Was Braun's gesture a shot at Phillies fans?

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Was Braun's gesture a shot at Phillies fans?

It's a good thing Ryan Braun is embracing the role of the villain in road parks, because he'll be receiving thunderous boos in every stadium he visits this season.

And, along those lines, it's probably a good thing for him that the Brewers traveled to Citizens Bank Park so early in the season, because it's hard to imagine Braun getting louder jeers than he's received from Phillies fans this week.

"I try to use it to my advantage," Braun said of the boos after Tuesday's Brewers win over the Phillies. "I love it. It’s great. 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."

The boos continued Wednesday night after Braun's three homers in the series opener. And if you thought maybe, just maybe, they were getting under his skin after three strikeouts in four plate appearances in the middle game of the series, Braun's two-run triple in the eighth inning squashed that idea.

"Well I struck out three times today," said Braun when asked about his 39 RBIs in 45 games against the Phillies. "You just continue to compete. I'm friends with Ryan Howard and Jimmy Rollins and those guys, so I've always enjoyed competing against them."

Braun made an emphatic gesture after reaching third base, putting two fingers in the air in the direction of the crowd. The safe assumption was that it was directed at his Brewers teammates, but an assumption wasn't safe given the context of these two games and Braun's three previous lousy, frustrating at-bats.

"No [it was directed] to our dugout, we always do that when we get big hits," Braun said with a smirk. "We've done that forever, we just haven't had an opportunity to play too many good games, close games, exciting games."

It's been an exciting few days for the Brewers' disgraced perennial MVP candidate. Braun was suspended 65 games last season for his connection to the Biogenesis scandal, and that was just one calendar year after he tested positive for an elevated level of testosterone but walked on a technicality.

Braun's fierce denial of the initial positive test and eventual suspension are the main reasons for all the boos. But that's what makes the reaction in Philly so interesting -- most of it is based on baseball fans' disgust, but some of it is also based on respect for his game.

Braun has absolutely destroyed the Phillies. He's played 45 games against the Phils and has driven in 39 runs. He's played 76 games against the Braves and Mets combined and he's driven in 42 runs.

Braun entered this series with zero RBIs. He now has nine. And that's with a balky thumb that has caused chronic pain. "I've talked about it enough, I wish it would just go away," he said of the injury.

As far as the destruction of Phillies pitching ...

"Obviously it's a great ballpark to hit in," Braun said after Milwaukee's 9-4 win (see Instant Replay). "I enjoy competing against these guys. Aside from that, I don't know -- small sample size, anything can happen."

Instant Replay: Phillies 7, Marlins 4

Instant Replay: Phillies 7, Marlins 4

BOX SCORE

The Phillies won their fifth game in a row on Wednesday night with Maikel Franco and Vince Velasquez leading the way.

Franco smacked his second grand slam of the season and Velasquez delivered a quality start in the Phillies' 7-4 win over the Miami Marlins.

The Phillies have won five in a row for the first time since April 26 to May 1 of last year when they won six straight. They will look for their sixth straight win Thursday afternoon.

The Phils are now 10-9. The Marlins are also 10-9.

Starting pitching report
Velasquez (1-2) turned in his longest and best start of the season, holding the Marlins to six hits and three runs over 6 1/3 innings. He walked two and struck out three. Velasquez threw 97 pitches and 68 were strikes. He threw a first-pitch strike to 19 of 26 batters.

Miami lefty Wei-Yin Chen (2-1) gave up seven hits and four runs over five innings. All of the runs came on Franco's grand slam.

Bullpen report
Good work by a well-rested Phillies' bullpen.

Lefty Joely Rodriguez continued to dazzle. He got two big outs in the seventh inning after Velasquez had given up a run.

Joaquin Benoit pitched a scoreless eighth inning.

Hector Neris survived a run in the ninth to close it out.

At the plate
Franco had three hits in the game, two hard-hit singles and the grand slam. He has four homers on the season and 20 RBIs, putting him firmly among the NL leaders. Franco entered the game hitting .171. He finished at .203.

Freddy Galvis smacked a solo homer in the sixth and Michael Saunders added a two-run shot into the second deck in right field in the eighth to give the Phils some breathing room. The homer was Saunders' first with the Phils.

Dee Gordon led off the game with a triple for Miami and scored the game's first run on a ground out. Martin Prado homered and Adeiny Hechavarria doubled in a run for the Marlins. Hechavarria finished with two RBIs.

Health check
Pitcher Clay Buchholz visited with teammates for the first time since having elbow surgery earlier this month. By most accounts, his season is over, but he hasn't given up hope of pitching again this season (see story).

Minor matters
Manager Pete Mackanin is getting good reports on catcher Jorge Alfaro (see story).

Up next
The series and the homestand will conclude on Thursday afternoon. Jeremy Hellickson (3-0, 1.88) will pitch for the Phillies against Marlins right-hander Edinson Volquez (0-2, 4.82). 

Phillies getting good reports on catching prospect Jorge Alfaro

Phillies getting good reports on catching prospect Jorge Alfaro

Jorge Alfaro, one of the Phillies' most highly regarded prospects, is off to a big start at Triple A Lehigh Valley.
 
He entered Wednesday night's game hitting .377 (23 for 61) with a 1.003 OPS in his first 15 games. He had a double, two triples, three homers and 10 RBIs. Team officials would surely like to see the strikeouts (17) come down and the walks (1) go up, but no one is complaining about the production.
 
"I just looked at his numbers," manager Pete Mackanin said. "He's doing very well — knocking the cover off the ball."
 
Alfaro, 23, is widely considered the Phillies' catcher of the future. He's an athletic talent with huge upside. Many scouts believe he could be an All-Star if he puts it all together.
 
Defense is the area where Alfaro needs the most work. Yes, he's got a "howitzer" for an arm, as Mackanin called it, so that doesn't need much work. But there's a lot more to catching than throwing. There's game-calling, receiving and blocking.
 
Alfaro made a cameo with the big club last September and did not impress club officials with his receiving or blocking. Instructors focused on improving those areas in spring training, and Mackanin reports that Alfaro has shown progress in the early season.
 
"We get a complete game report on what everyone does offensively and defensively," Mackanin said. "Apparently he looks very good defensively.
 
"He had some issues defensively. He wasn't getting down enough and he worked on that all spring. He's a big guy and it's a little more difficult for a big guy to get low.
 
"And we wanted him to just be a little more quiet behind the plate, less movement. He had a tendency to be moving while the pitcher was getting ready to pitch. We just want a guy sitting back there nice and quiet with a good target. That might seem pretty elementary, but if you're not concentrating on doing that you might not realize the importance of it.
 
"He's doing well blocking balls. He's doing everything well right now and hitting on top of it, so that's a nice sign."