LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Three days after attending Ryan Braun's wedding in California, Brewers manager Ron Roenicke spoke Tuesday at the Winter Meetings about the challenges facing a player who will return in the spring from a performance-enhancing drugs suspension to begin working on the move from left field to right.
"He knows what he's up against," Roenicke said.
Braun's July 22 suspension defined a difficult season for the Brewers, and his return will bring its own issues. There is the position switch, precipitated by the Brewers' trade of right fielder Norichika Aoki to the Royals for a much-needed lefty arm in Will Smith, plus a desire to free left field for slugging prospect Khris Davis. Then there is the matter of how Braun will be received by fans, both on the road and at Miller Park.
Asked whether he believed Braun was nervous about how he'll be treated by fans at home, Roenicke said, "I think he's wondering what it will be like. I'm wondering what it will be like. … I've said this many times: This is a really good young man. He made a mistake, but this is a really good young man. If you are OK with people making mistakes, which I certainly am, you have to look at what kind of person this guy is. He is a good guy."
Braun has already apologized to Roenicke and some key teammates and made his first public appearance in Milwaukee just before Thanksgiving to express additional regret to fans. But while admitting in a written statement that he took a cream and a lozenge in 2011 that contained a banned substance, Braun has not been forthcoming with details about what he took, when he took it and when he stopped taking it, leaving many fans unsatisfied.
Roenicke said that he was ready to move on without any more details.
"The more I think about it, anything he says at this point about what happened is never going to satisfy everybody," Roenicke said. "All it's going to do is stir up new controversy. It's going to come across negatively to somebody in the press, in the news, and for him to have to go through that stuff again, to tell you the truth, I don't think he needs to. If he wants to, fine. I don't think he needs to go there. …
"I think there's things he can't say, and I think there's things he doesn't want to say. That's been the case with almost everybody [suspended after the league's investigation into Biogenesis]. Everybody makes their little statement or comments, and then you go on from there. I don't get what the reason is that everybody needs to know exactly what happens. Everybody knows he did some things he shouldn't have done, and we move on."
Roenicke understands that many fans feel differently and still seek answers to open questions.
"To be honest with you, I really don't need to know," he said. "He made a mistake. All I need to know is how's he going to be when he gets back? How's he going to go about his relationship with players, with fans, with management? I know he's going to be physically ready to go after it.
"He's a good young man. Really, that's the bottom line. This is a good young man."
Among the other topics Roenicke discussed at the Winter Meetings:
• Tyler Thornburg has the inside track on fifth starter duties behind Kyle Lohse, Yovani Gallardo, Wily Peralta and Marco Estrada. Thornburg, 25, was 3-1 with a 2.03 ERA in seven starts and 11 relief appearances last season.
"I think anytime you give a guy an opportunity to do that and he pitches the way he does, I think he needs to get the first opportunity," Roenicke said.
Barring injuries, other current candidates for the fifth starter spot include newly acquired Smith and prospects Johnny Hellweg and Jimmy Nelson. Smith will be "stretched out" in Spring Training in case the Brewers want him to start, but Roenicke sounded as if he was leaning toward relief. Smith has done both in the Majors, but Roenicke noted that the lefty was particularly effective out of the bullpen last season.
• Scooter Gennett is the starting second baseman, despite the fact Rickie Weeks is under contract through 2014 at $11 million. Gennett grabbed the job in August and September after Weeks suffered a season-ending hamstring injury that required surgery.
"To say, 'Scooter, you're on the bench and Rickie is our everyday guy right now,' I don't think that's real fair to Scooter," Roenicke said. "We may end up needing both of them. You don't know what's going to happen. We need to get Rick back to where he was. When I first came over in 2011, before he hurt [his] ankle, he was a tremendous player."
• Gennett and shortstop Jean Segura are the leading candidates to replace Aoki as Milwaukee's leadoff man. Roenicke also mentioned center fielder Carlos Gomez, but some in the Brewers' front office believe Gomez has become more valuable in the middle of the order.
• Roenicke was eager to take part in a manager's seminar Wednesday morning about MLB's expanded replay. Roenicke has been openly skeptical of the challenge system being introduced in 2014.
"I still am," he said. "There's a lot that goes on during the ballgame, and we don't have conversations with people that are on a monitor looking at plays like they do in football. That's a huge advantage to have somebody else tell you what to do. It's huge. We're not going to have that advantage."
• He has no illusions about the Brewers' place in a tough National League Central.
"It's a good division," Roenicke said. "We know what we're up against. We know everything has to go right. We certainly can't have any injuries we had last year. But that's OK. It's fun when you're not picked to win something and you end up having a great year. That's really nice to do."