We're still almost a full month away from Christmas, but Brewers fans have received a big present early this year if we take Ryan Braun at his word.
According to Adam McCalvy on Twitter, Braun says that an October 2 cryotherapy procedure on his ailing thumb "definitely worked" and that he is already feeling 100%. According to Braun, his thumb is pain-free for the first time in two years.
Of course, the off-season is far from over. In contrast to what Gord Ash had said earlier this month, Braun is not anticipating undergoing additional cryotherapy procedures before spring training, though it is a possibility. The Brewers' right fielder knows the true test will be seeing how he feels when playing full-time. He was able to swing a bat soon after the first cryotherapy, but was not expected to start hitting on a regular basis until January.
Braun has been suffering through an ailing nerve in his thumb since early 2013. With an extended personal off-season between 2013 and 2014, the hope had been that rest and relaxation would be enough to heal the injury. Unfortunately, that was not the case and Braun hit for a career-worst line of .266/.324/.453 with 19 home runs in 135 games this past season. Braun admitted that the pain was so severe that he was often changing his swing to, in essence, hit one-handed much of the time.
That 2014 performance is certainly a far cry from the Ryan Braun of old. A former Rookie of the Year and MVP winner, Braun had a career line of .313/.374/.568 while averaging 34 home runs per year in his first six seasons, before he sustained his injury.
A healthy Braun will be crucial to the Brewers 2015 playoff hopes. The team led the NL Central for most of the year before a late-season collapse knocked them to third in the division. That collapse over the last two months coincided with Braun's worst stretch of the year as he hit just .227/.299/.357 over the last two months of 2014. Getting Braun anywhere close to normal to go with Jonathan Lucroy, Carlos Gomez, Aramis Ramirez and the newly-acquired Adam Lind in the lineup will make the Brewers much more formidable.
Only 86 days until pitchers and catchers report. It seems certain that all eyes will be on how Ryan Braun looks once Spring Training rolls around.