Brewers' Ryan Braun healthy, off to good start at plate
MILWAUKEE (AP) Ryan Braun is healthy again, and it's showing with his swing.
He is hitting with authority the opposite way, to right field. Maybe this rebuilding season won't be so tough after all for the Milwaukee Brewers.
''Swing is in a good place, bat path is in a good place,'' Braun said after the Brewers' 8-5 win on Sunday over the Philadelphia Phillies. ''But more than that, I'm healthy, healthiest I've been in a while. I feel good.''
The Brewers' best player is hitting .364 with five homers and 15 RBIs in 18 games. He has a seven-game hitting streak going into the start of a three-game series on Tuesday in Chicago against the Cubs.
Braun had offseason back surgery, a procedure that delayed his winter workout program by a couple weeks. He had to sit out about a week during spring training to rest the back, but finished with a flurry, hitting home runs in each of his three final spring games.
Braun was also bothered in recent seasons by a nerve injury near his right thumb. But that doesn't seem to be an issue anymore, either.
''He's locked in, there's no question,'' manager Craig Counsell said before Sunday's game. And that was before Braun went 2 for 4, including a solo homer near the right-field corner in the fourth. Braun also stole his first base of the season.
''He's crushed mistakes that guys have made to him. He's doing a nice job,'' Counsell said.
As is the rest of the lineup, for the most part.
Veteran catcher Jonathan Lucroy, hitting .297, has an eight-game hitting streak. First baseman Chris Carter, a career .217 hitter who averaged .199 last season in Houston, is hitting .295 with five homers and 15 RBIs. He has nine doubles and, like Braun, is a dangerous hitter to the opposite field in right.
Shortstop Jonathan Villar, another offseason acquisition from the Astros, is playing solid defense and getting on base. Second baseman Scooter Gennett, a left-handed hitter, has four home runs and has shown improvement against lefty pitchers.
Power-hitting prospect Domingo Santana isn't a typical leadoff hitter, but performing well in that role, hitting .275 with two homers.
''He's gotten on base, he's been himself. He's taken the same at-bat you take in another spot in the lineup,'' Counsell said. ''Guys may think they have to change themselves, and he's continued to be himself.''
Part of the Brewers' successful start at the plate is due to a more patient approach, and a focus on working counts and drawing walks. Gennett has 10 walks through 18 games after drawing 12 in 114 games all of last season.
The Brewers were 8-11 through the season's first three weeks. It's a respectable enough record, especially given the trouble the team has had of late in getting quality starts from the pitching staff.
The club is in the early stages of the rebuilding process. Players potentially seen as holdover pieces, like Carter and Villar, could eventually give way to younger prospects, and the pitching staff could skew younger, too.
But for now, the team can draw positives from the back end of the bullpen and the offense.
''Certainly room for improvement in some areas. Always a matter of consistency; we haven't been very consistent in many aspects of the game but I think we can be better than we've been to this point,'' Braun said.