hardy hit .318 (7-for-22) against the Reds and Mets. ... The Brewers' five double-plays Sunday against the Mets were a season-high and tied a National League record.

On the farm: Nashville equaled its worst-ever start by going 1-6 to open the season. The Sounds beat Iowa on Sunday to improve to 2-9 on the year and are in last place in the Pacific Coast League's North Division ... After opening the season 5-0, Class AA Huntsville dropped four of five games at West Tennessee over the weekend and are 6-4.

This week: The schedule-makers give the Brewers another Monday off before a three-game series in St. Louis against the Central Division-leading Cardinals Tuesday night. Milwaukee concludes its nine-game road trip this weekend with three against the Reds at Great American Ball Park.

He said it: "You have to see the ball." -- Jason Kendall on his off-season Lasik surgery.

Attendance (Through six home games): Total -- 226,421; Average -- 37,737; On pace for -- 3,056,683. Sellouts -- 2.

Under the roof: Games played with roof / panels open -- 0; roof closed / panels open -- 0; roof open / panels closed -- 0; roof / panels closed -- 6. Total home games -- 6.