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Braun says he’s ready; Counsell’s status iffy

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McClatchy Tribune
March 31, 2009
— Two injured players returned to the Milwaukee Brewers’ fold Monday but one’s health status remained uncertain.

Leftfielder Ryan Braun reported enough improvement with his intercostal tightness to return to action in big-league games but reserve infielder Craig Counsell has a knee injury that could require surgery and force him to open the season on the disabled list.


Braun had to convince club officials and medical personnel that he was in shape to play, and continue playing. Teams cannot backdate a player’s time on the disabled list beyond his last big-league exhibition game, so Braun would miss more of the regular season if he suffered a recurrence of the problem and was sidelined.


“He understands how it works,” assistant general manager Gord Ash said. “He feels he’s ready to go. He tells us he feels ready to play seven innings and do all the drills and all facets of the game. He’s the one who knows himself.”


Asked if there were any nervousness among club officials regarding Braun’s readiness to play regularly, Ash said: “No. He feels good. He’s the one who knows himself.”


Braun, who first experienced tightness in his right intercostal muscles while playing for Team USA during the World Baseball Classic, said the problem had not dissipated completely but he felt healthy enough to stay in the lineup.


“It’s definitely better,” Braun said. “I’m working through it. I’m ready.


“It’s just getting back into activity. A lot of times, inactivity leads to more soreness. I hope that it goes away but I really don’t know. It hasn’t gone away in the past.


“My experience with it, and talking to guys who’ve had the injury, I don’t think it’s something that goes away completely very quickly. But at some point I hope it goes away.”


Braun’s effectiveness as a hitter was greatly compromised over the final six weeks of last season, when he battled more persistent intercostal tightness in the same area. But he insisted he could play through the current problem and remain productive.


“I just need to make sure I get a good warm-up every day,” said Braun, who went 0 for 3 before departing in the sixth inning of the Brewers’ 9-7 victory over Seattle.


“I think everybody’s pretty confident that I’m good to go.”


Counsell also returned to action after two days on the minor-league side but his ailing right knee put his active status in jeopardy. Ash said Counsell had a cartilage tear in the knee that could require surgery if it continues to bother him.


“He has some pain but still can play through it,” Ash said. “What we want to do is move him over here and let him play over here and see how he feels and see where it goes from there.”


By playing Counsell in major-league exhibition games, the Brewers lost their ability to backdate his time on the disabled list, if needed. But Ash said if Counsell had arthroscopic surgery he would miss two to three weeks in any event.


Ash said an MRI performed on Counsell’s knee indicated that the tear was pre-existing. He also said the doctor’s report indicated that playing in games would not worsen the injury.


Counsell said he planned to tell club officials by Wednesday if he thought he could play through the injury. He said the difficult part was weighing the loss of two to three weeks to surgery against playing all season with knee discomfort.


“That’s why it’s so hard,” said Counsell, who went 0 for 2 with a walk against the Mariners but moved well. “That’s the whole decision. It’s not an easy one.


“It’s not the easiest thing to figure out. They’ve said all along it’s up to me.”


If Counsell goes on the disabled list, infielder Casey McGehee—who has had a very impressive camp—probably will be kept as a backup infielder in addition to Mike Lamb. But Counsell is the primary backup to shortstop J.J. Hardy and the club would be thin at that position if he went on the DL.


McGehee continued his banner camp with a two-run homer in the bottom of the ninth that beat the Mariners. He is batting .370 with six home runs and 15 RBI yet might not make the club if Counsell avoids the DL.


Roster nearly set

The Brewers sent infielder/outfielder Hernan Iribarren to Class AAA Nashville and returned utility player Vinny Rottino to minor-league camp. They also told pitchers Lindsay Gulin and Wes Littleton and catcher Carlos Corporan they were Nashville-bound but would remain with the team and travel to Los Angeles this weekend for a pair of exhibition games.


With the exception of the Counsell/McGehee situation, the Brewers are down to one roster decision: Tony Gwynn Jr. vs. Chris Duffy for the final reserve outfield spot. It appears Brad Nelson, who is out of options, has claimed the other backup job in the outfield.


Gwynn also is out of options, which could influence the decision. Duffy, who is on a minor-league contract, has had a much better spring, batting .313 with eight doubles and 11 RBI. Gwynn, who missed much of camp with a shoulder injury, is batting .167 in 12 games.


Nashville rotation set

With Gulin reassigned to Nashville, that club’s starting rotation is set. Gulin joins lefties Chase Wright and Sam Narron and right-handers Tim Dillard and Nick Green.


Ash said left-hander Chris Narveson, who started 22 games for Nashville last season, would pitch out of the bullpen.



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