If at first: Ryan Braun back at 1B for OF-heavy Brewers

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PHOENIX (AP)Ryan Braun spent much of his first morning at spring training looking for equipment.

The Milwaukee Brewers’ veteran outfielder is expecting to get significant time at first base this season after the team added Avisail Garcia to a mix that already included Braun, Christian Yelich, Lorenzo Cain and Ben Gamel.

First, he’ll need a glove.

”I’m not sure if my first baseman’s glove is still here,” Braun joked Monday as Brewers position players reported to camp. ”I’ll have to dust it off and get it ready for action again.”

Milwaukee tried a similar move two years ago after acquiring Cain and Yelich during a splashy offseason. Braun spent much of camp getting work at his new position and handled it well enough to get the starting job on opening day that season.

The experiment was short-lived; not because of anything Braun did – or didn’t – do at the position. Instead, the emergence of Jesus Aguilar into an All-Star left little need for Braun’s right-handed bat to share time at the position.

Now, he’ll go through the process again, practicing positioning, footwork, angles and simply taking ground balls, bunts and throws.

”Just a lot of things that come with experience and when you don’t have that experience, it’s all new to you,” Braun said. ”I do enjoy the challenge of it – and it is a challenge. It’s not as easy as everyone makes it out to be.”

The switch is necessary thanks to the addition of Garcia on a $20 million, two-year deal, which will have a ripple effect across Milwaukee’s roster. Garcia has spent most of his career in right field, a position manned by Yelich, the 2018 NL MVP, the last two seasons.

Yelich is expected to switch back to left, where he won a Gold Glove with the Marlins in 2014, with Cain holding down center – and Gamel providing backup – while Garcia handles right. Braun will likely still mix in there, too.

”Whatever we do, I’d like to keep Christian in one spot,” Brewers manager Craig Counsell said. ”This puts Avi in his best position, which is right field, and probably Christian in his best position.”

Moving to first base is also expected to help keep Braun, 36, as fresh and healthy as possible during what will be his 14th big league season. He appeared in 144 games a year ago, his highest total since playing 154 in 2012, and also put together one of his most productive seasons in recent years, slashing .285/.343/.505 with 22 home runs, 75 RBIs and an .849 OPS – his best mark since posting a .903 OPS in 2016.

He, Counsell and the Brewers’ training staff have mapped out plans to manage his playing time over the last few seasons in an effort to have him at his best down the stretch. The plan worked last year, evidenced by a 1.018 OPS in August and a .912 mark in September.

”It’s definitely helped,” Braun said. ”I think I’ve had a unique ability down the stretch to play my best when the games matter most and the only way that’s possible is to be healthy at the end of the season.”

They’ll take a similar approach in 2020, but Braun is optimistic he’ll see even more action than years past thanks to a healthy and productive offseason.

”I’m thrilled with where I’m at,” Braun said. ”This is the first offseason in probably four or five years that I was able to go through a regular offseason routine without having to rehab any kind of injury so I think that I’m prepared physically to take on a larger workload than I have the last couple of years.”

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