MILWAUKEE -- Pitchers and catchers are set to report on Saturday for the start of another sunny Spring Training, a welcome development for a team still waiting to hear whether its best player will be on the field come Opening Day.In seven weeks the Brewers will begin their defense of the National League Central title at Miller Park against the World Series champion Cardinals, and at the moment, nobody knows whether reigning NL MVP Ryan Braun will be in the lineup.
As Maryvale Baseball Park was poised to open for business, Braun's fate remained in the hands of three arbitrators, who must decide whether he warrants a suspension under Major League Baseball's Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment Program. Their deliberation reached the four-week mark on Friday.If he is exonerated, Braun will likely say little about his tumultuous winter, which took a public turn on Dec. 10 when ESPN reported that he faced a suspension after a test during the postseason raised red flags.
If he's suspended, Braun will report to camp to tell his side of the story. He can be a full participant in Spring Training games and workouts, as the suspension would begin on Opening Day. And though he can take part in the early part of batting practice, he has been advised to stay off the field and out of the view of media members and fans once the ballpark gates open.Players suspended from 26 to 50 games may join a Minor League affiliate for the final 10 days of their suspension. If a suspension is 25 games or fewer, that Minors tuneup is limited to five days. "I'm working on the assumption that he's on the team, that he's going to be with us all 162 games," manager Ron Roenicke said. Brewers officials have had little choice. Because the testing process is supposed to remain confidential, MLB has not provided the team with any indication that Braun faces discipline. Losing the league MVP for a significant portion of the season would mark a significant blow to the Brewers' bid to repeat as division champs, but the rest of the team must proceed as usual. That process begins with Saturday's report date, which simply means that pitchers and catchers must be in Phoenix unless given an exemption. Assistant general manager Gord Ash does not anticipate any late arrivals other than pitcher Mike Fiers, who may take an extra day to tend to a family situation. As of midweek, Ash said, 19 players had already reported for workouts. Baseball's mandatory report date is not until March 2. And though in the past many veteran players would wait as late as possible to report, those days are long gone. "We've been pretty fortunate with our guys reporting early," Ash said. "I think our guys are all anxious to get going." On Sunday, pitchers, catchers and the position players already on hand will undergo physicals off-site, and they will participate in the first official workout on Monday morning. Before his team takes the field, Roenicke will give the first address of his second season as manager. "Ron, he's the one who really set the tone last year for our leadership," said Craig Counsell, who retired this winter and took a front-office job with the Brewers. "I think the whole coaching staff did a great job in Spring Training. It was the best Spring Training I've ever been a part of. ... The players are always going to change, and hopefully, Ron is going to set that tone every year. That's really important." The whole team will be assembled by Feb. 25 for the Brewers' first full-squad workout. This year's camp roster includes the full complement of 40 roster members plus 14 non-roster invitees. Among the key newcomers are third baseman Aramis Ramirez, the former Cub who is expected to provide some of the offense lost when free agent Prince Fielder signed with the Tigers. Ramirez will team with shortstop Alex Gonzalez, second baseman Rickie Weeks and first baseman Mat Gamel in a new-look infield -- Weeks is the only returning player. Braun's unresolved situation aside, the Brewers' roster is largely set if they can stay healthy during the spring. The key camp battles figure to be in the bullpen and on the bench. The Cactus League schedule begins on March 4, when the Brewers host a Giants split squad at Maryvale at 2 p.m. CT. In all, the Brewers are scheduled to play 35 Spring Training games, including a pair against the D-backs at Chase Field to finish the slate.