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Brewers' Braun says he's as good as ever

SAN FRANCISCO _ Ryan Braun didn't hesitate, flinch or stare into space contemplating an answer. He had it ready to go. "Eventful," the Milwaukee Brewers leftfielder said immediately after being asked to sum up his spring in one word. That's a pre...

SAN FRANCISCO _ Ryan Braun didn't hesitate, flinch or stare into space contemplating an answer.

He had it ready to go.

"Eventful," the Milwaukee Brewers leftfielder said immediately after being asked to sum up his spring in one word.

That's a pretty good description.

Braun's last seven hectic weeks have gone something like this:

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He left southern California after launching a clothing line and reported to camp in Phoenix but was there only 10 days before splitting for Florida to join Team USA for the World Baseball Classic.

After some exhibitions there, he hit Toronto and then Miami for games. But while in south Florida, Braun strained his intercostal ribcage muscles, the same injury that left him a shell of his all-star self at the end of last season. That led to plenty of talk about him leaving the tournament and returning to the team that pays his salary.

That would have required a task force to send him back because Braun did not want to leave. And general manager Doug Melvin and assistant GM Gord Ash, big supporters of the Classic, weren't about to force their star outfielder back against his will.

Team USA advanced and Braun played in discomfort in Los Angeles before returning to the Brewers once Team USA was eliminated.

Back in Phoenix, Braun received treatment for his side and tried to play in Cactus League games, but the stiffness returned and he shut down for a few days before playing games with minor-leaguers and finally getting back into "A" games at the end of camp, only to take a line drive off his thumb. That caused more health concerns for about 24 hours.

Spring training concluded Saturday back in Los Angeles before the team flew to the Bay Area to get ready for the opener Tuesday against the San Francisco Giants.

"Obviously a lot of traveling," Braun said, but his spring didn't seem as long as it did for other players because he was able to play meaningful games so early. The traveling was taxing but the Classic helped the seven-week camp go by faster than if he had remained with the team.

"For me, I was fortunate that I got to do that," said Braun, who hit .381 with a homer and two RBI in six Classic games. "It was very erratic because I traveled a lot during spring training, which is something you don't normally do. I was in six cities within a matter of three weeks.

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"But overall it was a great experience. The World Baseball Classic was unbelievable, something I enjoyed."

Once he rejoined the Brewers, local and national reports of his health status peppered the Internet daily. Through that, Braun was never deterred or frustrated dealing with the injuries or the inquiries about them.

"I think people made a bigger deal of my injury than (needed)," Braun said. "People in general were more concerned about it than I was. I knew I was fine."

What was more difficult for the 25-year-old than dealing with the injuries was dealing with the letdown of playing in a playoff atmosphere during the Classic followed by Cactus League games that barely scratched four-figure attendance numbers.

Braun found it difficult to get up for those games and if it is true that he felt fine, as he said, then his at-bats reflected that intensity loss until the final two night games at Dodger Stadium, when it felt more like the regular season.

But Braun wasn't concerned with those at-bats much. His focus once he returned from the Classic was to get and remain healthy so he'd be as close to 100 percent as possible for opening day against the Giants and their Cy Young Award winner, Tim Lincecum.

Braun accomplished that goal and is feeling as good as he ever has in his career.

"I know how to prepare myself for the season," he said. "Ultimately, my main goal was to get healthy for the season. I didn't care about anything else.

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"I feel like I'm definitely ready. I feel better than I ever have physically (going into a season). I'm seeing the ball really well and I think this really has a chance to be a special year for me, and for the team."

-- Copyright(c) 2009, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel/Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

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