Braun is happy, healthy and right on schedule

March 14th, 2016

PHOENIX -- Outfielder Ryan Braun made a rare spring appearance in the Brewers' clubhouse at the Maryvale Baseball Park on Sunday morning and said he is on track to play on Opening Day, April 4, against the Giants in Milwaukee.

"If Opening Day was three weeks ago, I would have been ready," Braun said. "I've been ready. I feel good. I feel fine."

Be that as it may, the Brewers have allowed Braun to recover slowly from the surgery he underwent on Oct. 8 to have a herniated disk in his lower back shaved. He's yet to play in a Cactus League game, although both he and manager Craig Counsell said he will return sometime this week.

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Counsell indicated that Braun probably won't play any sooner than Wednesday, when the Brewers host the White Sox. The Brewers have an off-day on Tuesday after playing the Dodgers at Camelback Ranch on Monday.

The most positive aspect of Braun rehabbing all spring is that he's right on schedule.

"We're getting him ready for the first day [of the season], so what's the best way to get him ready for the first day?" Counsell said. "The great thing is, we set the date [for Braun to play this spring] the first day he got here. Everything is going according to plan."

Braun, just like everyone else in the Brewers organization, is looking for some normalcy this season, and his performance will have a lot to do with whether the Brewers are able to bounce back from last year's 94-loss effort.

It's been one thing after another for Braun since he injured his right thumb during the 2013 season and missed the final 65 games of that season after accepting a suspension from Major League Baseball.

He had surgery on the thumb at the end of the 2014 season and the back surgery after hitting .285 with 25 homers and 84 RBIs in 140 games in 2015.

Braun was the National League MVP in 2011 and the runner-up to Buster Posey in 2012, when he hit a career-high 41 homers and drove in 112 runs, his last of five consecutive seasons with 103 RBIs or more.

During the last three seasons, he's totaled 53 homers and 203 RBIs.

Braun, now 32, is hoping for a renaissance of sorts this season, his 10th in the big leagues, all of them with the Brewers. After $10 million in bonuses, Milwaukee owes him $86 million through the 2020 season, with a $15 million mutual option (or $4 million buyout) for 2021.

So it is essential that he remains healthy and happy. And on Sunday he certainly seemed exceedingly happy.

"I feel great. I've felt that way the whole time," Braun said. "I could have easily played the first day, but we're just playing it safe. I'm well ahead of the schedule I was supposed to be on. It's just about making sure I get closer to 100 percent.

"Obviously, I started baseball stuff a lot later than I would have. I didn't start rotational stuff until later in the offseason. So we're just taking our time."

Under any circumstance, Braun beats to his own drummer as he prepares for a baseball season. He said on Sunday that he doesn't take batting practice and hasn't done so in years.

"I think my last live batting practice was 2008 or '09," he said. "I'll stand there in the bullpen and take pitches. I just don't think I get anything out of live batting practice. You get some sense of timing and rhythm, but it's just unrealistic."

Braun is on much the same spring timetable as Mets captain and third baseman David Wright, who missed four months last season dealing with spinal stenosis before returning for September and the postseason. Unlike Braun, Wright didn't have surgery, but he is dealing with a lifelong condition.

But like Wright, "There will be core strengthening exercises that I'll be doing every day," Braun said. "I know David's situation is a little bit different than mine, but any time anybody has something to do with the back, it has to be taken seriously. And similar to mine, he probably doesn't need many Spring Training at-bats to get ready for the season.

"I've never felt like I need that many [spring] at-bats to prepare. Usually about 25 to 30 at-bats and I'm ready to go."

Wright is scheduled to take his first at-bats of the spring in a Minor League game on Monday in Port St. Lucie, Fla. Mets manager Terry Collins said that if everything goes well this week, Wright could play in a Grapefruit League game after the Mets have an off-day on Wednesday.

Across the country in Arizona, Braun will re-emerge at almost the same time.

"Even if [Braun] was coming into this Spring Training healthy, I think this is a plan I'd like for him anyway," Counsell said. "In every Spring Training I've seen him in, he's capable of getting ready very fast. His at-bats, that's where he's at his best, in the batter's box. I don't think it's going to take him long to get ready."

That's the plan and the hope, anyway.