Brewers begin still waiting for word on Ryan Braun

PHOENIX (AP) - Ryan Braun's navy blue No. 8 uniform hangs in one of his corner lockers with a pair of perfectly crisp white pants. Four shoeboxes are stacked in his second space.

The wait for Milwaukee's NL MVP is on at Maryvale Baseball Park. The Brewers may hear this week whether arbitrator Shyam Das will uphold Braun's 50-game suspension for a positive drug test.

In the meantime, the team is moving forward in preparations for what manager Ron Roenicke expects to be a different formula for winning without departed slugger Prince Fielder and perhaps Braun, too. Outfielder Nyjer Morgan is among a large contingent of position players already in camp ahead of Saturday's first full-squad spring training workout.

"Yep, guys are just getting prepared,'' Morgan said while quickly heading outside to work.

Roenicke said Monday he expects Braun to arrive in time for that initial practice. They traded text messages a few days ago and Roenicke spoke to his star left fielder a couple of weeks back.

"He's doing good. He's been doing good all winter through this,'' Roenicke said as his pitchers and catchers took to the field for their first formal session in the Arizona desert. "He's excited to get going in spring training, and hopefully the outcome will be how we all want it.''

The Brewers are plenty confident at the start of spring that they can make another special playoff run even if they are without Braun early and big run producer, Fielder. Milwaukee won 96 games and the NL Central last season and got by Arizona in the first round before losing in the NL championship series to division rival and eventual World Series champion St. Louis.

Braun began the appeal process last month of his positive test in October, and many figured the Brewers would have an answer regarding his status by the start of spring training. Matthew Hiltzik, who has spoken on behalf of Braun's representative team, has said there was "absolutely no intentional violation of the program.'' Hiltzik did not return a phone message seeking comment Monday.

MLB spokesman Pat Courtney said Monday he has no indication when a ruling might be.

A lineup without both Braun and Fielder would leave a big power void. Fielder is off to Motown after the Detroit Tigers signed the free agent first baseman to a $214 million, nine-year contract in January.

Braun, the 28-year-old 2007 NL Rookie of the Year, hit .312 with 33 homers and 111 RBIs last season and beat out Dodgers star Matt Kemp for the MVP award.

Milwaukee signed third baseman Aramis Ramirez to a $36 million, three-year contract in December to add a key bat and help lessen the effects of losing Fielder. General manager Doug Melvin and assistant GM Gord Ash were committed to building another successful team for 2012 with a chance to repeat as division champions.

"Gord and Doug and (owner) Mark (Attanasio) did a great job this offseason acquiring pieces that we needed in case we were going to lose Fielder,'' closer John Axford said. "Obviously Aramis Ramirez was a huge pick up. He was a Silver Slugger award winner last year. I think that's going to be a great offensive pick up and also a great defensive pick up. You know, we might have some closer games, some tighter games this year. Maybe that bodes well for me down there in the ninth.''

With the very real likelihood that fewer balls will clear the fences without Fielder, Roenicke plans to get more creative with bunting baserunners over, hit and runs or whatever else it takes to score runs.

"Fortunately we have won those tight games because we're in a lot of them. Any time you have a great pitching staff, defensively we think we're going to be better this year - I thought we were fine last year but I think we're going to be better this year - I think when you have that you're going to play close ballgames,'' Roenicke said. "We're going to have to try to figure out even better than last year how we grind out runs in those close games, how we are able to get that run, because I think our bullpen will hold the other team down and give our offense an opportunity.''

Catcher Paul Phillips believes there are an ample number of talented players in Milwaukee's clubhouse prepared to take on bigger roles.

"When you take an A-plus player and lose him, you have to try to find another one because you're used to it,'' Phillips said. "When you don't, you have to try to find a way to get around that until you can find that, or until one develops.''

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