PHILADELPHIA -- Brewers third baseman Aramis Ramirez has turned a late start to Spring Training into a hot start to the regular season. He went 6-for-8 with runners in scoring position in Milwaukee's first six games while the rest of the team went 10-for-58.
"I'm a cleanup hitter, that's what I get paid for, to drive in runs," Ramirez said. "I don't get paid to hit singles, because it's going to be tough for me to steal second base."
It is particularly difficult at this stage of his career because Ramirez, 35, was hampered throughout 2013 by a nagging left knee sprain, and had surgery in January to remove a non-cancerous polyp in his colon. The knee was healed by then, but Ramirez was behind the rest of the position players at the start of camp while he recovered from surgery.
On Tuesday, as Ramirez and the Brewers helped the Phillies open Citizens Bank Park for the year, he was healthier than at any point in the 2013 regular season.
He entered the day hitting .440 (11-for-25) with a team-best six RBIs.
"It doesn't surprise me because I know what kind of hitter he is, but I am surprised because I know he did have a shorter Spring Training than everybody else," Brewers manager Ron Roenicke said. "I know with him being historically a slow starter, I'm really glad to see him swinging well early. He understands what he needs to do. Those guys are pretty special [because] there's not a lot of them."
Said Ramirez: "I said it earlier, I feel pretty good. I feel like I'm about where I'm supposed to be. Now I have to work hard to stay on top of my game, to stay healthy, basically."
That entails more pregame leg work than Ramirez has done in the past. He has been focusing on his lower body as a response to last year's knee woes, which stemmed from a hard slide into second base during a Spring Training game.
When colon surgery shortened a second straight spring this year, Ramirez maintained he wasn't worried.
"I missed a few games in Spring Training, but Spring Training is really long," Ramirez said. "As a position player, you get a lot of opportunity to be ready for the season. I knew I had plenty of time to be ready for Opening Day. I thought I swung the bat good all spring, even though I missed a lot of time and didn't work out much in January. The main thing was just being in playing shape."
Last year, "I was playing on one leg," Ramirez said. "I couldn't move well last year. That's tough to do. [Now] I'm healthy, and hopefully I stay healthy."
Braun attributes swing tweak to homer barrage
PHILADELPHIA -- The boos on Tuesday helped fuel Ryan Braun's three-homer breakthrough, but so did a significant change to his swing.
Braun, dealing with an inflamed nerve near his right thumb, saw the longest power drought of his career reach 98 plate appearances with a first-inning groundout in the Phillies' home opener before breaking free for three home runs and seven RBIs in the Brewers' 10-4 win.
Tuesday's homers upped Braun's career total to 214, passing Jenkins (212) into third place behind all-time Brewers leader Robin Yount (251) and runner-up Prince Fielder (230). With 688 RBIs, Braun also moved past Ben Oglivie for fifth on the franchise leaderboard. Next up is Jenkins, who logged 704 RBIs as a Brewer.
"I eliminated my leg kick, kind of shortened my stride and make it as simple as possible," Braun said. "That's easy to say when you have a good day, though. The thing is, it impacts my bat speed, it impacts my bat path, it impacts everything. So the quicker I'm able to get that down, the better chance I have to find a swing that works."
Braun is also trying to find the equipment that works. When the nerve first became inflamed last season, Braun resisted using padding on his hands or the bat itself, but lately, he has worked with Brewers head athletic trainer Dan Wright's staff on finding a fix. They tried a neoprene pad over the weekend in Boston, where Braun went 2-for-9 in two games, but actually placed the padding inside his batting glove for Tuesday's game against the Phillies.
"It feels a little more similar to how it would normally feel if I didn't have to wear that little pad thing," Braun said. "It's easy to say [it made a big difference] when the results are like that, but you guys know me pretty well, and the less invasive something is, the more comfortable it is for me as a hitter. Hopefully, we found something that works."
Braun's big night came only a few hours after Brewers general manager Doug Melvin and manager Ron Roenicke spoke of a patient approach to Braun's power outage.
"It's only 20 at-bats or whatever [in 2014]," Melvin said. "Didn't he hit for power in Spring Training?"
Indeed, Braun hit .417 in the Cactus League with three homers and five doubles in only 36 at-bats, including a home run off A's left-hander Tommy Milone on Braun's first spring swing. The pain in his thumb worsened, he said, as Spring Training progressed.
Asked whether he was concerned, Melvin said, "Not at this point," but he conceded that hand issues can be challenging.
"I don't worry so much about the extra bases and homers," Roenicke said. "If he's a good hitter, and he's a guy that when we have people out there on base, if he can get base hits, that's really what we need. And he needs to get on base. Hopefully, he can do those things, and I think he'll end up driving the ball more."
On Tuesday, that's just what Braun did.
• Tuesday was the Brewers' seventh game of the season, and their sixth different start time. They had already played games in the 1 p.m. hour local time, 7 p.m., 12 p.m. and 2 p.m. before Kendrick threw his first pitch just after 4 p.m. ET on Tuesday.
"It will be nice to get back on something [resembling a routine]," Roenicke said. "At least the night games, you get on the same sleep pattern and you know what you're going to do for breakfast and lunch. That works out easier. I think it definitely helps."
• Mark Reynolds started at first base for the Brewers over Lyle Overbay on Tuesday, even though the Phillies had the right-handed Kendrick on the mound. Reynolds is a right-handed hitter and Overbay bats left-handed.
"It's the type of pitcher that we think fits [Reynolds]," said Roenicke, who declined to elaborate lest he offer an advantage to the opponent.
The manager is still feeling out his first-base rotation.
"It's going to be tough to figure out how to weigh certain things against each other," Roenicke said. "It's nice, but sometimes you want to put them out there a little bit and let it ride."
• Brewers coaches have been trying to get erstwhile closer Jim Henderson on track after a spring of diminished velocity and command, and Henderson delivered his most promising outing so far on Tuesday against the Phillies. He struck out Ryan Howard and Domonic Brown in a 1-2-3 ninth inning to seal Milwaukee's 10-4 win, touching 97 mph on the stadium radar gun. In Spring Training, Henderson was stuck in the low 90-mph range.
"Really good," catcher Jonathan Lucroy said. "He was 95 [mph], striking people out. Good left-handed hitters, too, guys who are really good fastball hitters. Hopefully that will get him back locked in."