MILWAUKEE — The lingering nerve issue in Ryan Braun’s right hand and thumb has been well-documented.
Until a solution is found — if one ever is found — the Milwaukee Brewers right fielder is going to have to deal with the injury the best he can. It is obvious when the thumb is flaring up on Braun, as his swings become defensive and he lacks an ability to drive the baseball.
Braun is hitting just .239 with six homers and 22 RBI since the All-Star break, causing his batting average to slip to .279, 30 points below his career average of .309. The 30-year-old has finished a season hitting under .300 just twice — hitting .285 in 2008 and .298 last season when he was suspended for the final 65 games for use of performance-enhancing drugs.
"It’s still there, but physically, I think he’s OK," Brewers manager Ron Roenicke said of Braun’s thumb. "He just continues to swing at bad pitches. Some of it, he feels like he has to start a little earlier because of the hand and that causes you to chase."
The numbers back up Roenicke’s assertion that Braun is swinging at more bad pitches than he ever has. According to Fangraphs.com, Braun has swung at 40.8 percent of pitches outside of the strike zone, far above his career chase-rate average of 33.3 percent.
Braun is swinging more in general and has the highest swinging strike rate of his career at 10.9 percent. He’s also making contact on 69 percent of the pitches outside of the strike zone he swings at, which could lead to the assumption that Braun is getting himself out quite a bit.
"It is a combination of a lot of things," Braun said of his chase rate. "But more than anything, when I swing at strikes I put myself in a better position to be successful."
Roenicke, while acknowledging Braun isn’t the only player on the Brewers with the habit of swinging at bad pitches, used a specific example to show the impact chasing can have. With the bases loaded and one out in the fourth inning Saturday, Pirates right-hander Edinson Volquez jammed Braun on a pitch way off the plate inside. The result was a weak pop up, as Milwaukee ended up leaving the bases loaded.
With Braun often times taking an opposite-field approach at the plate this season, pitchers have routinely tried to get him out with pitches off the plate inside.
"They’re pitching him in more, and he’s chasing it more inside," Roenicke said.
Despite a dip in batting average, Braun has still found a way to drive in 74 runs thus far, which puts him in the top 10 in the National League in that category. But he’s on pace to finish with 21 home runs and 91 RBI on the season, both numbers being career-lows outside of the year he was suspended.
There’s no question the Brewers will need Braun to be an offensive force in the middle of their lineup in order to make the postseason and make a run in the playoffs if they qualify.
Since taking a day off in Chicago to rest his thumb after hitting .217 over his first 12 games in August, Braun has hit safely in eight of his last 10 games, including three home runs.
"I feel OK," Braun said. "It has kind of been a grind physically, so I’ve tried to make adjustments. I’m trying to make sure I swing at good pitches to put myself in position to be successful. I feel alright."
Nelson honored: Despite not having thrown a pitch in Triple-A since July 7, Brewers right-hander Jimmy Nelson was honored as the Pacific Coast League’s pitcher of the year Wednesday.
Nelson went 10-2 with a minor-league best 1.46 ERA in 17 outings and 16 starts for Triple-A Nashville. The right-hander walked just 32 batters while striking out 114 batters in 111 innings.
The Brewers called the 25-year-old up to the big leagues on July 10 and he has remained in Milwaukee’s rotation ever since. At the time of his promotion, Nelson led the minor leagues in ERA, was third in strikeouts and was tied for the PCL lead in wins.
Nelson was nearly a unanimous selection for the award voted on by PCL managers and media members, as Cubs prospect Kyle Hendricks was the only other player to receive a vote. The Brewers have had the PCL pitcher of the year in two consecutive seasons, as right-hander Johnny Hellweg won the award in 2013.