MILWAUKEE (AP) – Five Milwaukee Brewers story lines to watch with pitchers and catchers reporting to spring training on Saturday, along with the return of outfielder Ryan Braun.
MAKING AMENDS: He’s sorry. Really, really sorry.
Braun has said he doesn’t know if he can ever stop apologizing after being suspended 65 games last season for violating Major League Baseball’s anti-drug agreement.
He’s also looking to move on. The first step comes with proving he’s over the thumb injury that bothered him last year, while making a smooth transition from left to right field.
A career .312 hitter, Braun averages 36 homers a season.
“Hopefully be one of the best players in the game and show (fans) that I learned from my mistake, that I’ve learned from it and that hopefully have become a better person because of it,” Braun said last month.
GOOD HEALTH: Braun is just one of several key players looking to recover from injuries.
He played just 61 games last year, while third baseman Aramis Ramirez was limited to 92 with a left knee injury. That’s 650 at-bats last season missed by two of the team’s top hitters, general manager Doug Melvin estimated. A left hamstring injury also limited second baseman Rickie Weeks to 104 games.
Melvin has said staying healthy is of utmost importance, especially with younger players who had supporting roles last season expected to have more responsibilities in 2014.
LATE GET: Surprise! The Brewers made some noise in the free-agent market after all in signing free-agent starter Matt Garza last month to a four-year, $50 million deal. There’s an option for a fifth season.
The right-hander is already at the team’s spring complex in Maryvale, Ariz., to get a head start. Garza is an innings-eater who adds another veteran presence at the top of the rotation with Yovani Gallardo and Kyle Lohse.
Garza’s arrival also adds depth and lessens the pressure on fourth-starter Wily Peralta. It increases the competition for the fifth spot among a sudden stockpile of young hurlers.
“This rotation has a chance to be really special. I think we’re all looking forward to spring and getting back to work,” catcher Jonathan Lucroy said.
Last week, the Brewers signed free-agent reliever Francisco Rodriguez to a $3.25 million, one-year contract. The veteran could start the season as a setup man for closer Jim Henderson.
WHO’S ON FIRST? Not Prince Fielder since 2011, and the Brewers are still looking for his long-term replacement.
Corey Hart, who was sidelined all of last season with a knee injury, signed with Seattle this offseason. So this spring training will be spent sorting out whether veterans Mark Reynolds and Lyle Overbay can help cover the gaping offensive hole after signing minor league deals.
Juan Francisco and Hunter Morris, a lefty who hit 24 homers at Triple-A Nashville last year, also could be in the mix.
MIDDLE ON TOP: For all the consternation about first, the Brewers like where they stand up the middle.
Lucroy, shortstop Jean Segura and centerfielder Carlos Gomez, a Gold Glove winner, form a good, young trio upon which to build. Keep tabs on Segura especially this spring, as the Brewers said he would stay away from winter ball to keep fresh. Segura slumped down the stretch last season.
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