How much does the return of Aramis Ramirez figure to help the Milwaukee Brewers?

"It's like picking up a free agent," catcher Jonathan Lucroy said. "It's great."

The third baseman, out a month after spraining his left knee, rejoined the lineup Friday at Miller Park as the Brewers hosted the St. Louis Cardinals. Hitting cleanup as usual, Ramirez singled in his first at-bat and went 2 for 3 before departing in the sixth inning.

Ramirez's return didn't come a moment too soon for a team that had struggled mightily trying to pick up the slack in that No. 4 spot in the lineup.

Since Ramirez went down in that April 5 game, the combination of Yuniesky Betancourt, Alex Gonzalez, Jonathan Lucroy and Rickie Weeks went 14 for 91 (.154) with no home runs, seven RBI and 27 strikeouts.

To their credit, the Brewers found ways to make up for the lack of production there and sit at 14-14 (.500).

His presence allowed manager Ron Roenicke to make out a much more conventional lineup card for the first time in a month, with Weeks hitting fifth, Lucroy sixth, the red-hot Carlos Gomez seventh and Betancourt eighth.

"He (Ramirez) puts people where they should be, where they're not uncomfortable," Roenicke said. "Where they don't feel all the pressure is on them."

Having Ramirez in the lineup is one thing. Producing after having not faced live pitching in a month is another matter entirely, which is the next hurdle for Ramirez, who's traditionally been a slow starter even when he's been fully healthy.

Ramirez had the option of playing a few minor-league games in order to try and get himself up to speed, but because of his tenure, he had the right not to do so.

"We'll see," Ramirez said. "I've been around for awhile, and I know what I need to do to get ready. I prepared myself not go on a rehab assignment, so we'll see how it goes.

"(I've done) BP, cage work, but nothing is the same as live pitching. You don't know how things are going to work out until you step up to the plate."

In the big picture, Ramirez admits he isn't back to 100% and is prepared to go the rest of the way without being so.

"I won't be the rest of the year," he said. "For me to be 100%, I'm going to have to sit for 2-3 months, and that's not going to happen. I'm just going to have to deal with it the rest of the season. But I'm good enough to be out there, and that's what I'm going to do.