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Braun not 'remotely comfortable' at first base

Outfielder trying to make transition to new position, but 'it feels awkward'
MLB.com @RichardJustice

PHOENIX -- Ryan Braun got his first start of the spring in left field Saturday afternoon in a 9-2 victory over the Rockies as he focuses on playing first base for the first time in his career. Asked for a progress report on the new gig, Braun was blunt.

"I don't feel remotely comfortable," he said. "I definitely don't feel comfortable at all. I'm doing the best that I can with it. Guys have to make sacrifices. Ultimately, if you want to get to where we want to be as a team, based on the roster we've put together, obviously it helps make us a better team if I'm able to play multiple positions.

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PHOENIX -- Ryan Braun got his first start of the spring in left field Saturday afternoon in a 9-2 victory over the Rockies as he focuses on playing first base for the first time in his career. Asked for a progress report on the new gig, Braun was blunt.

"I don't feel remotely comfortable," he said. "I definitely don't feel comfortable at all. I'm doing the best that I can with it. Guys have to make sacrifices. Ultimately, if you want to get to where we want to be as a team, based on the roster we've put together, obviously it helps make us a better team if I'm able to play multiple positions.

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"I'm doing it with the understanding that it's in the best interests of the team. But certainly it feels awkward and uncomfortable at times, and I wouldn't say I'm anywhere near comfortable at first base."

Brewers manager Craig Counsell said Braun's discomfort is to be expected. When a player has performed at a high level at one position, any kind of transition is going to be challenging, especially one as dramatic as this one. He doubled in three at-bats on Saturday and is hitting .333 for the spring.

But, Counsell emphasized, Braun's transition is coming along nicely.

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"I don't think he's going to come in one day and say, 'I'm comfortable,'" Counsell said. "He's new at the position. We're asking a lot from him, and he's new at it. But one of the things you see is the lineup we can put out there against left-handed pitching that is pretty dangerous [with Braun, a right-handed hitter, playing first].

"When you do something new at the Major League level, that's what you're going to get. We all acknowledge it's hard. So far, from all of our perspectives, he's done a really nice job at it."

Since shifting from third base to the outfield after his rookie season (2007), Braun has played 1,303 games in the outfield and 17 at DH. He has never played first.

Video: COL@MIL: Braun cracks an RBI double to right-center

But as Braun said, his playing some first base is what the Brewers need in the wake of the acquisitions of outfielders Lorenzo Cain and Christian Yelich.

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"I wouldn't expect him to be comfortable yet," Counsell said. "It's a new position. It's not easy to be at the level he's expecting to be comfortable. I think that's a really fair statement for him to make. He's done a nice job, and we're asking him to do something different. I expect it to be a little uncomfortable.

"You're not going to experience every play in five games. We'll keep getting him experience. The process of being comfortable is not going to happen like one day. It's a process."

Braun playing first gives Counsell the flexibility to rotate five players -- Braun, Yelich, Cain, Domingo Santana and Eric Thames -- through four spots.

"It's a good problem to have that we have too many good players," Braun said. "Your depth is always challenged throughout the course of the season. If anybody gets hurt right now, we should have a quality player to replace them."

Video: Braun embracing higher expectations for Brewers

That Braun agreed to the switch because it's what the Brewers need doesn't lower the stress of learning a new spot.

"I had no idea what I was getting myself into," he said "It's completely foreign to me. Certainly at times, it's stressful trying to figure out where I'm supposed to be, when I'm supposed to be there, knowing my assignments on bunt plays, figuring out the bunt plays, figuring out the first-and-third plays, and then in today's games with shifts, sometimes guys are all over the place. That's a lot of stuff that's completely new to me."

But there are still 19 days until Opening Day.

"The more time you're anywhere, the more comfortable and familiar it becomes," Braun said. "And the other challenge is just physically, at first base you're bending over and squatting a lot more than you are in the outfield so generally you're putting your back in more vulnerable or compromised positions, which for me is a challenge.

"My back has been the biggest thing I'm focused on health wise for a few years now. I have no doubt in the long run that first base would be easier, but at this point it's definitely been a lot harder on my back than the outfield was. So, we'll see."

Richard Justice has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2011. Read his columns and follow him on Twitter at @RichardJustice.

Milwaukee Brewers, Ryan Braun