Braun homers in 1st at-bat back from drug ban
Back from a lengthy suspension, Ryan Braun quickly displayed some power.
The slugger hit a two-run homer Thursday in his first at-bat for the Milwaukee Brewers since completing a season-ending, 65-game suspension in 2013 for violating Major League Baseball’s anti-drug agreement.
In the first inning of Milwaukee’s spring opener against Oakland, Braun hit an 0-1 pitch off Tommy Milone high over the wall near the left field corner, 345 feet away. The 2011 NL MVP got a hearty round of cheers, the loudest coming from fans in the dozen rows or so behind the Brewers bench at Phoenix Municipal Stadium, the spring home of the Athletics.
“It’s still the first day of spring training. Better to hit the ball hard then to strike out,” Braun said. “The goal is to have a gradual progression to prepare myself for the season.”
One that promises to have its share of hecklers for Braun, at least at the start. Just before the homer, one fan wearing an A’s hat yelled “MVP-E-D.”
Braun took it in stride.
“I’ve never experienced them not yelling at me,” he said. “They have some new things to yell at me for, to yell at me about.”
It was Braun’s first game in the Brewers’ lineup since July 21, 2013. The five-time All-Star accepted a 65-game penalty the next day for his involvement with Biogenesis, a Florida clinic accused of distributing performance-enhancing drugs.
Braun took a quick jog around the bases and exchanged high-fives with teammates awaiting him at the dugout after the homer. The right thumb injury that hampered him last season doesn’t seem to be a bother, either.
Leading off the third, Braun was greeted by even more cheers, including a supporter wearing a home white No. 8 jersey clapping loudly. Phil Humber retired Braun on a hard bouncer to short.
Braun also made his debut with the Brewers in right field after spending the last six seasons primarily as a left fielder. He was lifted in the top of the fourth for pinch-hitter Caleb Gindl.
A two-time Gold Glove winner, Braun seemed to more anxious about his defense than his hitting.
“First time being out there just getting used to backing up first base on pickoff plays ... just a lot of different situations and scenarios that I hadn’t experienced before,” Braun said. “But aside from that, same as it’s always been.”
Braun remains popular with Brewers fans despite the suspension: A large number of fans wore his jersey at the team’s winter outreach event.
Still, questions about how fans feel about Braun have been included in broad online survey of Brewers season-ticket holders. A team spokesman said it was fairly common for the Brewers to poll fans.
Questions about the poll were referred to chief operating officer Rick Schlesinger, who was unavailable for comment Thursday. He told the Journal-Sentinel of Milwaukee that it just “didn’t make sense” for the Brewers to not ask about Braun.