MILWAUKEE (AP) — Manager Ron Roenicke would love to get more production from the Brewers' core players in 2014.
If only he could just keep more of them on the field.
A challenging 2013 season has ended in Milwaukee with glimmers of hope for the future. Outfielder Carlos Gomez and shortstop Jean Segura are young, speedy cornerstones up the middle. Second baseman Scooter Gennett provided a late-summer spark at the plate. Yovani Gallardo re-emerged as an ace after getting over a strained left hamstring.
Now about the rest of those injured Brewers ...
"We have the core," manager Ron Roenicke said in New York after Milwaukee lost the season finale Sunday to the Mets 3-2. "We need to stay healthy in that core."
Or otherwise just in uniform in the case of slugger Ryan Braun, the outfielder who sat out the last 65 games of the season for a doping suspension.
Braun's future was murky until Major League Baseball announced its punishment in July following an investigation into a Florida clinic accused of distributing performance-enhancing drugs.
Since then, Braun has tried to keep out of the public spotlight while rehabilitating his image. He stopped into the clubhouse to see teammates a couple weeks ago after visiting a charity.
"It's important for the team to move on with things and for him, also," Roenicke said after Braun's visit Sept. 18. "I know it's been difficult sitting at home and not to be part of this. ... No way was this a distraction."
Braun (.298, 9 HRs, 38 RBIs in 61 games) had been calling season-ticket holders, too, to apologize. He also spent 21 games on the disabled list with a right thumb injury.
Braun's last appearance came on July 21, when he whiffed on a 96 mph fastball from Marlins reliever A.J. Ramos as a pinch-hitter in the bottom of the 11th inning of 1-0 win. He was suspended the next day.
Corey Hart also missed the season with injuries to both knees. Rickie Weeks was lost for the year in early August with a left hamstring injury. Aramis Ramirez missed some time with a left knee injury.
"Getting healthy, and working hard to get ready for next season, that's my focus. I'm 35, and I'm not getting any younger," Ramirez, who hit .283 with 12 homers and 49 RBIs in just 92 games, said over the weekend in New York.
But the Brewers didn't sink down the stretch. In fact, they were a game over .500 at 33-32 since Braun was suspended, including a 6-2 stretch to finish 2013.
Milwaukee ended the year 74-88 in fourth place in the highly competitive NL Central, which boasted champion St. Louis and wild-card entries Pittsburgh and Cincinnati.
"The second half was amazing," Roenicke said. "I think we showed everyone in here what we can do."
Start with Gomez, who stole a base in the season finale to become the first player in franchise history to have at least 20 homers and 40 steals in the same season. The All-Star outfielder, who turns 28 in the offseason, hit .284 with 24 homers and 73 RBIs.
Segura, just 23, tired in the second half after a fast start, but still finished with a .294 average with 12 homers and 44 steals in his first full year in the big leagues.
Catcher Jonathan Lucroy hit a career-high 18 homers. At 27, he's become a reliable veteran presence at and behind the plate.
They were bolstered in the lineup by the 23-year-old Gennett, who hit .358 since Aug. 5 while filling in capably at second for Weeks and auditioning for next season. Outfielder Khris Davis also impressed with 11 homers in 56 games.
On the mound, 25-year-old Tyler Thornburg had a 2.16 ERA over his last four September starts in a bid to join the rotation full time in 2014. Kyle Lohse (11-10) steadied the starters year-round, while Gallardo (12-10), finished 4-1 with a 2.41 ERA in his last eight starts after returning from his hamstring injury.
"So it's really important for him to finish well and knowing next year, coming into the season, that we're going to get the same guy that we've been used to for all these years," Roenicke said. "Somebody you can count on every time he's out there."
Just getting Gallardo and Braun back on a consistent basis could help when the Brewers return to Miller Park on March 31 to play the Braves in the 2014 season opener.
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