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Braun to start at 1B vs. LHP, setting up OD debut

MLB.com @AdamMcCalvy

MESA, Ariz. -- Pleased with Ryan Braun's work at first base this spring, the Brewers will push forward with a plan to occasionally start the longtime outfielder at the position this season, primarily against left-handed pitchers.

The Brewers face southpaw Clayton Richard of the Padres on Opening Day on Thursday in San Diego. So, barring an unforeseen issue in the next six days, Braun will be the Brewers' Opening Day first baseman.

MESA, Ariz. -- Pleased with Ryan Braun's work at first base this spring, the Brewers will push forward with a plan to occasionally start the longtime outfielder at the position this season, primarily against left-handed pitchers.

The Brewers face southpaw Clayton Richard of the Padres on Opening Day on Thursday in San Diego. So, barring an unforeseen issue in the next six days, Braun will be the Brewers' Opening Day first baseman.

"That's investigative journalism," Brewers manager Craig Counsell said.

The Brewers hatched the plan in January while they were pursuing outfielders Lorenzo Cain and Christian Yelich, players who should help improve the team's defense and cut down on the lineup's strikeouts. It created a crowd, with four premium outfielders -- Braun, Cain, Domingo Santana and Yelich -- for three spots. Adding first base to Braun's repertoire should help Counsell spread at-bats around.

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"You're not going to transform a player to an experienced player and a completely comfortable player in five games worth of action," Counsell said, "but he's handled himself very well from our perspective."

When Braun assessed his progress about halfway through camp, he was blunt, saying he was not "remotely comfortable" at first base. At the time, Braun was still using his outfield glove. He has since switched to a traditional first baseman's glove, logging 41 innings at the position over eight Cactus League games.

Braun will get one final tune-up at first base in one of the Brewers' upcoming exhibition games in Houston, Counsell said.

"I think he has the skills to play the position," Counsell said. "Like I said before, I understand why he's uncomfortable with the rest of the stuff. You're not going to be comfortable until you've done it a whole bunch, and there's still plays that haven't happened. The way he thinks about the game, that makes him uncomfortable. That's right. I can completely empathize with that.

"But I think he's shown enough that we think he can be a contributor there."

Video: Braun challenged by position switch to first base

Comfort will come in time, Counsell predicted.

"It's the little dribbler up the line that the runner is coming at you and the pitcher throws it and you can't see the ball," Counsell said. "It's, 'How far can I get away from first base with a right-handed hitter up?' It's a push bunt from a fast runner. It's not the ground balls, it's not the throws from the infielders, it's the stuff that you try to practice, but it doesn't happen that much, so it's a surprise when it happens."

Still unsettled is how adding Braun alongside primary first baseman Eric Thames will impact another player, Jesus Aguilar. He is out of Minor League options, making a minimum salary and would almost certainly be plucked off the waiver wire after hitting 16 home runs with an .837 OPS in 311 plate appearances last season.

"We're trying to find a way to get him on the roster, Counsell said.

If he makes it, how would the Brewers use Aguilar?

"That's why we're having this conversation, because there isn't a clear spot for Jesus if Ryan plays first base," Counsell said. "But could there be quickly? I don't know what's going to happen. … We have to make some decisions on our depth here coming up here, but we're still going to try to preserve it."

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

Milwaukee Brewers, Ryan Braun