Braun looks back on 'challenging' season

Lingering calf, wrist injuries affected veteran's ability to drive ball

Braun looks back on 'challenging' season

ST. LOUIS -- As with many things Ryan Braun, it was complicated. One glance at his 2017 counting stats --.268 average, 17 home runs, 52 RBIs -- and you see it was one of his least productive full seasons. Dive deeper -- a 39 percent hard-hit rate was Braun's highest since his rookie season -- and it does not look as bad.

But for Braun, the analysis was simple.

"I've said many times, the key to success for me is being healthy, and it was a very challenging year, health-wise," Braun said before sitting out the Brewers' 6-1 win over the Cardinals at Busch Stadium on Sunday. "I obviously missed quite a few games. Here at the end, I've been battling some things physically and doing what I could to be in there to try to contribute. Certainly, with better health would come more success."

A left calf injury forced two stints on the disabled list in May before Braun's right wrist became the problem by July. He had a cortisone shot at the All-Star break, then quietly fought through irritation for most of the second half, impacting his ability to drive the baseball.

That inability was reflected in his numbers. Braun slugged .545 -- right at his .544 career rate entering the season -- in the first half while hitting 10 home runs in 161 plate appearances. After the break, he slugged .451 with seven home runs in 264 plate appearances.

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"Ryan's case is a case why depth is so important for our team," Brewers manager Craig Counsell said. "It was a big reason for our success this year, I think, that he played in 104 games and we were still able to put together a season like we did."

Braun was in a 1-for-20 funk before collecting the first of two hits Saturday in Braun's final game of the season. A 7-6 loss to the Cardinals eliminated the Brewers from postseason contention, rendering Sunday's regular-season finale a pride-only affair.

Braun referred to the final weeks of the season in particular as "really challenging."

"Anything with your hand, your wrist, is going to impact your bat path," he said. "I was getting plenty of good pitches to hit, I just wasn't able to stay on them or stay through them. As a hitter, you always try to make adjustments. You try to find a swing that's going to allow you to be competitive and successful. I was trying to find it, and [I was] unable to find it."

The good news for Braun and the Brewers was that the two major ailments in recent years -- a disk issue in his back that required surgery in October 2015 and a painful nerve irritation in his right thumb -- did not arise in 2017, according to Braun.

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Braun turns 34 in November, is due $56 million through 2020, and this season acquired "10 and 5" rights to veto any trade. The likeliest scenario is that Braun remains a Brewer, even as the team's outfield picture gets more crowded. Right fielder Domingo Santana had a big 2017 season, Keon Broxton topped 20 home runs and 20 steals despite a slew of strikeouts, and prospects Lewis Brinson and Brett Phillips made their Major League debuts.

"I would be naïve to assume that age isn't a part of the challenge of getting through a 162-game season now," Braun said. "It's definitely harder at 33 than it was at 23, no question about it. … But [2016] was a great year. I hit over .300 with 30 homers and an OPS over .900. So certainly, I feel like the opportunity is there to get back to playing at a really, really high level."

Adam McCalvy has covered the Brewers for MLB.com since 2001. Follow him on Twitter @AdamMcCalvy and like him on Facebook. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.