Brewers and Ryan Braun hopeful that procedure has helped outfielder with spring training near

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FILE - In this May 8, 2013, file photo, Milwaukee Brewers' Ryan Braun hits a triple during the sixth inning of a baseball game against the Texas Rangers in Milwaukee. Braun says his thumb feels great while swinging following an offseason procedure to address nerve damage in his right hand. (AP Photo/Morry Gash, File)


MILWAUKEE — Fatherhood has given Ryan Braun a different perspective on baseball and life in general.

The Milwaukee Brewers outfielder has more pressing matters to worry about right now than whether an offseason medical procedure will finally fix the nerve damage near his right thumb that affected his swing.

So far, so good — both with the thumb and raising a 4 1/2-month-old daughter.

"It's a lot of work," Braun said Sunday. "We've been sleep training her this week, which is one of the most heartbreaking experiences of my life, but productive for all of us moving forward. So overall it's been great."

Almost everything sounded rosy on Sunday at the Brewers On Deck winter fan outreach event, where Braun, catcher Jonathan Lucroy and other teammates signed autographs and met fans.

In a month, baseball will become more of a priority when spring training begins in Arizona for the Brewers. The slugger hopes to get a better feel by then about what kind of impact that the procedure known as cryotherapy had on his lingering nerve problem.

The procedure involved the application of extreme cold. Assistant general manager Gord Ash said Braun and the team's medical staff are very optimistic, but cautioned that "until he gets to spring training and gets some continuous at-bats and continuous repetitions, we're not going to know for sure."

The sore thumb left Braun struggling through a subpar season when he hit .266 — well below his career average of .306. His 19 homers and 81 RBIs were also career lows for a full season.

It was Braun's first full year following a 65-game suspension at the end of the 2013 season for his connection to the Biogenesis doping scandal. There was work needed in 2014 off the field to rebuild trust with fans. He also switched positions.

"Ryan did everything we asked him to do last year," owner Mark Attanasio said. "With that all behind him — I think the thumb was the primary thing we were focused on — but being another year removed from the drama, I think, is certainly going to help, and it's another year now that he's comfortable in right field."

It is his comfort level at the plate that could make the biggest difference in Milwaukee.

A predominantly free-swinging club struggled at the plate the last five weeks of the season. A 20-7 start that allowed Milwaukee to stay atop the NL Central for five months was wasted by a 9-22 collapse to finish the season.

The Brewers missed the playoffs for a third straight year.

Milwaukee tweaked in the offseason instead of making wholesale changes. The hope is that a healthy Braun will make just a positive impact on the lineup as a big free agent addition.

"It's certainly big. I know he's said that if he was healthy, things might have been different last year and maybe they would have," manager Ron Roenicke said.

At the same time, Roenicke said the other hitters need to be more consistent, too.

"It shouldn't all be on him," the skipper said. "Is he a big part? Absolutely. We need him to bounce back and be the kind of hitter we know he is, and be the kind of defender we know he is."

Braun said the thumb feels good so far. He started hitting a little earlier than he usually does in the offseason, but otherwise Braun is maintaining his typical routine.

The thumb feels much better than it did at this point last year, Braun said. The first real test will come in spring training.

"I feel as good as I ever do this time of year ... I think it's always kind of a progression of getting to the point where you feel really comfortable with your swing," Braun said. "That normally happens at some point during spring training. But overall right now it feels good as I could possibly hope for."

NOTES: General manager Doug Melvin said he hasn't spoken recently with the Philadelphia Phillies about trading for closer Jonathan Papelbon. "That changes day by day. Sometimes you think there's nothing happening and sometimes you get a phone call. But I haven't gotten any phone calls lately," Melvin said. ... The Brewers appear to still be in touch with free agent closer Francisco Rodriguez, who had 44 saves last season. In 2014, Rodriguez signed a one-year deal with Milwaukee about a week before spring training started. Jonathan Broxton would be the favorite to close if the Brewers didn't make another bullpen move.


Follow Genaro Armas at http://twitter.com/GArmasAP

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