Branyan sees playing time dwindling
Left-handed starters give Hall the nod at third base for Brewers
SAN FRANCISCO -- The inconsistent playing time is nothing new for Russell Branyan, but the 32-year-old, 11-year big league veteran is still trying to find ways to make it work.Branyan, a left-handed hitter who has been splitting time at third base with right-handed swinger Bill Hall since late May, has been working to tweak his daily routine as the Brewers have piled up starts against left-handed pitchers. Entering Sunday, Hall had started eight of the Brewers' last 12 games, seven of them against southpaws, and if he continues to hit, Branyan has a feeling that Hall will begin seeing more starts regardless of which arm the opposing starter throws with. "I would imagine that if he keeps getting hits, he's going to get more chances to play," Branyan said. "He's under contract. I know they don't like sitting him." Brewers manager Ned Yost confirmed that he'll play the hot hand if Hall continues to produce. Yost faced a decision before Sunday's series finale in San Francisco against All-Star right-hander Tim Lincecum, who is slightly tougher on left-handed hitters this season (.240 batting average, three home runs) than right-handed hitters (.242 average, four home runs). Still, Yost went with Branyan. Entering the game, Branyan had only 25 plate appearances this month and has significantly cooled since his hot start with the Brewers, batting .125 in July with no home runs and one RBI. Over the same span, Hall, who was 0-for-4 in a start Saturday but walked and scored a run, had 40 plate appearances and was hitting .351 (13-for-37) with two home runs and 11 RBIs. "These layoffs seem to be tough on me," Branyan said. "I'd give anything to play 15 days in a row at some point, but that's my career. I'm trying to figure that out, whether that means more running, more agility work, more ground balls, more swings. For some reason my body feels better when I'm in one of those stretches when I'm playing a lot. It's when I sit that I feel sore." That's not particularly surprising, hitting coach Jim Skaalen said. "The guys who have the ability to succeed in a limited role are really freaks," Skaalen said. "Gabe Kapler. [Craig] Counsell, to some extent. Those are guys that know how to prepare. It's a special mind-set and there's not a lot that can do that successfully. Everything about hitting is rhythm and timing." Unless Yost tabs Hall to start against some right-handers, Branyan should get some opportunities this week. Starting with Lincecum on Sunday, seven of the next eight and 10 of the next 12 pitchers scheduled to start against Milwaukee were right-handed. The exceptions will probably come Friday, when lefty Wandy Rodriguez is lined up to start for Houston in the opener of a three-game series, and July 28, when Ted Lilly is lined up to start the opener of a crucial four-game series between the Cubs and Brewers. "I'm not going to come in here and say that if Billy keeps playing [well], he's going to play every day. We'll see," said Yost, who at least conceded that the balance could tip in Hall's favor. "Yeah, that could possibly happen. [The platoon] is not strict. I kind of go on matchups, how Russell is doing, how Billy is feeling, and what gives us, in my mind, the best opportunity to win. "But this game doesn't revolve around me, it revolves around them, and those players doing what they're capable of doing. I try to do the best that I can to put them in a position where they can be at the top of their game." Entering the weekend, Branyan and Hall combined for 22 home runs as third basemen, the top output in Major League Baseball from that position (Branyan also clubbed a pinch-hit homer). Hall and Branyan combined for an .800 OPS, 10th of the 30 teams at third base, and ranked 14th with 53 RBIs. "The numbers say it has [worked]," Yost said.
Adam McCalvy is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.