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For Mat Gamel, the hardest part wasn't getting to the major leagues.

It was getting to Milwaukee.

The most celebrated prospect in the Milwaukee Brewers' farm system, Gamel was thrilled Wednesday when he finally got the call to join the major league team. Then the power-hitting third baseman from Class AAA Nashville boarded a plane for Milwaukee and his mood, like the sky, turned dark.

While the commercial jet circled Milwaukee waiting for a break in the violent thunderstorms that rolled through the area Wednesday night, Gamel and catcher Mike Rivera, who was returning from a rehab assignment at Nashville, felt it shaking. But it wasn't until they were on the ground that they really got a scare.

"They told us when we landed that they can't taxi to the gate because the plane was running out of gas," Gamel said Thursday. "Luckily, we landed when we did or you might not be talking to me right now."

Luckily, they landed when they did or the Brewers might still have the most hopeless bench situation in the National League.

Gamel didn't pay immediate dividends in the Brewers' 5-3 victory over Florida Thursday at Miller Park, striking out with nobody on in the eighth inning. But the left-handed hitter is the team's best - and perhaps only - hope for some late-inning pop off the bench as it tries to capitalize on a lengthy hot streak that moved the Brewers into first place in the National League Central.

"We've been doing a lot of things well," manager Ken Macha said.

The only thing the Brewers haven't done well is get offensive punch from their bench, which has been invisible except for Rivera and utilityman Craig Counsell. Macha hasn't needed many pinch-hitters because the starters have pitched deep into games, but he will when the games start piling up in June.

That makes the bench the final piece to the Brewers' puzzle, which is why they signed Texas castoff Frank Catalanotto to a minor league contract this week and why they brought up Gamel, who was 1-for-2 in a brief callup with the Brewers in September.

Macha said Gamel, who was batting .336 with eight home runs, 11 doubles and 31 RBIs in 33 games at Nashville, didn't come up to sit on the bench.

"Right now he's a pinch-hitter and we'll try to get his feet wet," Macha said. "He may play a game in the field before we have interleague (play) and then when we play in the interleague against Minnesota he's probably going to DH."

The Brewers used a similar plan with Prince Fielder four years ago, using him as a pinch-hitter and as a designated hitter in American League parks. Fielder was sent down when interleague play ended, a fate Gamel hopes to avoid.

If nothing else, the opportunity is there. In addition to next week's series at Minnesota, the Brewers play interleague series at Cleveland and Detroit in mid-June. Gamel also could see some platoon action at third, where Bill Hall is crushing left-handers but still struggling a bit against righties (though Hall did rip a two-run home run off right-hander Josh Johnson Thursday).

"It makes me feel real good that they have faith in me," Gamel said. "It makes my job a lot easier knowing I've got their support."

Hopefully, that's true. It's hard enough for a rookie to adjust to big league pitching, it's even harder when he's not getting regular at-bats.

Gamel's playing time might depend on whether his fielding, which has been notoriously poor in the minor leagues, has improved as much and he and others say it has in recent weeks.

"It's been a work in progress throughout my minor league career," Gamel said. "But I finally feel real comfortable over there. I started out kind of slow at third this season, but it was mostly just due to poor ready position and being flat-footed from the get-go. It caused me to do some things and rush some things to where it really wouldn't allow me to get in good position, so we got that pretty well nailed and I feel good."

He's also healthy, something he wasn't during a disappointing spring training fling with the big club. And something he wasn't sure about as his plane circled the airport Wednesday night.

"I'm here," Gamel said, "so that's really all that matters."

For the Brewers , that might well be true.

Author:Fox Sports
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Added: May 16, 2009

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