Zulgad: Brewers' Ryan Braun continues to overpower Twins pitching
Get the 1500 ESPN SportsWire delivered to your inbox daily, and keep up with all the news in Twin Cities Sports
MINNEAPOLIS - Ryan Braun ambled into the Milwaukee Brewers clubhouse late Saturday afternoon, a wrap secured around the upper portion of his right leg.
This likely was to help with the strained right hip Braun has been dealing with this season. The 2011 National League Most Valuable Player also has battled tightness in his right Achilles' tendon.
As far as distractions go, those two injury issues probably could be considered minor when compared to Braun's well-publicized positive test for elevated levels of testosterone that became public during the offseason. That was followed by the decision of a baseball arbitrator to overturn the 50-game suspension that was handed down by the sport.
So what have all of these things done to impact Braun's play?
The current answer is nothing.
Braun proved as much again on Saturday at Target Field, going 3-for-4 with two home runs, two RBI and two runs in the Milwaukee Brewers' 6-2 victory over the Minnesota Twins. "I'm getting a lot better," Braun said. "You very rarely get back to 100 percent during the season when you deal with anything but I feel pretty good."
No, kidding. Braun's 19 home runs place him in a tie with St. Louis' Carlos Beltran for the National League lead. The Brewers will go for a three-game sweep of the Twins on Sunday afternoon and Braun will enter the game having gone 5-for-7 with three homers, five RBI and three runs in the first two contests.
On Saturday, the Brewers' left fielder belted one of the rare opposite-field homers for a righthanded hitter at Target Field in the third inning off Twins starter Liam Hendriks - the shot landed in the flower bed and was followed by a homer by Aramis Ramirez - and then added a shot to left in the fifth off Hendriks after Jamey Carroll failed to catch a foul pop up and was charged with an error.
Braun also doubled to left in the seventh before bouncing out to short in his final at-bat.
"I feel good," Braun said. "I'm seeing the ball well. The ball carries pretty good here in the day. I think it's probably a better park to hit in during the day than it is at night."
While Target Field does seem to be a bit more home run friendly of late, it will never be considered a paradise for power hitters. Brewers manager Ron Roenicke knows this, but he also has seen Braun make Target Field look like a bandbox the past two days.
"He sure is," making the park look small, Roenicke said. "He's just got tremendous power. There's really no ballparks that can hold him in when he hits the ball well.
"When you see a guy going right-center, a righthander in this ballpark, it's struck really well. Just like when we went down to San Diego and he hits three home runs in that ballpark. It's ridiculous when he hits the ball well."
That performance came in early May, when Braun had his first three homer game and added a two-run triple to give him six RBI in an 8-3 victory over the San Diego Padres at usually pitcher-friendly Petco Park.
It made Braun the first player to hit three home runs in that stadium since it opened in 2004.
"No one has figured (Braun) out," said Brewers starter Michael Fiers, who gave up one run in seven innings to earn the victory Saturday. "It's great to watch him hit. It's great to have him on our team and to produce and do the stuff he does every day."
Asked what separates Braun from other hitters, Fiers said: "A big thing for him I think is the way he prepares for a game. He's got the same routine and he works hard off the field. Most of the people don't see that, so it's how he prepares for the game as well."
Braun's performance at Target Field comes after the Phillies' Jim Thome destroyed Twins pitching during a three-game mid-week series. Thome went 5-for-11 with two home runs and nine RBI as Philadelphia took two of three.
Thome, of course, looks like a guy who should hit the ball a country mile. He is listed at 6-foot-4, 250 pounds.
The 28-year-old Braun, on the other hand, is a testament that you don't need to be a hulk of a man to hit for power. He is listed at 6-1, 200-pounds and the key for him is the bat speed he's able to generate. Roenicke compared Braun's pop to that of a lefthanded power hitter.
Braun admitted that getting the ball out to the opposite field wasn't easy. "I got all of that ball and it barely got out," he said. "It landed in the flower bed. I think at most ballparks it's probably a no-doubter, but here ... I thought it was going to go off the wall. It just barely made it out."
Braun's three-hit game Saturday extended his hitting streak in interleague play to 21 games and he's batting .425 (34-for-80) in that stretch. (Former Twin Matt Lawton has the longest interleague hitting in streak in baseball history at 37 games, June 5, 1999 through July 12, 2001.)
"It's an irrelevant statistic," Braun said of his streak. "What does that cover, three years probably? I don't know, and seven different teams. It's cool, but I don't think there is any rhyme or reason to why that happens."
Braun also has recorded an RBI in 10 consecutive games against the Twins with a total of 19 in that time and has an 11-game hitting streak against the Brewers' rival.
And all of this comes against pitchers he rarely gets to face.
"We have scouting reports on everybody, so more than anything I think when I'm feeling good I feel like I have a pretty good chance to have success regardless of who is pitching," Braun said, attempting to explain his interleague success. "It's a matter of having a scouting report, you can watch some video and at least the Twins we play almost every year, so you have some idea about their guys."
Roenicke also was asked for his theory on the subject.
"I think Ryan is like everybody else, they go through their stretches where they get hot," he said. "He certainly doesn't get as cold as most people, but when he's got his swing going it doesn't matter too much who is pitching against him. He can hit the best pitchers."
Braun now has one more home run in this series than his buddy, Twins third baseman Trevor Plouffe. The two have know each other for about 15 years and work out together during the offseason.
Plouffe, who has been red hot, went 0-for-1 on Saturday and walked three times after hitting two home runs on Friday. That gave him 14 homers on the season. He had a stretch of at least one homer in four consecutive games before Saturday.
"I can't let Trev surpass me in homers or I will never hear the end of it," Braun said, laughing. "That's my motivation is to not allow Trevor Plouffe to pass me in home runs, which is not easy to do. Luckily we didn't throw him any strikes today. He only got to swing the bat once."
The Twins might want to take a page from that book on Sunday when it comes to facing Braun.