The most scrutinized right thumb in Milwaukee Brewers history was a bit frozen Wednesday morning but otherwise feeling much better.
Ryan Braun was all smiles when talking about the progress made since having a medical procedure on the troublesome thumb, which was good news for him, the team and concerned citizens of Brewer Nation.
"It feels great," said Braun, who braved freezing temperatures to participate in the Brewers' annual Thanksgiving food drive with the Hunger Task Force outside Miller Park.
"I'm encouraged by how it feels, but at the same time I have to be kind of cautiously optimistic," he said. "When I get into spring training and start playing every day, I'll see how it responds. But it hasn't felt this good in a really long time."
Braun, whose ability to swing a bat was greatly compromised by a nerve issue in the thumb since early in the 2013 season, underwent a somewhat experimental cryotherapy procedure on Oct. 2 during which sub-zero temperatures were introduced into the damaged nerve via needle. He experienced enough relief to begin swinging a bat shortly afterward, with encouraging results.
"I've been able to do everything full-go," Braun said while taking a break from collecting food to speak with reporters. "I'm not limited in any way. I'm not hitting or anything at this point. I hit a lot right after I had the procedure done. I'll do my typical routine when I get back into baseball-specific activities in late December."
As for how the thumb felt when he did test it, Braun said, "Amazing. It felt really good.
"Right now, I don't feel anything, and I haven't been able to say that for two years. It would hurt shaking hands, writing, just doing regular, everyday activities. And I don't feel it at all.
"There was some residual soreness after the procedure for a couple of weeks. But, overall, it has felt really good. Basically, there was an immediate difference. So definitely a good thing, exciting."
A lot is riding on the thumb procedure standing the test of time, for both Braun and the Brewers. Unable to properly grip the bat and keep his top hand on the handle during his swing, Braun suffered through a subpar 2014 season in which he batted .266 with 19 home runs, 81 runs batted in and a .777 OPS.
The thumb condition worsened as the season progressed. Braun, 31, batted .226 after the all-star break with eight homers and 29 RBI. Over the final month, when the Brewers collapsed from first place and fell out of the playoff race amid a team-wide offensive slump, he hit .210 with one homer and five RBI.
"I said last year a few times, I really believe if I was anywhere near healthy, the season ends up differently," said Braun, whose five-year, $105 million contract extension kicks in after the 2015 season. "Hopefully, this thing continues to feel good like it does right now and I can get back to being one of the best players in the league."
The Brewers' offensive collapse cost hitting coach Johnny Narron his job, but manager Ron Roenicke survived and will be back at the helm next season, which Braun said is a good thing.
"Ron has been great," said Braun. "All of us have enjoyed having him as our manager. He's a great leader, a great communicator. I don't think that our failure had anything to do with his managing. It had to do with our playing.
"A lot of times managers end up being the scapegoat. But it certainly wasn't his fault that we didn't finish on a good note. So I'm definitely happy to have him back."
Should the cryotherapy treatment wear off when Braun ramps up his off-season workouts, he has the option of having another such procedure as sort of a booster shot.
"I don't think there's enough information out there on the procedure to have any specific knowledge of how it's going to respond or how long it will work, or anything like that," Braun said. "So we're sort of figuring it out as we go."
Asked if he wishes now he had tried the procedure during the season instead of waiting, Braun said: "Hindsight is always 20-20. It's easy to say that now. There was a time when I definitely wanted to do it, but I understood why we decided not to.
"I'm not concerned. I'm excited. But at the same time, I went into last year and I felt really good going into spring training. The first four or five weeks it felt great and I played great, and kind of reinjured it. But we just rested it. We didn't do a procedure on it."
Other than adding first baseman Adam Lind in a trade with Toronto, the Brewers have been relatively quiet on the personnel front this off-season. Braun said that doesn't mean the team is done making moves.
"It's early in the off-season," said Braun, who has been enjoying time at home with newborn daughter Celine. "Sometimes it takes time for any big moves to happen or occur.
"But I think getting Adam Lind is huge for us. Adding a left-handed bat to the middle of our lineup should be something that should really benefit us. It's probably been one of our bigger issues over the last couple of seasons.
"We've been predominantly a right-handed hitting lineup. And our division has really good right-handed pitchers. So adding a lefty to the middle of our lineup is huge for us."