Reusse: Flawed testing aside, Braun can wallop a baseball

  • Article by: PATRICK REUSSE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: June 17, 2012 - 7:23 AM

The National League MVP is doing just fine despite the offseason controversy over his drug test and the departure of Prince Fielder.

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Twins catcher Joe Mauer, right, watched as the Milwaukee Brewers' Ryan Braun, left, hits a two-run-scoring double last monrth in Milwaukee.

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Ryan Braun had played five games previously in Target Field and the results were not positive. He was 5-for-21 with two RBI and in the fifth of those games, last July 2, he suffered a strained left calf that caused him to miss the All-Star Game as the National League's leading vote-getter.

The Brewers are back in the Twins' new yard for the third time this weekend, and the results are much better for Milwaukee's superstar. He is 5-for-7 with three home runs and five RBI in a pair of Brewers victories.

Braun's first home run was a three-run rocket into the left-center bullpen off Francisco Liriano on Friday night. On Saturday, he homered into the right field flowers off Liam Hendriks in the third, then re-entered the bullpen off the Twins' rookie in the fifth.

Braun received 20 of the 32 first-place votes and beat out the Dodgers' Matt Kemp as the NL's MVP last November. Two weeks later, ESPN reported that Braun had failed a test for a performance enhancer and was looking at a 50-game suspension.

He fought it and won in front of an arbiter, based on a flaw in how the urine sample was handled.

He has heard his loudest boos this season in Los Angeles -- as much for beating out Kemp as for beating the PED rap. There's also a sanctimonious element of the sports media that still enjoys taking shots at Braun.

What the rest of us can assume is that Braun is facing regular drug testing this season and the samples are not being mishandled. And there's growing evidence that Braun doesn't require extra-special vitamins to make amazing contact with a baseball.

A year ago, Braun was batting .308 with 14 home runs and 47 RBI after the Brewers' 65th game. He had drawn 34 walks, including two that were intentional.

This season, Braun is batting .322 with 19 home runs and 47 RBI. He has drawn 25 walks, including three that were intentional.

Braun had Prince Fielder hitting fourth in 2011, and Aramis Ramirez for most of this season. A year ago, Prince was backing up Braun with a .300 average, 18 home runs and 56 RBI after 65 games. Ramirez is batting .256 with seven home runs and 34 RBI.

And that makes Braun's numbers more astounding: that he's slightly more productive than a year ago when he was the front half of the best 3-4 combination in baseball.

Joe Vavra, the Twins hitting coach, watched two more Braun blasts leave Target Field on Saturday and was asked what he sees technically that makes him such a powerful hitter.

"He hits from a great foundation, and his head is absolutely still,'' Vavra said. "He has a firm front side and great leg action. He can get on a top of a fastball, but he also can go down and get the ball as he showed today.

"It's hard to get him to chase -- and I think that's because his head is so still. Everything about him fundamentally is tremendous.''

There was some puzzlement in the home clubhouse as to why the Twins were throwing strikes to Braun while the Brewers weren't challenging Trevor Plouffe, on a home run roll with the Twins.

Hendriks walked Braun in the first and escaped with a scoreless inning. Braun led off the third with a home run on a 3-2 pitch, and Ramirez hit the next pitch for a home run. In the fifth, second baseman James Carroll dropped a foul pop-up for an error, and Braun followed with a home run.

The Brewers didn't mess with The Plouffe. He walked three times and flew out to left in four trips.

Braun and Plouffe have been friends since childhood in southern California. Braun came into the game holding a 17-14 lead in homers and was delighted to extend the margin.

"I can't let Trevor surpass me in homers, or I'll never hear the end of it,'' Braun said after Saturday's 6-2 victory. "That's my motivation -- not to allow Trevor Plouffe to pass me in home runs ...

"Luckily, we didn't throw him many strikes today.''

That's a strategy Nick Blackburn might want to consider for Braun in Sunday's final game of the season series with the Brewers.

Patrick Reusse can be heard noon-4 weekdays on 1500-AM. preusse@startribune.com

 

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