Ryan Braun has procedure to try to fix thumb

Milwaukee Brewers rightfielder Ryan Braun had a cryotherapy procedure performed on his ailing right thumb Thursday morning with hopes of returning to the offensive star he was prior to last year.

Now, Braun and the Brewers will wait to see if it works.

The procedure, in which subzero temperatures were introduced into the damaged nerve at the base of the thumb with a needle, was performed by Dr. Vernon B. Williams at the Kerlan-Jobe Clinic in Los Angeles. Braun will meet again with Williams on Monday, and if there is no adverse reaction to the treatment, he will swing a bat to test his pain tolerance.

Braun's thumb began bothering him early in the 2013 season, and his production soon waned. Combined with the season-ending suspension he received for his PED involvement with the Biogenesis clinic, Braun was limited to 61 games of action in '13, batting .298 with nine home runs and 38 RBI.

With an extended period of five months of rest, the hope was that Braun's thumb would be much improved this year and he'd again be one of the top offensive forces in the league. But it was evident as early as spring training that the thumb had not healed, and as the season wore on, it only got worse.

Much like the Brewers' offense in general, Braun's productivity declined dramatically in the second half. After batting .298 with 11 home runs and 52 runs batted in over 73 games before the break, he slipped to .226, eight homers and 29 RBI in 62 games afterward.

When the sagging Brewers needed him most, Braun was particularly woeful in September, hitting .210 with one homer, five RBI and .603 OPS. He led the club with 81 RBI but that was more an indictment of other players than an accomplishment.

Braun finished with a .266 batting average and 19 home runs, career lows for a full season. His .324 on-base percentage and .453 slugging percentage also were far below his norm. Braun walked only 41 times and struck out 113 times.

It was a far cry from the offensive superstar who averaged 34 home runs and 107 RBI while batting .313 over a six-year period from 2007-'12.

Braun said the ailing thumb prevented him from gripping the bat properly, resulting in greatly diminished results.

"When you can't use your top hand as a baseball player, it drastically alters everything that you do," Braun said recently. "I've tried to adjust; I've tried to find a way to deal with it the best I could. At times, I've been OK. But, for the most part, it's been really difficult, really challenging and very frustrating."

Braun and the Brewers explored many possible remedies for the issue before settling on cryotherapy, a minimally invasive technique. There is no track record of this kind of procedure being performed on a baseball player's thumb, but at this stage and considering other less attractive options, Braun and the Brewers decided to give it a try.

"The doctor said it went well," Gord Ash said Thursday afternoon. "He'll have a follow-up with the doctor and we'll see how he responds."

The Brewers certainly have a vested interest in fixing Braun's thumb issue. In 2016, a five-year, $105 million contract extension kicks in, a huge investment made by the club on the basis that he would continue to be the offensive force he was when the deal was done in 2011.

Braun expressed hope and optimism beforehand that the procedure would do enough good to allow him to grip the bat properly again.

"I don't feel like I need to be at 100% to be one of the best players in the game, but I've got to be at 80-90%," he said. "I have to be able to use my top hand in my swing to feel like I can do the things I'm used to doing and capable of doing."

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