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Scheduled rest has kept Braun in lineup

Slugger on pace for 136 games coming off back surgery
MLB.com @AdamMcCalvy

ST. LOUIS -- Ryan Braun raps his knuckles on the wooden bench at Busch Stadium to satisfy his superstitious side, then confirms what the statistics say is obvious: A plan concocted in Spring Training to protect his surgically repaired back by working in scheduled days off has worked just as the Brewers and their best player had hoped.

"Overall, to this point, it's been a good season, not a great season," Braun said. "But by doing this, I think it gives me the best chance moving forward of getting back to having some great years."

ST. LOUIS -- Ryan Braun raps his knuckles on the wooden bench at Busch Stadium to satisfy his superstitious side, then confirms what the statistics say is obvious: A plan concocted in Spring Training to protect his surgically repaired back by working in scheduled days off has worked just as the Brewers and their best player had hoped.

"Overall, to this point, it's been a good season, not a great season," Braun said. "But by doing this, I think it gives me the best chance moving forward of getting back to having some great years."

Braun returned to the lineup Saturday, following one of those preventative days of rest, with a .909 OPS and a 134 Weighted Runs Created Plus, his best marks in each category since 2012, when Braun was runner-up to Buster Posey in National League MVP balloting. His wRC+, a popular measure of offensive production because it corrects for ballpark effects, puts Braun 23rd among Major Leaguers with at least 450 plate appearances, just behind American League MVP candidate Mookie Betts.

Saturday marked Braun's 120th game played and 115th start, on pace for 136 games and 131 starts by season's end -- just shy of Braun's preseason target of 140 games. That pace could be altered in the next two weeks, as his wife, Larisa, is due to give birth to the couple's second child during the Brewers' final homestand.

Braun had surgery two days after last season for a bulging disk. An unrelated neck issue forced some unscheduled days out of the lineup earlier this year, but manager Craig Counsell could not remember a single game in which Braun's back forced an absence.

"We've tried to stay ahead of it," Counsell said, "and hopefully it helps with him being a productive player when he's out there."

The challenge ahead, Braun said, is finishing strong before diving into what he hopes is a more normal offseason. Last year, his workout regimen was significantly curtailed while he recovered from surgery.

His goal for 2017 and beyond is getting back to the 150-game mark.

Will those games be played in a Brewers uniform? After this season, Braun has four years and $76 million guaranteed on his contract. A trade this winter is not out of the question, however, especially after the Brewers came close to sending Braun to the Dodgers on Aug. 31 for a package headlined by outfielder Yasiel Puig.

Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports and MLB Network was first to report that the Brewers had claimed Puig on revocable trade waivers and engaged the Dodgers in trade talks. According to a source, one scenario would have netted the Brewers Puig and two prospects along with pitcher Brandon McCarthy, whose departing contract would have helped offset the Dodgers' luxury tax hit for adding Braun. The source said Braun remained at Miller Park with some teammates after the Brewers' Aug. 31 game against the Pirates while the Brewers and Dodgers continued talks up to 11:59 p.m. ET -- a minute before the Trade Deadline to acquire players and have them eligible for the postseason. In the end, they simply ran out of time.

The Braves and Giants also expressed interest in trading for Braun, though his contract has a partial no-trade clause that includes Atlanta.

Brewers GM David Stearns will undoubtedly weigh more trade offers this winter. Braun, meanwhile, will shift his focus to 2017.

"When I initially had the procedure done, they said it wouldn't feel 100 percent for a whole year, as far as getting some of the scar tissue out of there," Braun said. "I expect to be a lot stronger and a lot better next year. But the plan we put into place, it really made a lot of sense, and I think it's helped me to continually, gradually get stronger and stronger as the season has gone on. I actually feel better now than I have at any point of the season. That's encouraging on Sept. 10."

Adam McCalvy has covered the Brewers for MLB.com since 2001. Follow him on Twitter @AdamMcCalvy, like him on Facebook and listen to his podcast.

Milwaukee Brewers, Ryan Braun