Milwaukee Brewers expect Ryan Braun back just in time
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
With Carlos Gomez expected to miss some, if not all, of the three-game series with the Pittsburgh Pirates beginning tonight at Miller Park due to his suspension and Aramis Ramirez poised to go on the 15-day disabled list with a strained left hamstring, impact bats are going to be at a premium for the Milwaukee Brewers.
Enter Ryan Braun, who should be ready to go after his own stint on the DL with a strained right oblique. His prep work done, a discussed one-game rehab stint at Class A Wisconsin scuttled by rain Monday, Braun will need to hit the ground running as the Brewers try to build off a weekend that saw them take two of three interleague games from the New York Yankees.
“I think there’s always a sense of urgency,” Braun said Sunday. “I think that sense of urgency may increase slightly with the fact that Rami’s most likely going to go on the DL and there’s a good chance that Gomey is suspended for possibly the whole series.
“But I think most important is getting me to a point where I’m able to play. It’s not something you can force your way through. Obviously, you don’t need to be 100 percent, but you need to be somewhat close before they’re comfortable putting me back in there.”
With Braun in the final stages of his recovery, Milwaukee squeezed out a pair of one-run victories over the Yankees. Sunday’s was most impressive as the Brewers posted their first walk-off of the season with an unlikely heart of the order that included Logan Schafer, Rickie Weeks, Lyle Overbay and Mark Reynolds.
That foursome accounted for seven of the Brewers’ 12 hits and five of the six runs batted in as manager Ron Roenicke tried to fill the gaps in a lineup that opened the season strongly but has since been compromised by injury and inconsistency brought about by a free-swinging approach.
In Braun, Roenicke would have his best all-around hitter back in the third spot, giving him a much-needed power threat as well as someone who is also selective at the plate. In 22 games, Braun is hitting .318 with six home runs and 18 RBI with an on-base percentage of .361, a slugging percentage of .591 and an OPS of .952.
Adding to the frustration of losing him to the DL was the fact that Braun was doing some of his best work just before being injured.
Three of his six homers came in the final two games of a four-game series with the Pirates at PNC Park. He hit two, including the game-winner in the ninth inning, in an 8-7 victory on April 19 and then another in the ninth inning of an eventual 3-2, 14-inning victory the following day that saw both teams engage in a benches-clearing brawl.
Both of the ninth-inning homers came against all-star closer Jason Grilli, who went on the DL with an oblique strain of his own shortly thereafter.
Since Braun was sidelined, the Brewers have gone 6-8. Ramirez was also battling through a major slump before being injured, leaving the offense without its anchors in the third and fourth spots and the team trying desperately not to suffer a second consecutive May swoon.
Getting a healthy Braun back should help, but the Brewers are still going to be at less than full strength until Ramirez returns. They entered the week tied with the San Francisco Giants with 24 victories, the most in the major leagues, and tied with the Giants for the best record in the National League at 24-14.
“You look around baseball and there’s so many guys that are hurt, so many good players, key players, big-name players that are injured, and I think that makes it challenging for teams,” Braun said. “You know from the beginning of the season that your depth will be challenged as a team, as an organization. It’s an opportunity for other guys to step up, and I think we’re up to the challenge.
“You never expect to get through a year with everybody healthy; you just know that inevitably throughout the grind of a 162-game season that you’re going to deal with a lot of challenges as a team. Certainly it’s a challenging time for us right now, but I really do think that we’re up to the challenge.”
One player who stepped up against the Yankees was Weeks, who figures to get opportunities against the Pirates. Pittsburgh starts right-hander Gerrit Cole in the opener Tuesday and then lefties Francisco Liriano and Wandy Rodriguez the final two games.
Weeks went 3 for 5 Sunday against the Yankees, driving in two runs and scoring the game-winner after doubling to lead off the ninth.
Milwaukee has won six of seven against Pittsburgh, including a three-game sweep of the Pirates at Miller Park in early April. Getting continued contributions from Weeks as well as others will be key with Roenicke now needing to fill the holes both in the leadoff spot and in center field because of Gomez’s pending suspension.
“Every day and every game is important,” said Gomez. “Rami’s going to be out, but Rickie’s the hot guy in the lineup, so put him in there and he’s going to take care of business until Rami comes back. We need Khris Davis to start getting hot again—I don’t think he’s going to be like this for the whole year. He’s in a little bit of a slump, but he’ll be fine.”
Cole and Gomez, of course, were two of the key players in that Easter Sunday brawl that also saw Martin Maldonado and Pirates players Travis Snider and Russell Martin suspended.
Snider has served his suspension, while Martin remains on the DL and won’t play in the series. Even with some of those key players unavailable, the circumstances might well lead to an even more spirited rivalry between the two NL Central teams.
“I think they’re going to come with more intensity,” Gomez acknowledged. “I think it’s good for the Pirates and it’s good for us. You just come with more intensity in the game. Just play right and be clean and I think we’ll be fine when all the emotion (is gone). They’re going to come after us. They want to beat us bad and we want to do the same.
“It’s good, competitive stuff.”