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Braun limited to designated-hitter duty by thumb

BOSTON -- Bad news for the Brewers: The right thumb issue that compromised Ryan Braun's 2013 season long before he was suspended is an issue once again.

Braun was limited to designated-hitter duties for Friday's Fenway Park opener because of the troublesome nerve between his right thumb and forefinger. Braun can manage the pain he experiences when swinging the bat, but he is now dealing with numbness throughout his thumb, which led to "crazy bruises and blisters" because he can't tell how hard he is gripping the baseball for throws.

The hope, Braun said, is that a day off from throwing would give the Brewers' athletic training staff time to treat the blisters. He hopes to be back in right field when the series continues Saturday.

Asked whether he worried this would bother him indefinitely, Braun said, "I hope not. I'm optimistic that eventually we'll figure something out. It just kind of is what it is. Everybody deals with different things. I know what the alternative is, and I'm not ready to consider anything like that."

That alternative is surgery. Braun, who had multiple visits during Spring Training with hand specialist Don Sheridan, did not detail what sort of rehabilitation such a procedure would require, but he suggested it would not be a quick fix.

Red Sox right fielder Shane Victorino underwent a similar procedure in mid-December and did not play in a Grapefruit League game until March 10. Through back channels, Braun received a discouraging report about the success of Victorino's surgery.

"They do this test where they touch it with one prong, two prongs, three prongs," Braun said, "and I can't tell the difference between one, three, five. I can't tell. I can tell something's touching it, but I literally don't have any sensation. It's a weird thing. I've tried lots of things."

Braun was bothered by the same thumb in the early months of last season, when he batted .298 with nine home runs in 38 games. He hit only two home runs after April 26, and none in 20 games from May 24 through his July 22 suspension for the remainder of the season.

Braun did not have surgery at that time, because there are no guarantees it will work, and the hope existed that rest would resolve the problem. It did improve during his hiatus, and Braun belted a home run in his first Spring Training at-bat and hit three homers in the spring overall.

But as the at-bats piled up and Spring Training wore on, the problem returned, even as Braun and the medical staff found acceptable ways to pad his thumb when batting.

"I had the luxury of five months off. I'd never had that luxury before and I won't have it again, so if that didn't make it go away, I don't know what will," Braun said. "I just deal with it the best I can. I know that it is what it is. I'm optimistic that eventually, we'll figure something out."

Brewers manager Ron Roenicke had little to add.

"Just say he's DHing today. That saves me from having to talk about it all the time." Roenicke said. "It's there. It was there in spring, it was there last year, it's going to be there this year. That's why, I don't know. I'm tired of talking about it. It's just, we're going to have to deal with it."

Asked whether he worried Braun was in store for another injury-plagued first half, general manager Doug Melvin said, "I don't think so. I don't know. It's all individual pain and a player can tell you how he feels, that's all. Again, I don't have all the information, but I think it's going to be an issue at times, how many times you swing or throw or whatever. It's nothing of concern at this point.

Adam McCalvy is a reporter for Read his blog, Brew Beat, and follow him on Twitter at @AdamMcCalvy.
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