Braun back at 1st with Thames' injury
CHICAGO -- While Eric Thames headed to Phoenix for a second opinion on his injured left thumb, Ryan Braun dusted off his first-base mitt Thursday for his first game at the position in nearly a month and looked like he never left.
Braun's diving stop to end the second inning of the Brewers' 1-0 loss to the Cubs at Wrigley Field robbed Jason Heyward of a base hit down the line with two outs and two runners aboard. It was the highlight of what turned into a busy night at Braun's newest position.
"That play against Heyward was nice," Braun said. "That guy has probably taken away a solid 10 to 12 extra-base hits from me over the years. There are very few guys I would want to take an extra-base hit away from more, because of all the ones he's taken from me.
"It was a big play in the game. Chase [Anderson] was pitching great, [Cubs starter Kyle] Hendricks was on top of his game. Neither team was going to get a bunch of opportunities."
Braun will occasionally spell Jesus Aguilar at first base as the Brewers move forward without Thames, who tore the ulnar collateral ligament in his left thumb diving for a ball Tuesday night in Kansas City and is likely to require surgery.
Thames was examined Thursday morning by Brewers head physician William Raasch and is scheduled for a visit with Dr. Don Sheridan, a Phoenix-based hand specialist, on Friday.
Thames could undergo surgery at that time, Brewers GM David Stearns said, after which the team will have a better idea of a timetable for his return.
"I think this is pretty standard protocol. When you have an injury, get multiple opinions," said Stearns. "It's still likely going to be a surgical outcome. If it is, we will get that rolling pretty fast."
Surgery would sideline Thames at least six weeks, though it depends on the severity of Thames' ligament tear, the method used to repair it and general variances in how players heal. Similar surgeries have produced a range of timetables, from Angels shortstop Andrelton Simmons on the short end at 39 days from date of injury to date of return in 2016, to then-Astros shortstop Jed Lowrie needing 95 days in 2015.
While Thames and Brewers medical personnel moved toward a decision, the rest of the team played on against the Cubs. Without Thames' left-handed bat in the mix, manager Craig Counsell will rely on more subtle criteria to determine the right mix of playing time between Aguilar and Braun.
"[It is an adjustment for Braun] just in the fact he hasn't been there for three weeks now," Counsell said. "But this is why we have done this. In case things happen, we have places we can go. I anticipate him and Jesus will kind of share time over there, and Braun will still definitely see some outfield time."
• Returning to the scene of his Sept. 8 right shoulder injury, Brewers starter Jimmy Nelson mimicked throwing off one of Wrigley Field's bullpen mounds Thursday afternoon, a routine Nelson said he's been doing for months. He is not quite ready to actually throw off a mound, but he is getting close.
"He is progressing through his throwing program," Stearns said. "I think he is progressing well, but we'll keep taking it a step at a time. He may not be too far away."
• The Brewers are getting their first look at the latest round of Wrigley Field renovations, which include a batting cage, weight room and video room off an expanded dugout. The visitors' clubhouse, however, remains quaint for one more year.
"They're doing a nice job of modernizing an old ballpark. Give them credit," Counsell said.
• Right-hander Cody Ponce, ranked No. 14 on MLB Pipeline's list of the top Brewers prospects, was scratched from a scheduled start at Double-A Biloxi and placed on the disabled list with knee irritation, according to farm director Tom Flanagan. The Brewers don't expect him to miss more than one turn in the rotation, Flanagan said.