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Touching on a sore subject: Sheets looks to stay healthy, quiet critics

PHOENIX -- Milwaukee Brewers starter Ben Sheets insisted Tuesday that this year was no more important to him than the past few injury-plagued seasons.

PHOENIX -- Milwaukee Brewers starter Ben Sheets insisted Tuesday that this year was no more important to him than the past few injury-plagued seasons.

"They're all important," Sheets said. "I didn't look at any other year as not important."

Perhaps, but there's plenty at stake in 2008 for both Sheets and the Brewers, who have designs on their first playoff berth in 26 years. Sheets is on the final year of a four-year, $38.5 million contract, with his future riding on showing he can stay healthy.

In the three years since signing the deal, Sheets has made just 63 of about 102 starts. He suffered a major injury behind his pitching shoulder in August 2005, was plagued by shoulder problems much of '06 and missed six weeks last season with an unusual finger injury.

Throw in a couple of bouts with vestibular neuritis, a somewhat rare inner ear disorder, and you begin to see why many Brewers fans consider Sheets an injury looking for a place to happen.

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"I don't care if it's fluky or not," Sheets said. "I don't want none of it.

"I don't feel sorry for myself one bit. That's the hand you're dealt. Nobody wants to get hurt."

As for being so closely associated with injuries, Sheets said, "That sucks. It all started, really, with that inner ear (in early 2005). That was weird. That was the first time I really missed any extended time."

Sheets said there was nothing he can do if some fans are down on him because of his injury-plagued past. But he did take issue with those who think his skill level has diminished.

"One thing that does bug me is a lot of people jump on your ability or capability of doing something," said Sheets, who was 12-5 with a 3.82 earned run average last season in 24 starts and earned his third all-star berth.

"The health part has been hard. But don't ask me if my stuff is diminishing because I'm not on the field. If you don't do something for a long time, you've got to build back up a little bit. I'm still very capable of pitching good games."

Asked if he thought he had anything to prove this season, Sheets said, "I want to go 200 innings. That's my goal every year. That's my only goal, really. I'd like to see myself do it again."

General manager Doug Melvin said he wouldn't think about another contract for Sheets until after the season, when he is eligible for free agency. The 29-year-old right-hander insisted that that was fine with him.

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"That doesn't bother me. He's the boss," Sheets said.

"If I get 200 (innings), I feel like I'll have a good year. I've never doubted myself and I'm not going to start today."

Extra credit

As part of the learning process in switching from third base to left field, Ryan Braun is taking part in mini-sessions with coach Eddie Sedar several times a week before morning workouts. On Tuesday, the focus was on footwork.

"Anywhere you play, defense depends on the proper footwork," Sedar said. "The one thing you don't want to do is overload with a bunch of stuff.

"He's asking great questions but he's trying to jump ahead. I said, 'No, we're going to do footwork first.'"

Braun has a head start in breaking in a new outfielder's glove because he ordered one before his switch became official in January with the signing of Mike Cameron.

"I had this one ordered a little while ago," Braun said. "I knew there was a chance of switching to the outfield."

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This is the second consecutive spring that Sedar has helped an infielder make the transition to the outfield. Bill Hall moved to center in 2007 before the Cameron signing led to his switch to third base.

"Ryan's a good athlete," Sedar said. "That makes it easier."

Job for Branyan

The Brewers are on the verge of signing veteran utility player Russell Branyan to a minor-league contract to help fill their roster at Class AAA Nashville. Branyan, 32, who played for the Brewers in 2004 and '05, split last season between Philadelphia, San Diego and St. Louis, batting .196 with 10 homers and 26 RBI in 163 at-bats.

"We told him it would be just for the minor leagues, at least right now," assistant general manager Gord Ash said.

Brewers 2008 spring training schedule

Here is the schedule for the Milwaukee Brewers 2008 spring training games (all times Central):

Thur., Feb. 28 Oakland at Maryvale, 2 p.m.

Fri., Feb. 29 Oakland at Phoenix, 2 p.m.

Sat., March 1 Colorado at Tucson, 2 p.m.

Sun., March 2 Los Angeles Angels at Maryvale, 2 p.m.

Mon., March 3 San Diego at Maryvale, 2 p.m.

Tue., March 4 Chicago Cubs at Mesa, 2 p.m.

Wed., March 5 Texas at Surprise, 2 p.m.

Thur., March 6 Seattle at Maryvale, 2 p.m.

Fri., March 7 Texas at Maryvale, 2 p.m.

Sat., March 8 Kansas City at Maryvale, 2 p.m.

Sun., March 9 Seattle at Maryvale, 2 p.m.

Sun., March 9 Oakland at Phoenix, 2 p.m.

Mon., March 10 Chicago Cubs at Maryvale, 2 p.m.

Tue., March 11 San Francisco at Maryvale, 2 p.m.

Wed., March 12 Seattle at Peoria, 2 p.m.

Thur., March 13 Arizona at Tuscon, 2 p.m.

Fri., March 14 San Diego at Peoria, 2 p.m.

Sat., March 15 Kansas City at Maryvale, 2 p.m.

Sun., March 16 Seattle at Peoria, 2 p.m.

Mon., March 17 Chicago White Sox at Maryvale, 2 p.m.

Mon., March 17 Seattle at Peoria, 2 p.m.

Tue., March 18 Los Angeles Angels at Tempe, 2 p.m.

Thur., March 20 Kansas City at Surprise, 2 p.m.

Fri., March 21 San Diego at Maryvale, 2 p.m.

Sat., March 22 San Francisco at Scottsdale, 2 p.m.

Sun., March 23 Arizona at Maryvale, 2 p.m.

Mon., March 24 Colorado at Maryvale, 2 p.m.

Tue., March 25 Los Angeles Dodgers at Maryvale, 2 p.m.

Wed., March 26 Chicago White Sox at Tucson, 2 p.m.

Thur., March 27 Chicago Cubs at Mesa, 1 p.m.

Fri., March 28 Kansas City at Miller Park, 7 p.m.

Sat., March 29 Kansas City at Miller Park, 1 p.m.

-- Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune

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