Braun expects to be ready Opening Day

Left fielder sidelined for third straight game with back stiffness

Braun expects to be ready Opening Day

PHOENIX -- Brewers left fielder Ryan Braun missed his third straight game on Saturday with a stiff back, but he remained confident he will play Opening Day -- even if that means sitting out the rest of the Cactus League.

"It's learning as I go," said Braun, who underwent surgery in October for a bulging disc and has been on a controlled schedule all spring. "Obviously, I hope that over time it gets to a point where it's a non-issue, but when I had the procedure, they said it was a full year before the scar tissue and everything is gone.

"So I'm sure that part of it is scar tissue breaking up. There's a lot of things that I'll be experiencing that I have yet to go through before. It's all new to me."

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The Brewers moved Braun back to left field this spring to open right field up for Domingo Santana and, theoretically, to limit some of Braun's long throws. Braun waited until the third week of Cactus League games to debut, and he started four games before a bout of back stiffness prompted Thursday's scratch.

Braun reported improvement on Saturday and took part in the team's morning drills, but he did not take batting practice before the 7-7 tie.

"It's an interesting process," Braun said. "I've never had surgery on my back, so I don't know what the recovery process is like. It's a fine line between this just being part of the ebb and flow of the recovery process and making sure I'm not irritating something. I feel good. I feel like it's better today than it was yesterday, so that's a good thing. Like I've said from the beginning, my goal is just to build toward the first day of the season. It's less important to play games now than it is to get close to 100 percent for the start of the season."

Braun's RBI double

Braun added: "I don't think I need the at-bats. The work we do here during the day is significantly more than we do during the season. People don't understand that. It's like the equivalent of playing five, six, seven innings by the time we get through all the work we do in the morning before practice and then during practice. So you're building up volume without even playing in games. I'd like to play in games. Ideally, multiple games. But I wouldn't say it's at the top of my priority list."

Manager Craig Counsell plans to write Braun's name in the No. 3 hole on April 4 against the Giants at Miller Park.

"I'm confident that he'll be in the lineup Opening Day," Counsell said. "I really am."

First things first

The Brewers' Opening Day catcher, Jonathan Lucroy, made his first spring start at first base on Saturday and homered in the fourth inning. Counsell said he does not have a figure in mind for Lucroy's regular-season starts at catcher compared to starts at first base.

"I see it as, 'Let's just get Luc some playing time,' so if it happens during the season, he feels a little better about going over there," Counsell said. "What I do see in our schedule is that we have a lot of day [after] night games the first six weeks, seven weeks of the season. So that's really got me thinking. I want to be able to have choices going into those scenarios."

Lucroy's solo shot

Playing first base affords Lucroy a physical break from the rigors of catching, while keeping his bat in the lineup. He has played in 40 games at first base since 2013, including 30 starts.

"I'm going to defer to 'Couns' for the plan, because I told him I would be willing to go over there whenever he wanted me to," Lucroy said. "Any way I can stay on the field and contribute, I'm in for. Playing at first base is like a day off [compared to] catching, physically."

Last call

After years of bench coach Jerry Narron's beautiful calligraphy on large lineup cards hanging in the dugout, Counsell is auditioning replacements. He has had members of the revamped coaching staff, plus a few staffers, submit handwritten cards. The duty is purely ceremonial, since the official lineup cards handed to the umpire are computer-printed.

Has anyone eliminated themselves from contention?

"Joe Crawford," Counsell said with a smile, referring to the coach and video coordinator. "He writes like a Kindergartner."

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.