MILWAUKEE -- Ryan Braun proved again Saturday that if he’s healthy enough to swing a bat, he’s a threat. Especially in September.
At a time when every game is a big game for a team outside the postseason picture, the Brewers entered the penultimate weekend of the regular season down one outfielder -- Ben Gamel, sidelined by a right quad injury -- and with concerns about Braun and his balky back, after both made early exits on Friday. But Braun was deemed healthy enough to be the designated hitter on Saturday night and he delivered, hitting a three-run home run in the eighth inning of the Brewers’ 5-0 win over the Royals at Miller Park.
It was the biggest hit of the night for the Brewers, since they were able to rest closer Josh Hader rather than pitch him a second consecutive day. The home run was Braun’s third in his past four games, and he’s hitting .389 with five home runs and 16 RBIs through his first 12 games this month.
“What Braun is doing right now is really special,” Brewers manager Craig Counsell said. “It really is. It's incredible. He's had the biggest hits nightly, it seems. It's been fun to watch and he's doing a heck of a job.”
Braun has dealt with a bad back for years, and he has been hobbled at times throughout 2020, though not always as noticeably as Friday, when he struggled to run and throw. Gamel’s quad had been an issue for at least three weeks, Counsell said, before it worsened Friday.
For Braun, even without fans in the stands, there is a sentimental element to these games. He is in the final guaranteed year of his contract, so these could potentially be his final home games.
“He wants to play,” Counsell said before Saturday’s game. “I don’t want to be non-sentimental about it, but I think if you can play and help us, then he wants to play. We’ll just treat it like that. I think that’s the best way to think about it, especially when your health is involved.”
Asked postgame whether Braun had to pass any specific tests to get into the lineup, Counsell said, “He didn't do much before the game, really. We just worked on how he felt. He thought he could go. He was feeling a little better than yesterday, even. That was basically it.”
Rasmussen celebrates first big league win
Health and safety protocols denied rookie reliever Drew Rasmussen the typical beer or bottled water shower that follows a milestone like the one he logged Friday, when the hard-throwing right-hander struck out a pair of batters in a scoreless fifth inning and was rewarded with his first Major League victory.
“MLB has decided no celebratory showers or anything like that, like we’ve gotten accustomed to seeing when teams are clinching postseason spots and all that kind of stuff,” Rasmussen said, “so we didn’t do anything like that. But everybody was congratulating me.”
The Oregon State product, who underwent two Tommy John surgeries before entering pro ball, deserves a lot of congratulations for his season to date. After adding another scoreless inning to finish Saturday’s win, Rasmussen has 16 strikeouts and a 1.98 ERA in his first 13 2/3 innings in the Majors. The only blemishes so far are the seven walks he’s allowed.
“He's fearless,” Brewers catcher Jacob Nottingham said. “He throws four pitches, and he throws them all for strikes. He has a rising fastball that gets on you even harder than it seems. It's kind of crazy to hear that, because he throws 98. He throws a heavy fastball, has great offspeed and his command is good. When a guy like that is on the mound, you can definitely feel it.”
Houser in line for another regular-season start
Right-hander Adrian Houser will remain in the Brewers’ rotation following a fifth consecutive outing on Friday during which he did not pitch past the fifth inning. Houser was charged with four runs (two earned) on five hits in four innings, including a three-run first inning in the Brewers’ come from behind win over Kansas City. After going 1-0 with a 0.75 ERA in his first two starts of 2020, Houser is 0-5 with a 6.75 ERA in his next eight starts.
Is Counsell puzzled that the talented Houser hasn’t found more success this season?
“I don’t know if puzzled is the word. I think there are things he’s going to have to get better at,” Counsell said. “There’s also been some misfortune this year in some starts. It’s also a product of who you are when you’re a ground-ball pitcher.
“So, there are some things that you wouldn’t address now, but bigger-picture things you’d address as goals heading into next year. He was probably in a better place last year at a certain point than he is now. But he’s not that far away from it. There’s not a big gap there. We’ll try to close that gap.”
• Josh Lindblom remained slated to start Sunday’s series finale against the Royals after spending a few days away from the team on the bereavement list. Asked whether he was able to get his throwing in between outings, Counsell said, “He’s able to do what he’s needed to do, yeah. We’re confident in that, otherwise we wouldn’t entertain him pitching on Sunday.”
• Counsell said he was encouraged about the health of right-handed reliever Eric Yardley, who took a comebacker to the right shin in Friday’s win. X-rays were negative, but Counsell expected Yardley to be sore a day later.
"Eric is doing really well, actually,” Counsell said. “He was walking around very good so optimistic at this point that he will be available."