Roenicke says Braun saga is ‘over with’
Brewers manager Ron Roenicke was ready to welcome Ryan Braun to Spring Training on Thursday, and is just as eager as Braun to move beyond Biogenesis and on to baseball.
“We need him on this club, and he’s paid the penalty that Major League Baseball has put in place, and it’s over with,” Roenicke said Thursday morning, just before Braun arrived in camp. “I think we all make mistakes, and we’re pretty forgiving people. I think everything will be fine. I think [teammates] will welcome him back really well.”
Roenicke reiterated that he has heard everything he needs to hear from Braun, who admitted last summer in the wake of his suspension that he took a banned substance to speed his recovery from an injury in 2011. Since then, Braun has apologized to his teammates in private and to fans in public, holding two press conferences during the offseason.
On Thursday, he was met by some of the national media for the first time.
Roenicke is weary of the saga. He figures Brewers players are, too.
“Yeah, they’re tired of it,” Roenicke said. “We want to move forward. We’re excited about this season. I think we’ve got a very good club and we’re excited to move on and to worry about how Ryan and everyone else in that room can help us win this year.”
From a production standpoint, Roenicke expects the same Braun who produced a National League Rookie of the Year season in 2007, and drove in 100 runs in each of the three subsequent seasons that followed before Braun was ever connected to PEDs. Roenicke indicated he believes Braun only took banned substances in 2011, when he first ran afoul of MLB’s drug program.
“So I expect him to be the same player, yes,” Roenicke said. “He’s in great shape. He’s in a good frame of mind. He knows this stuff is behind him, and I expect him to come out and be the kind of guy that he’s always been.”
That guy will be playing a new position.
Khris Davis, a slugger who turned 26 over the winter, did enough last season in Braun’s absence (11 home runs, .596 slugging percentage in 136 at-bats) to convince Brewers officials that he deserves a more prominent role in 2014. Davis does not possess a string arm, so Braun is moving to right field. In the long term, the Brewers believe it is generally easier to find left fielders. In the short term, it opens opportunity for Davis.
“That’s never an easy decision,” Roenicke said. “I actually thought about it my forst year here [in 2011]. Usually, when you see that good of a defensive outfielder, an a guy who can throw, you usually think of him as a right fielder. … It won’t be that easy of a transition, even though he’s a very good left fielder. It’s different when that ball turns the other way.”
The Brewers will put Braun through more defensive drills to get him up to speed, Roenicke said, and as usual will let Braun have a say in his schedule once Cactus League games begin.
At Miller Park, Braun will face some challenges in right field. In addition to the 90-degree caroms sometimes produced by grounders down the line, Miller Park features a party area in right field that juts onto what used to be the warning track. The outfield wall takes several unusual turns because of that.
“He’ll get used to it,” Roenicke said. “You’ve got to be able to turn your head off the ball and run and see exactly where that cut-out is. The throwing part won’t be an issue because he throws well and is accurate. It’s a lot easier when you have a straight wall and it’s curved nice for you and it’s padded an all that. Maybe he plays a little deeper at the beginning to help that out. I know [Norichika] Aoki played deeper.”
The Brewers will also work to find ways to keep Braun healthy. Before the suspension last year, he was severely diminished by neck and thumb issues that sapped Braun’s power. The thumb is a long-term concern, Roenicke indicated.
“The trainers are working to pad-up either the gloves he puts on or the bat itself in trying to get a little pressure off that,” Roenicke said. “I know he doesn’t like that, because he really likes to feel the bat on his fingers, and you lose a little bit of feeling [when you pad the bat]. Hopefully they come up with something that will help that and we won’t fight with that all year.”
At some point, Roenicke hopes, things will be back to normal for Braun.
“I’m hoping he gets off to a great start, and the better he does, the less he’s going to hear about things,” Roenicke said. “Hopefully he’ll have a great year.”
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