BOSTON -- Following a poor showing as the Brewers' designated hitter Friday, a frustrated Ryan Braun was out of the lineup Saturday night as the nagging nerve issue in his right hand threatened to torpedo what he'd vowed would be a strong comeback from last year's suspension.
"The challenging thing is when I can't take a normal swing," Braun said. "I think the first series [against the Braves], I did, I took a lot of good swings and lined out quite a few times, had some good at-bats. [Friday], that wasn't the case.
"It's frustrating. I've dealt with it a long time. Like I said, I'm optimistic we'll figure something out to make it better, but when it gets to a point I can't come close to taking a normal swing, it's counterproductive to the team and to me to continue to play."
An inflamed nerve between Braun's right thumb and forefinger has caused pain for nearly a year, and lately has developed into numbness throughout the rest of his thumb. That led manager Ron Roenicke to limit Braun to designated hitter duty for Friday's Fenway Park opener, in which Braun went 0-for-5 with a strikeout.
Instead of trying again on Saturday, catcher Jonathan Lucroy handed DH duties and Braun took a night off. He said he was optimistic about playing Sunday, but it will have to be in right field because Roenicke indicated that third baseman Aramis Ramirez is due to DH.
"I watched him [on Friday], and it's not the same," Roenicke said.
Braun entered Saturday's game hitless in his last 14 at-bats and 1-for-16 this season. Dating to last season, he has gone 93 straight plate appearances without a home run, three plate appearances shy of matching the longest power drought of his career.
He first felt a tingling sensation in his hand last April or May after hitting a pitch off the end of the bat. That feeling, Braun said, never went completely away, even after he was suspended July 22 and took five months off from hitting.
He felt better at the start of Spring Training and performed better, too, batting .417 with three home runs in the Cactus League. But as the plate appearances added up, so did the discomfort. On Saturday, he couldn't shake a visiting reporter's hand.
"The analogy is like, if you touch a hot stove, no matter how badly you want to keep your hand there, the natural reaction will be to take your hand off of it," Braun said. "That's kind of what happens every time I make contact when it gets bad. No matter what I want to do or try to do, I can't keep two hands on the bat."
The last resort is surgery, an option Braun refused last year and remains, for now, adamantly against.
"The only two surgeries we knew of last year, neither of them were appealing," Braun said. "Look, I rely on the advice of people who are much more knowledgeable on this stuff that I am. The only two surgeries they described last year, one is I would never feel anything in my thumb again, because they would completely remove the nerve. That doesn't make sense just long-term, living life. The other one, there would be nerve endings, because they would remove the nerve but the nerve endings would still be there, which could be really painful, and [Dr. Don Sheridan, the specialist who examined Braun several times] said he didn't think that would be a great option, either.
"Then, when we saw him in the spring, there is a third option that he thinks could potentially work, but it's not something that's been done very often. Without getting into too many details, because I'm not an expert and I don't want to say something that's inaccurate, I know it hasn't been done a lot, but it's something that he thought might work."
If he tried surgery, would be have to miss the rest of this season?
"I'm not even thinking about doing it, so I don't know," he said. "I would imagine if I did it, it wouldn't be a two-week fix, because I would have done it in Spring Training, to be honest with you. I have no idea. And again, because it's probably not something they know much about, they wouldn't be able to put a specific timetable on it and say."
In the meantime, he will continue getting treatment in hope the pain will go away.
"I'm not oblivious to the circumstances that are surrounding me," Braun said. "Trust me. I want more than anything to go out and have my best season."