Bad back can't keep Brewers' Braun out of lineup anymore


MILWAUKEE -- Brewers All-Star Ryan Braun returned to the starting lineup Friday against the Pittsburgh Pirates as he continues to deal with a nagging, tight back.

While the team said the back problems haven't been severe enough to put Braun on the 15-day disabled list, the All-Star slugger didn't start nine of the previous 11 games.

"It's good. It's just nice to be back in there," Braun said before the game. He said he has just been resting in the days leading up to his return to the lineup.

Braun, with a team-best 31 homers and 86 RBIs to go along with a .300 average, has described the pain as muscles tightening on both sides of his rib cage that affected his ability to breathe. But Brewers manager Ned Yost declined to call it an injury.

"I don't even know what you'd call it," Yost said. "I don't classify it as an injury, something that needs to be healed. It was tightness in both sides of his ribs. It wasn't a strain, it wasn't that he pulled anything, it was something almost like a spasm in both sides of his ribs that needed to unspasm."

Braun left Monday's game against Houston in the sixth inning when the injury flared up during an at-bat, walking gingerly back to the dugout.

Initially, it wasn't believed that Braun would return so quickly to the lineup because Milwaukee had Thursday off before playing the lowly Pirates in a three-game series, followed by another off day on Monday leading into a two-game trip at St. Louis. The Cardinals are 2 games behind Milwaukee in the NL wild card race coming into Friday's play.

"I told him to make sure when he was ready to play, ready to play nine [innings], come see me. He's ready to go," Yost said. "It's not an issue."

Braun pinch hit Saturday and returned to the lineup Sunday against the Los Angeles Dodgers. He batted four times against the Astros on Monday, striking out twice.

Yost said Braun was ready to return Wednesday, but he elected to give him two extra days rest.

Braun, who joined Albert Pujols as the only two sluggers to hit at least 30 homers in each of their first two seasons, has said he's not sure the feeling will go away completely until after the season.