Health concerns continue for Smith, Braun

Health concerns continue for Smith, Braun

PHOENIX -- Co-closer Will Smith was hobbled by a swollen right knee, Jimmy Nelson was scratched from a start against the Cubs due to illness, left fielder Ryan Braun remained sidelined by a stiff back and Rule 5 Draft pick Zack Jones will have to start the season on the disabled list, manager Craig Counsell said on a busy Friday morning in the athletic trainers' room in Brewers camp.

Here are the details of each issue:

• Smith's injury was the most immediate cause for worry. He developed soreness after pitching in a Minor League game on Thursday, Counsell said.

"It's a little concerning, because there's some swelling in his knee and we have 10 days to go," said Counsell. "He's going to see a doctor and we'll know more then.

"But he's limping around, so we'll see."

• Braun, who'd been scratched from Thursday's game after a morning bout of stiffness in his lower back, reported little improvement on Friday morning, Counsell said. Braun underwent surgery in October for a bulging disc, and he has played in just four Spring Training games.

Braun's RBI double

"I don't know if I'm as optimistic about [Braun returning to the lineup on Saturday against the D-backs] as I was yesterday," Counsell said. "It's still day by day, and we'll play it as it goes. It may be a little longer."

All spring, the Brewers have taken extra precautions with Braun and his back. That will continue, Counsell said.

"If a guy has had offseason surgery on his back and it's Spring Training, and he's a player like Ryan, the first [sign] of anything, you say, 'No,'" Counsell said. "The long term is what's important; 140 games is what's important. And we may have to manage it into the season. That's what's becoming a little apparent, is that we're probably going to have to manage this into the season.

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"It's new enough for him to where he's going to have to feel out when it hurts and it's just sore, and when it hurts and there's something wrong with it. He's got to go through that a little bit."

• Nelson was scratched from a scheduled start against the Cubs in Mesa, Ariz., with an illness that has dogged several players. If Nelson can pitch in Minor League camp on Saturday, as Counsell hopes, he would remain on track to start the second game of the regular season.

• Jones, whose Cactus League debut was delayed until Thursday because of a sore shoulder, won't be ready in time for the start of the regular season and will have to open on the 15-day disabled list, Counsell said.

"I don't think we're at the point where we have to start over with him," Counsell said, "but I do think he's not prepared to be a part of the general population."

• Counsell did have more promising news on Rymer Liriano, the outfielder who was struck near his left eye by a pitch in Sunday's game against the Dodgers. Liriano will undergo plastic surgery on Tuesday to repair damage around his eye.

"It's just one surgery," Counsell said. "That's serious, but all signs -- and everything that's happened so far -- have been very positive in how he'll heal, in what they have to do surgically. So even though it's surgery, it's good news."

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.