Braun alters routine, two home runs follow
By ANDREW GRUMAN
MILWAUKEE — Ryan Braun needed something to help him out of his funk at the plate.
He tried everything he could on his own, taking a day off Wednesday, coming out for a rare early batting practice session Thursday which required him to break his usual pregame routine, anything to get himself going.
In the end, it was a fortunate bounce from the Miller Park wall that did the trick.
On an 0-2 changeup in the first inning Thursday, Braun's drive to right struck the yellow on the top of the wall and bounced over for his National League-leading 30th home run of the season.
Three innings later, Braun left little doubt on number 31, crushing his second homer of the day.
Afterward, Braun admitted that the off day allowed him to relax and take a breath, something he hasn't had a chance to do in some time.
"For all of us, when we struggle, the game speeds up on us whether you are an offensive player or a pitcher," Braun said. "I think sometimes taking a step back you let the game slow down again. Those things help sometimes.
"We play every single day; there is typically no break at all. Every once in a while when things aren't going well, it is nice to break up the routine of doing the same thing every day, especially when you aren't seeing good results."
The Brewers left fielder entered Thursday in 6 for 42 slump, so Braun broke his philosophy of quality swings over quantity and took early batting practice for only the second time since his rookie season of 2007.
"You can only do so much of it," Braun said prior to Thursday's game. "You can only focus on baseball so long and keep up the intensity and focus that makes it worthwhile. You can take a million swings, but if you aren't doing them correctly, you build bad muscle memory."
It is obvious that a player of Braun's stature changes the Brewers lineup, and that was evident late in Thursday's game.
Phillies reliever Josh Lindblom wanted no part of Braun in the eighth inning, choosing to intentionally walk him.
"It is huge," Brewers manager Ron Roenicke said of a locked-in Braun's impact. "With ‘Ramy' (Aramis Ramirez) swinging the bat so well as he has for a long time now, when Ryan is swinging well and they are putting him on base or he's driving the ball to get on base, it makes a big difference going to Ramy and then Corey (Hart)."
Hart was a beneficiary of that Thursday. After Braun's intentional walk, Lindblom walked Ramirez to load the bases for Hart, who put the Brewers in front for good with a grand slam.
"Ryan is one of the best players in the league," Hart said. "Everyone is going to go through little stretches where they are not great. He had a day off and he came back strong today and was a big reason we were in the game at all."
There are few more confident in baseball than Braun. He leaves Thursday's game still hitting .302 on the season, leading National League in home runs with 31. He knows not to press too hard.
"You try to keep your sanity when it's going bad and figure out what is going on," Braun said. "I think guys get themselves in trouble when they try to make too many changes. I think when you have a track record and you believe in what you can do, I've proven to myself it works, I don't want to make drastic changes because I don't need to make drastic changes."
But in baseball, even the most confident get shaken. It's natural.
Roenicke saw it with Braun.
"No matter who the person is, when you struggle for any period of time, I think there is a confidence issue there," Roenicke said. "That's why you stop seeing the ball well. When you are confident and relaxed, your vision is better, it is proven. When you lose a little bit of that, he hasn't walked in a long time, he's chasing pitches out of the zone, I think that has to do with the whole thing."
Braun knows that he's gotten himself out a lot lately by chasing bad pitches. It has nothing to do with injuries; he feels fine physically.
"I always feel the biggest challenge for me offensively is plate discipline," Braun said. "It is not something that has ever come easy to me. I feel that if I'm going good I'm swinging at good pitches and when I'm not, I'm getting myself out. Every once in a while you face a pitcher that is locked in and there's not a lot you can do about it, but more often than not, when I'm swinging at good pitches, success is going to come."
To Braun, more isn't always better. He didn't hit two home runs Thursday just because he took extra swings.
"BP is not the problem; I am hitting 1.000 in BP," Braun said. "It is a challenging game. Albert Pujols is the greatest hitter of our generation and arguably the greatest right-handed hitter of all-time, and the first five weeks he hit under .200 with one home run. Look at Josh Hamilton, who was as good as anybody ever the first two months and then for two months hit under .200. It is a really challenging game."
Baseball can be humbling to even the greatest to play the sport. It tests a player both physically and mentally and it is currently testing the reigning National League MVP.
"What's crazy about this game is that you have no control over results," Braun said. "You can take the greatest early BP ever, get an amazing workout and take another amazing batting practice, study for the pitcher and know exactly what he's going to do to me, take great swings and have nothing to show for it. It is a game where you can't force results. There is nothing you can do to guarantee success, and you continue to go about the process."
But success can lead to more success, just by injecting a little more confidence into even the most talented of hitters' head.
"Baseball is such a game of confidence," Braun said. "The mental part of the game is so important for all of us. When you have success you are that much more confident and when you haven't you are certainly aware of it. It was nice to hit the ball on the barrel (tonight)."
Marcum's return still hazy: Shaun Marcum was back with the Brewers on Thursday following his second rehab start with Single-A Wisconsin.
The Brewers aren't ready to bring back the right-hander just yet, however.
On the disabled list since June 15 with right elbow tightness, Marcum didn't feel as well as he had hoped following an outing that saw him allow two earned runs in 3 2/3 innings Wednesday.
"He felt good, (but) he said the last inning he didn't throw as well," Roenicke said. "He said his cutters were sliding across too big and was missing location."
Marcum will throw a bullpen season Friday, and his next step will then be determined. That could mean his return to the Brewers or another start with Wisconsin.
"That's where the bullpen comes in, not where his arm feels, but am I really ready to do this at the big league level," Roenicke said. "We are tinkering with both things. Whether to bring him back early and limit him to probably 75 (pitches) maximum or to give him another start."
If and when Marcum is able to return, Roenicke hinted that the club may choose to not remove any of its current starters but to instead finish the season with a six-man rotation.