Getting DH at-bats 'very appealing' to Braun

July 5th, 2020

MILWAUKEE -- Will be the Brewers' designated hitter in 2020?

Well, he will be a designated hitter for the Brewers in 2020. But odds are, he won't be the only one.

"There will not be a starting DH," manager Craig Counsell said. "For our team, you'll see Ryan there. I probably liked it for Christian Yelich just as much when I saw the rule; the ability to keep him in the lineup for more games, especially at the start here when we're going to just have to be really careful with soft-tissue injuries for guys. Those are the two names that come to mind right off the bat."

Braun and Yelich are close friends who several weeks ago decided to bring each other "into the bubble" while they took steps to stay healthy during the coronavirus pandemic. Since arriving in Milwaukee on Monday, the two have been spending time together with friend and Milwaukee restaurateur Omar Shaikh, who partnered with Braun and Yelich in recent months on a series of efforts to recognize hospital staff and other front-line workers. (Shaikh said he and his whole family were tested for COVID-19 before interacting with Braun and Yelich.)

On Saturday, it was time to formally begin what would be Braun's 14th Major League season. In Spring Training, he was expected to split time between right field (with Avisaíl García) and first base (with Justin Smoak), but now the DH is in play, with the rule adopted by National League clubs for a shortened 2020.

Put together, the altered landscape has Braun thinking about the future. On Saturday he reiterated what he told 10 days earlier, that while he previously wondered aloud whether this season could be his last, now Braun considers it "more" likely he'll play in 2021.

"To start with, we'll only play 60 games instead of 162 games, so obviously at this age and where I'm at in my career, it's very appealing to me to have the option to DH for a decent percentage of my at-bats," he said. "And this season will be an experience like we've never experienced before, so at this point, I feel like it's more likely that I play another year than I anticipated a few months back."

Braun is entering the final guaranteed year of his contract. There's a mutual option for 2021.

If he plays, would it have to be with the Brewers? Or would he consider an opportunity elsewhere, should one arise?

"My focus for now is just on this year, trying to prepare for this season, embracing the uniqueness of what this season will bring," Braun said. "For me personally, playing a smaller number of games is something that's beneficial. I think I've been able to be pretty good the last few Septembers because when I know it's a smaller sample size we're working with, I can just focus on sprinting to the finish line.

"For now, I'm focused on this year. I love everything about the city, this organization and I'm incredibly close with the Attanasios [the family that owns the team], so the goal certainly would be, if I play another year, to play here. But for now, the focus is just on trying to get the most out of every day, prepare for the season and embrace the uniqueness of what will be a very different baseball season."

Other players have made a different choice and elected not to play in 2020. Dodgers pitcher David Price was the latest to do so on Saturday, and Braun said he understands that each player looks at the situation differently. Braun has family concerns himself; his wife, Larisa, gave birth to the couple's third child on May 31. The family remained in the Los Angeles area when Ryan Braun left for the start of Summer Camp.

"I think those thoughts ran through all of our minds," he said. "There were an array of emotions."

What tipped him in favor of taking part?

"First and foremost, I love this game. I love having an opportunity to compete," Braun said. "I think there's a level of accountability that I feel toward my teammates. Also, the fact that obviously I'm a lot closer to the end of my career than the beginning of my career, so if this was to be my last year, I certainly wouldn't want to have to sit out.

"Then, on top of that, I actually feel like, in a lot of ways, we're in a better position because we have trainers, doctors, the utmost medical personnel here to help us, and I think that everybody getting tested every other day, doing the antibody testing, we fill out a pretty extensive questionnaire, do temperature checks every day before we can even come to the ballpark. The more I learned about the health and safety protocols that were in place, the more comfortable I felt with everything. But again, I'm continuing to assess on a day-to-day basis, and Larisa and I continue to have conversations about what this looks like, whether it's safe for me to be here, whether it would be safe for them to join me here, and I think a lot of players are in that same situation in trying to assess it on a day-to-day basis and see what makes the most sense for them."