MILWAUKEE -- Brewers outfielder Domingo Santana assured Friday that he is healthy and ready for any opportunity that comes his way.
Those opportunities have been fleeting since Santana, the Brewers' Opening Day right fielder and leadoff hitter, returned from two-plus months on the disabled list for an elbow injury. He has been absent from the starting lineup for five of the Brewers' eight games since the team reinstated the 24-year-old from the DL, including four of the past five games.
Kirk Nieuwenhuis, the 29-year-old whose two-run home run accounted for all the Brewers' offense in Thursday's 3-2 loss to the Pirates, started again in right field in Friday's 5-3 loss. Santana pinch-hit and popped out to end the game.
"I mean, to be honest with you, it's just great that I'm healthy," Santana said. "I want to do whatever to help the team win. It's 'Whatever,' you know? I'm just glad that I'm healthy and positive. Any little chance, I'll be grateful. I'm comfortable with whatever."
Nieuwenhuis will be arbitration-eligible this offseason. Santana will remain under club control, bidding to reclaim some of the buzz that surrounded his arrival last year, when he posted a .766 OPS in 145 plate appearances. He was one of four prospects acquired from Houston in the Carlos Gomez trade.
Manager Craig Counsell was asked earlier this week about playing Nieuwenhuis over Santana, and said he intended from the start to let Santana "ease in" after so much time on the DL. Counsell also said he liked having competition in the outfield, with Nieuwenhuis, Santana and Keon Broxton essentially vying for two starting spots each night.
On Friday, Counsell more specifically addressed the merits of playing Nieuwenhuis.
"Kirk has been consistent in what he has provided; he's hit right-handed pitching, especially at home, where he's performed very, very well," Counsell said. "I think we're at the point, just the way the position player group is structured, that we don't have very many left-handed bats, and I think against some of these right-handers, having some left-handed bats in there is important."
Again, Counsell touted the positives of competing for starts.
"The last couple of nights, you look out there and the players who are playing, we have to make decisions on them and they certainly have a chance to be Brewers next year," Counsell said. "I think that helps us right now, really. That makes it important for them. They understand that. And I also think there is competition right now. More so than any time of the year, I have lineup choices every night, really, and that's a good thing."
Adam McCalvy has covered the Brewers for MLB.com since 2001. Follow him on Twitter @AdamMcCalvy, like him on Facebook and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.