MILWAUKEE -- A Brewers team searching for offense welcomed a middle-of-the-order bat back to the lineup on Tuesday.
Ryan Braun was reinstated from the 10-day injured list to serve as Milwaukee’s designated hitter and five-hole hitter against the Twins, having recovered from an infection in his right index finger. And while he was 0-for-4 in Milwaukee’s four-homer, 6-4 win at Miller Park, Braun has proven that at 36, he can still hit when healthy.
“I feel like my timing is still a work in progress, but overall I felt good,” Braun said. “The finger was a non-issue and it was fun to be part of a great comeback and a good win."
To clear a spot on the active roster, the Brewers optioned utility man Mark Mathias back to the alternate training site.
Braun will be seeking some consistency, as will a Brewers offense missing sparkplug Lorenzo Cain since the center fielder decided Aug. 1 not to play the remainder of 2020. That same weekend, Braun went to the emergency room to get treatment for an infection near his fingernail and required an incision that necessitated a stint on the IL.
This marks the second time in a month that Braun is attempting a quick comeback. He sat out 10 days or so during Summer Camp because of oblique tightness, but he made the Opening Day roster after playing only one exhibition game. Braun went 3-for-13 in four games before hitting the IL again due to the finger. He logged one day of live at-bats on Monday in Appleton, Wis., before the Brewers decided to activate him. Braun played the outfield in that camp game, but said it is still difficult to throw because of his finger.
“The DH really helps us,” Brewers manager Craig Counsell said.
In the absence of Braun and Cain, Mathias made an impression during his first week in the Major Leagues by going 5-for-16 with a stolen base, two RBIs and two runs scored. Given his defensive versatility, he is very likely to return to the Brewers again this season.
“We were anticipating it was probably going to be a short stay at the start, but he contributed to some wins, absolutely,” Counsell said. “I thought Mark handled himself really well. He made starts in a spot [the outfield] where he played very little at [prior to 2020] and I thought he handled himself really, really well. He did himself good, for sure.”
Peralta’s ultimate role? Still to be determined
Is Freddy Peralta better when he pitches later in games? The numbers keep trending in that direction, but Counsell remains unwilling to label a pitcher who is just 24 years old.
Including a four-inning, eight-strikeout gem in relief on Monday night, Peralta owns a 3.39 ERA and .632 OPS against in 61 career innings as a reliever, compared to a 5.45 ERA and a .739 OPS against in 112 1/3 innings as a starter. Pitching relief avoids Peralta’s poorest inning, the first inning, when he has allowed 28 runs in 24 starts.
“He’s a young pitcher just getting better at his craft,” Counsell said. “I don’t necessarily see pitching first in the game, pitching second in the game, short, long -- I don’t have the answer for that right now. I just think Freddy needs to be out on the mound competing against big league hitters.”
Peralta’s take remains the same: Just say when to pitch.
But unlike some pitchers who profess a clear preference to start, Peralta is open to either role. He already has a multiyear contract, having signed a five-year extension in Spring Training.
“I think the situation when you are coming from the bullpen is different,” Peralta said. “You are late in the game and you know that you’ve got to put zeroes on the board and try to do your job because that way the team can come back and score some runs or win the game. It’s a little different.
“When you are starting, you know that you’re trying to stay in the game for more times, six innings or more, but when you are in the bullpen, you come to the mound to fight and do the best that you can.”
The Twins were impressed with Peralta’s fight on Monday night.
“We were chatting about him in the dugout a fair amount,” Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said. “He had really good life on his fastball. It was a very tough fastball to get on top of -- one of those fastballs that when it’s a strike, it probably looks like it’s coming in a little low, looks a little awkward. When it actually is above the zone, it probably looks good to hit and then it ends up probably above the zone a lot of the time. [He is a] guy with really good stuff, he was locked in.”