Thumbs up for Braun as Brewers host Cardinals

MILWAUKEE — Ryan Braun is expected to be back in Milwaukee and available Thursday night when the Brewers open a four-game series with the St. Louis Cardinals at Miller Park.

Braun left the team Thursday morning for Los Angeles, where he received a cryotherapy injection in his right thumb — a procedure he has undergone four times since first receiving treatment on the thumb following the 2014 season.

“It started bugging him the last couple of days so he flew out (Thursday) morning),” Brewers manager Craig Counsell said. “It’s something that he expects from time to time. When it starts (bothering him), we try to get in front of it and knock it out right away.”

Braun was expected to miss Milwaukee’s game Wednesday night at Pittsburgh, but Mother Nature made the point moot as rain forced cancellation of the finale of a three-game series with the Pirates.

As a result, the Brewers will take the field Thursday virtually tied with the Chicago Cubs for first place in the National League Central with the Cardinals lingering 4 1/2 games behind.

St. Louis will try to cut into that deficit behind right-hander Carlos Martinez (3-3, 2.73 ERA), who has struggled since returning from the disabled list back on June 5.

In three starts since then, Martinez is 0-1 with a 7.11 ERA. He struck out 15 while walking 18 in 12 2/3 innings — failing to get past the fifth in any of those outings — while opponents have batted .306 against him with a .908 OPS.

“He’s got to do something different, I know,” manager Mike Matheny admitted. “(Pitching coach Mike) Maddux has talked to him about getting locked in. It just looks different. We need him to be like he can be.”

Martinez was off to a strong start before the injury. He bounced back from a rough season-opening outing against the New York Mets to post a 0.99 ERA over his next seven starts. He still had a 1.77 ERA after the Minnesota Twins tagged him for four runs over five innings in a 7-1 loss on May 8 but was placed on the disabled list the next day with a strained forearm.

“Right when he got hurt, he was as good as anybody in the league,” said Matheny. “We’ve just got to get him back there, that’s all.

Martinez has faced Milwaukee twice this season, dominating the Brewers in each appearance. He held them to a run over six innings in a 5-3 victory on April 10 in St. Louis and fell two outs short of a complete game shutout on April 4 at Miller Park, where he is 4-4 with a 2.36 ERA in 16 career appearances, including 10 starts.

Overall, he’s 6-4 with a 1.95 ERA in his career against Milwaukee and has held the Brewers to two runs or fewer in 10 of his last 14 starts against the Brewers.

Because of the rainout in Pittsburgh, left-hander Brent Suter (7-4, 4.30) will get an extra day of rest and start for Milwaukee on Thursday, with Junior Guerra, Chase Anderson and Jhoulys Chacin rounding out the series.

Suter is 1-0 with a 3.48 ERA in two starts against St. Louis this season, and 1-2 with a 4.10 ERA in eight career appearances (four starts) against the Cardinals..