MILWAUKEE — As drivers pulled up in their cars to drop off canned goods at Miller Park, Ryan Braun collected the Thanksgiving donations and offered a warm handshake with his gloved right hand.
Spring training is still more than two months away, but this is a good sign for the Milwaukee Brewers and their star outfielder.
Braun said Wednesday that his right hand feels good. He is cautiously optimistic that a medical procedure performed in early October will finally fix a nerve problem near his right thumb that has nagged him since the 2013 season.
"My hope is it gets back to 100 percent. Right now, I don't feel anything and I haven't been able to say that in two years," Braun said. "It would hurt shaking hands, writing — doing everything activities — and I don't feel that at all. I'm excited about that."
Days after the end of a disappointing season, Braun had cryotherapy, a procedure involving the application of extreme cold. The procedure was performed at the Kerlan-Jobe Orthopaedic Clinic in Los Angeles.
Braun was suspended the final 65 games of the 2013 season for his connection to the Biogenesis doping scandal. The Brewers had hoped the extra rest going into last offseason would address the problem going into 2014.
For a while, that plan seemed to be working. Braun got off to a hot start in spring training. The career .306 hitter's average was up to .327 on June 1, though his power numbers were down. The average slowly dipped in the second half. His struggles at the plate epitomized Milwaukee's frustrating September, when a team-wide slump dropped the Brewers out of first place and out of the playoffs.
The 2011 NL MVP finished hitting a career-low .266 with 19 homers and 81 RBIs.
"I really believe if I was anywhere near healthy the season would end up differently," Braun said. "Hopefully this thing continues to feel good ... and I can get back to being one of the best players in the league."
Braun said his hand "felt amazing" after taking swings in the weeks after the procedure. He is in his typical offseason routine now, and doesn't plan to resume baseball activities until late December.
Other than that, Milwaukee has been relatively quiet so far. The club picked up starter Yovani Gallardo's $13 million option. Third baseman Aramis Ramirez is returning to the Brewers after the two sides picked up the $14 million mutual option.
Manager Ron Roenicke is also coming back, while Darnell Coles is taking over for Johnny Narron as hitting coach.
"I don't think our failure had anything to do with (Roenicke) managing, it had to do with us playing," Braun said. "So definitely happy to have him back."
Otherwise, Braun is also enjoying life as the father of a 2-month-old daughter. He said he wasn't getting much sleep, but otherwise called fatherhood "indescribably beautiful."
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