By CHARLES F. GARDNER, Associated Press
PHOENIX (AP) — Ryan Braun is willing to play first base if that helps the Milwaukee Brewers strengthen their lineup.
That doesn’t mean he thinks it will be an easy transition after playing the outfield for the past decade — and Braun expressed some serious reservations about the move on Saturday.
The slugger started in left field for the first time this spring when the Brewers faced the Colorado Rockies. He made his first four Cactus League starts at first base.
“It’s enjoyable,” Braun said, “taking ground balls for the first time in a long time. But it’s also stressful. I’ve never done it at all. I had no idea what I was getting myself into.”
Braun is getting time at first base after the Brewers acquired outfielders Christian Yelich and Lorenzo Cain during the offseason. If the transition goes well, Braun would likely split time between left field and first.
Assignments on bunt plays and shifts are among the tasks that Braun is trying to master.
“I definitely don’t feel comfortable at all,” he said. “I’m doing the best I can with it. Guys have to make sacrifices. I think ultimately if we want to get to where we want to get as a team, based on the roster we’ve put together, it obviously helps make us a better team if I’m able to play multiple positions.”
Braun came up as a third baseman with the Brewers and played there in 2007 before moving to the outfield in 2008. He has primarily played left field since then, except for a two-year stint in right that ended in 2015.
Braun, who has had back trouble during his career, said he has to bend down and squat more while playing the infield.
“So generally you’re putting your back in more vulnerable positions, which for me is a challenge,” he said. “My back is the biggest thing health-wise I’ve focused on for a few years now. … I think in the long run I have no doubt first base would be easier. But to this point it’s definitely been a lot harder on my back than the outfield was, so we’ll see.”
Braun went 1 for 3 with a double and scored a run in four innings before leaving the Brewers’ 9-2 win. Left-hander Brent Suter, competing for a spot in the rotation, pitched four shutout innings and allowed two hits.
Suter was 3-2 with a 3.42 ERA in 22 appearances with Milwaukee last season, making 14 starts. He hopes the 15 pounds he gained in the offseason will keep him stronger throughout the year.
“There’s no fatigue in my legs,” he said. “I’m able to stay on top of pitches later in the counts, later in the game. I’m more on top of the ball. So far it feels like it’s paying off.”
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