MILWAUKEE — Nearly two months removed from cryotherapy procedure on his right thumb, Milwaukee Brewers right fielder Ryan Braun says he is pain free for the first time in two years.
Speaking to a group of reporters after volunteering at the club’s annual Thanksgiving food drive, Braun said the procedure was a success, but he knows the true test won’t come until he begins the grind of the season.
"It feels great. I feel really good," Braun said Wednesday. "I’m excited and encouraged by how it feels, but at the same time I have to be cautiously optimistic until I get into spring training and start playing every day to see how it responds. But it hasn’t felt this good in a really long time.
"It definitely worked. It made a huge difference."
Braun underwent the cryotherapy procedure Oct. 2 in Los Angeles with hopes the process of inserting a needle at the base of the right thumb to freeze a damaged nerve would eliminate the thumb injury that has bothered him for the better part of two years.
"My hope is that it gets back to 100 percent," Braun said. "Right now I don’t feel anything. I haven’t been able to say that for two years. It would hurt shaking hands, writing, doing regular, every day activities. Now I don’t feel it at all. So I’m excited about that.
"There was some residual soreness after the procedure itself. It was a little sore for a few weeks, but overall it has felt really good. There was an immediate difference."
Braun swung a bat for the first time shortly after the procedure and the results were positive. He plans to prepare for spring training the same way he usually does, which means ramping up baseball activities in late December.
There’s not a plan in place for Braun to undergo another cryotherapy procedure, but he did say it is an option down the road if necessary. Because the surgery has rarely been done on athletes, there’s not much history to fall back on.
"I’m excited. But at the same time, I went into last year feeling really good in spring training," Braun said. "The first four or five weeks I felt great and played great, but then I kind of reinjured it. But last year we just rested. We didn’t do a procedure on it. I’m optimistic, but I think I have to be somewhat cautiously optimistic."
Braun hit .266 with 19 home runs and 81 RBI in 2014, all of which are career-lows outside of the season in which he was suspended for violating Major League Baseball’s Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment Program.
The former National League MVP was batting .301 on July 26, but he hit just .209 with five home runs and 20 RBI in his last 53 games. Braun admitted the painful nature of the nerve issue in his thumb forced him to swing "one-handed" for the majority of the season.
Knowing how he now feels following the procedure, does Braun regret not doing something during the season?
"Hindsight is always 20-20," Braun said. "I think it is easy to say that now. There was a time when I definitely wanted to do it, but I understood why we decided not to. I’m just thankful I was able to do it after the season and that it feels a lot better now."
The Brewers certainly are hoping Braun will return to the player he was over the first six years of his career, as Milwaukee owes the 31-year-old $103 million over the next six seasons.
If the Brewers are to contend in a tough National League Central in 2015, Braun must be healthy and an impact bat in the middle of the lineup.
"We should be significantly better," Braun said. "I said it last year a few times, I really believe if I was anywhere near healthy, the season ends up differently. Hopefully, this thing continues to feel good like it does right now, and I can get back to being one of the best players in the league."
Braun also spoke on numerous other topics other than the health of his thumb, including the addition of first baseman Adam Lind in an otherwise quiet offseason thus far for the Brewers.
"It is early in the offseason," Braun said. "I think it takes time for any big moves to happen. But I think getting Adam Lind is huge for us. Adding a left-handed bat to the middle of our lineup should be something that should really benefit us.
"It has probably been one of our bigger issues the last few years is that we’ve been a predominately right-handed hitting lineup, and our division has a lot of good right-handed pitchers. I think adding a lefty to the middle of our lineup is a huge addition for us."
One of the numerous players who spoke up in support of Ron Roenicke following the team’s late-season collapse, Braun is pleased the Brewers decided to keep their skipper.
"Ron has been great," Braun said. "All of us really enjoy having him as our manager. He’s a great leader, great communicator. I don’t think our failure had anything to do with his managing. It had to do with us playing. A lot of times managers end up being a scapegoat, but it wasn’t his fault that we didn’t finish on a good note. I’m definitely happy to have him back."