Braun feeds off Phillies fans' boos in 3-HR game

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Braun feeds off Phillies fans' boos in 3-HR game

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There are a few things to remember when it comes to certain baseball players like Ryan Braun.

One thing to remember is that if you’re at a Brewers game in which Braun is in the lineup, leave him alone. Keep the boos well below J.D. Drew level to something more apt for a Scott Rolen plate appearance.

Sure, go ahead and boo Braun. He knows it’s coming after the long suspension for performance-enhancing drugs he completed last season. But just don’t be overly obnoxious with it.

He likes it too much.

“I try to use it to my advantage,” Braun said.

In Tuesday afternoon’s home opener at Citizens Bank Park, Braun was greeted with over-the-top boos and catcalls that seemed to fuel his obnoxious and over-the-top performance in Milwaukee's 10-4 victory over the Phillies (see Instant Replay). Braun went 3 for 5 with three homers and seven RBIs even though he went into the game with an injured thumb, ugly swings in batting practice and just three hits for the season.

Actually, of all the games to break his season-long funk, Braun was surprised it was this one. During batting practice before the game, Braun said he swung as hard as he could and couldn’t hit one out.

“I don’t think there was any chance I could have a game like this,” Braun said. “The game works in mysterious ways. It was kind of a crazy game and I enjoy this atmosphere and this environment. It’s motivating for me and helps get that adrenaline going.”

Oh yes, the environment. Braun says he is used to hearing fans scream and holler whenever his name is called, and by now it’s nothing more than background noise. But after a series in Boston followed by another at Citizens Bank Park, Braun was like a bear messing with a bees’ nest trying to get some honey.

After a while he doesn’t even feel the stings any more -- the reward is just too sweet.
 
“I love it. It’s great,” Braun said of the negative fan reaction he receives. “Seriously, as a competitor I really enjoy it. It’s a challenging game and it’s a long season and playing in an environment and atmosphere like this is certainly motivating.”

There’s something to that, says Brewers manager Ron Roenicke. Certain players just seem to thrive in contemptuous situations. For instance, Roenicke remembered when he was coaching the Angels and how loud and crazy the fans in Anaheim got whenever Jose Guillen came to town to play.

The louder Guillen was booed, the better he played.

“We were just like, ‘Leave him alone.’ Really. It makes a difference,” Roenicke said. “And those guys who can turn it up, you don’t want to be messing with them.”

Phillies fans messed with Braun, and he’s the one who got into their heads.

“It isn’t anything new to me or anything I haven’t experienced,” Braun said.

No, filling the role of public enemy No. 1 is something he does well. In fact, Braun was first entwined in a PED scandal following the 2011 season when he won the National League MVP award. During the 2012 season, Braun was booed at every stop -- especially Philadelphia -- and turned in a career-best 41 homers, 112 RBIs and a .319 batting average.

Braun’s numbers were enhanced, so to speak, whenever he faced the Phillies. In seven games, Braun hit six homers, drove in 10 runs and batted .519 (14 for 27) with a 1.296 slugging percentage. He went only 9 for 26 against the Phillies last season, but for his career he destroys Phillies pitching.

He has 10 homers in 20 games at Citizens Bank Park and 17 homers with 37 RBIs to go with a .392 batting average (69 for 176) in 44 games against the Phillies. Only two of those homers came against Phils starter Kyle Kendrick, but in going 9 for 19 (.474) against the righty, Braun had little difficulty figuring things out.

Maybe Braun didn’t need to use PEDs. Maybe he just needed to face the Phillies.

“I don’t know [why I hit well against the Phillies]. Obviously this ballpark is good to hit in. That’s pretty well documented, but there’s nothing specific about this team,” Braun said. “I like competing against Ryan Howard and Jimmy Rollins and Chase Utley.”

Chalk it up to the challenging atmosphere and good teams. Considering that Braun has 14 homers in 49 games in Cincinnati and eight in St. Louis -- two of the Brewers' NL Central rivals -- he likes the big stage.

He also likes it when the fans in those places boo him.

“At times, it certainly drives him, no question about that,” Roenicke said. “He’s a special hitter and those guys, when they turn it up, they turn it up.”

Last time it happened ...
The last time the Phillies allowed three home runs in a game to a hitter was May 19, 2011 at Citizens Bank Park against Jason Giambi and the Rockies.

Incidentally, Giambi is a player (like Braun) who was embroiled in a PED scandal. He also hit two of his three home runs that game against Kyle Kendrick.

Twins 4, Phillies 2: Aaron Nola encouraged by good health, still looking for command

Twins 4, Phillies 2: Aaron Nola encouraged by good health, still looking for command

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CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Aaron Nola has not had a great spring.

But in the big picture, well, maybe he has.

Nola was one of the Phillies' biggest and most important question marks coming into camp. He had missed the final two months of the 2016 season because of an elbow injury. All he needed to do this spring to be in the starting rotation was show that he was healthy.

He's done that.

He pitched 5 2/3 innings against the Minnesota Twins and threw 82 pitches in his fifth start of the spring on Thursday. He gave up six hits, including a two-run homer, walked one and struck out six.

He's up to 17 2/3 innings for the spring -- without an elbow issue.

"I'm over that," Nola said after the game. "My elbow feels really good. I haven't had any pain or problems with it. I don't even think about it throwing or in games.

"Everything has been very positive. My body is healthy."

Nola, who lines up to fill the fifth spot in the Phillies' rotation, hasn't had good results this spring. He has given up 19 hits and 13 earned runs. But, again, the Phillies were only looking for good health.

"He's been working on his changeup," manager Pete Mackanin said. "Today, he threw more changeups than I've ever seen him throw. The changeup he threw for the home run, he admitted, 'I would never throw that pitch in a game.' But he's working on it, trying to get it going for him, and I think it's going to be a good pitch for him. 

"He really pitched better than the result he got. He had a lot of work with his changeup, which is important. He was as sharp as we've seen him."

Coming into camp, Mackanin was concerned about Nola's health.

"I'm less concerned right now," the manager said. "It's always going to be in the back of my mind. But it's good to see 92, 93, 94 (mph) coming out of his hand, which is important. Once he regains that command, and he showed real good command of his fastball down in the zone today, he's going to be back to where he was -- with even maybe a little more velocity. We'll see. But the changeup is going to help him. I'm very encouraged."

The game
The Phillies lost, 4-2, to the Twins.

The Phils had 10 hits, two by Odubel Herrera, who homered.

Andrew Knapp, pushing to make the club, started behind the plate and had a double.

The Phillies were just 1 for 8 with runners in scoring position and left nine men on base.

The Phils' bullpen -- Sean Burnett, Edubray Ramos and Hector Neris -- accounted for 3 1/3 innings of scoreless ball.

Up next
The Phils play the Yankees in Tampa on Friday. Jeremy Hellickson will start against CC Sabathia.

Larry Bowa, Charlie Manuel reflect on special bond with Dallas Green

Larry Bowa, Charlie Manuel reflect on special bond with Dallas Green

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- An impromptu homage to Dallas Green broke out on the field at the Phillies' spring training home Thursday morning.

Larry Bowa, who played for Green on the 1980 World Series championship team, was there.

So was Charlie Manuel, the only other manager other than Green to lead a Phillies team to a World Series title.

They told tales of Green's tough exterior and warm heart.

Bowa even shed a tear.

A couple of hours later, there were a few more tears in the stands as the team honored Green with a moment of silence the day after he died at 82.

Green's old jersey, No. 46, hung in the dugout for the Phillies-Twins game.

"It was tough last night," Bowa said. "I just couldn't believe it. This guy meant the world to us. We don't win a World Series without Dallas. It doesn't matter if we've got 10 Pete Roses, we don't win a World Series without Dallas. 

"He taught me a lot about being mentally tough and giving everything you have, every pitch, nine innings. Never quit. He was a guy that told our team, 'Look in the mirror. You're not as good as you think you are.' He said, 'Anybody can win divisions, go win a World Series. Put a ring on somebody's finger.'"

The Phillies had great talent in the late 1970s but always came one step short of the World Series. Green came in late in the 1979 season and was a stun gun to a complacent team. A year later, they were World Series champions.

"He said, 'I don't care what you did yesterday. What can you do today to help the Phillies win?' He got everybody's attention," Bowa said. "Yeah, we had a lot of give and take, screaming. I think everybody respected him. That's the bottom line. Eventually, when you get done playing, you realize how important he was to the Phillies in 1980."

Bowa was a critic of Green's in the lead up to the World Series. He recalled the give and take with the manager, which wasn't always sugar and spice and everything nice.

After one particularly poor game, Green left his office door open as he spoke with reporters. During the interview session, Green loudly questioned the team's desire and said the group was not as good as it thought it was. The players in the clubhouse heard it all because Green wanted them to -- and, of course, because his voice naturally boomed.

After Green's session with the media that night, a reporter approached Bowa and asked if he'd heard Green's loud commentary.

Of course, Bowa had heard it.

And he was fired up.

"Go ask Dallas how many games he won in the big leagues," Bowa told the writer, poking at Green's modest 20-22 record as a big-league pitcher.

When the writer informed Green of Bowa's barb, Green responded with a loud, "Touche, Bo. Touche."

"He wanted you to hear things," Bowa said.

That was one of his ways of challenging people. And he really liked to challenge players. It was his way of inspiring and separating the weak from the strong.

Manuel compared that to one of his former managers, Billy Martin.

"He was like a Billy Martin kind of guy," Manuel said. "He'll tell you what he expects out of you, but at the same time, he'll tell you that you can't do something. That's a big challenge to you. When you show him that you can do it, that's when he's on your side and he thinks the world of you. That's the time you become his guy."

Manuel became Green's guy after the two had a public spat in 2006. In a radio interview, Green, then a member of the team's front office, had criticized the way Manuel's Phillies were playing. In particular, he said the team lacked fundamentals. Manuel was furious that a member of the front office would criticize him publicly. A month or so later, as the Phillies rallied themselves into wild-card contention, Manuel and Green came face to face on the field before a game at Citizens Bank Park.

Manuel unloaded on Green.

And Green took his medicine.

From that confrontation, respect and understanding grew. Manuel and Green became great friends and frequent dinner partners. A few years later, Green admitted to a reporter that he was wrong for scuffing Manuel and he thanked Manuel for showing him that there are other ways to run a team than just the way he did it.

"I showed him," Manuel said. "When I look back, maybe he was testing me. But I understood him and I think at the end he felt he understood me."

On the night the Phillies won the World Series in 2008, Manuel and Green, members of an elite, two-man club, sat in Manuel's office and reflected.

"He was very happy," Manuel said. "Him and I had a few drinks of VO. I think I outdrank him, really. But, of course, when he won back in 1980 he would have outdrank me.

"Everything about it was good. He was just as happy as I was and I can't tell you how happy I was.

"He was always around and he definitely pulled for the Phillies day in and day out.

"Baseball's going to miss Dallas Green.

"I'm going to miss him."