Back improving, Braun looks ahead to 2016

Brewers outfielder visits fans at Miller Park during food drive

Back improving, Braun looks ahead to 2016

MILWAUKEE -- All-Star outfielder Ryan Braun addressed his surgically repaired back and his outlook for the rebuilding Brewers early Wednesday while engaging in what has become a Thanksgiving tradition. Clad in a black overcoat, Braun snapped photos and signed autographs while accepting donations at the team's annual holiday food drive in the shadow of Miller Park.

It was Braun's first visit since undergoing surgery to relieve a bulging disc in his lower back.

"I feel pretty good, knock on wood," said Braun, who is six weeks post-surgery. "The only surprise is the rehab is a little bit longer than I was anticipating, but other than that, everything went as planned and as expected. The first couple of days post-surgery weren't fun, they were pretty painful. Other than that, I feel good."

Braun is undergoing physical therapy four days a week. He downplayed the effect the prolonged rehab will have on his preparation for 2016, since he typically does not begin a throwing program until around Christmas, and he does not begin swinging a bat until January.

Asked when he expects his back to be 100 percent healthy, Braun said, "I have no idea. I'll know when I get there. Certainly the goal is to be back to 100 percent. That's my plan. I think it's realistic, but until I get through the rehab and the physical therapy, I won't know."

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He is taking a similar wait-and-see approach to his right thumb. After dealing with a nerve issue in 2013 and '14, Braun enjoyed a bounce back in '15 thanks to a pair of cryotherapy procedures, one in the offseason and another in early May, which neutralized a troublesome nerve. Braun batted .285 with 25 home runs and 84 RBIs and was named the team's MVP.

At the moment, Braun has no plans to repeat the procedure.

"I don't usually hit until January, so right now it's a non-issue," he said. "It's nice to know it's an option. We'll always evaluate it as we move forward. It can be done as a preventative measure, but we haven't gotten into the details of that discussion."

When he next steps foot inside that ballpark, Braun will have transitioned into the five-year, $105 million contract extension he signed in 2011, while the Brewers enter the first full season of their rebuild.

Braun suggested he was on board with that effort.

"It's not like we're coming off a great year or great stretch of years and breaking up a juggernaut team," he said. "What we were doing wasn't working. We're now in the best division in baseball, the most competitive division in baseball. I think without a doubt, they're doing what's in our best interests long-term."

Despite the team's recent sell-off, Braun said, "There's no guarantee that we're not going to win [in 2016]. We went into last year with pretty high expectations that we're going to at least be competitive and that didn't happen. You never know what to expect."

Adam McCalvy is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @AdamMcCalvy, like him on Facebook and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.