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After injury-plagued 2013, hopeful Brewers seek healthy start to season

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PHOENIX - So far, so good for the Milwaukee Brewers in spring training following an injury-filled 2013 season.

Granted, it's early, and the full squad has yet to report to camp. But things couldn't get much worse than the injury situation that plagued Milwaukee last year.

"We'd be a pretty good club being healthy. We can't afford injuries over an extended period of time. I don't think anybody can in the game today," general manager Doug Melvin said Tuesday.

Brewers slugger Ryan Braun was limited by a thumb injury and drug suspension last season. Third baseman Aramis Ramirez missed time with a left knee injury.

And those were just the two biggest names — more than 600 at-bats missed between the team's best hitters, Melvin has estimated.

The fourth-place finish in the NL Central and 74-88 record stung. Brewers owner Mark Attanasio last month said keeping the team healthy was the top priority at the start of this season.

Thumb and knee injuries sometimes can't be avoided. "Freak" injuries, like getting hit by a pitch in the wrist or getting spiked on a hard play at second, can strike any team at any time.

But other nagging injuries might be avoidable.

"We're hoping that we do things right in training and conditioning to minimize the pulled hamstrings, obliques, things like that," manager Ron Roenicke said at media day for Arizona spring training teams held at Chase Field.

Melvin and Roenicke also like the fact that the team is relatively young. Braun is only 30, while Gold Glove centre fielder Carlos Gomez is 28. Veteran catcher Jonathan Lucroy is 27, and All-Star shortstop Jean Segura turns 24 next month.

"Sometimes you say, 'OK, you have a team that's really old, you really need to be concerned,'" Roenicke said. "But we're actually pretty young. We only have a couple guys over 32.

"I think it's the freak things that happened (last year), and it's hard to prepare for that," he added.

The broader concern is getting off to a better start. After finishing April 2013 at 14-11, the Brewers had their hopes essentially dashed in the strong NL Central with a 6-22 record in May. A stronger rotation with free-agent signee Matt Garza joining Yovani Gallardo and Kyle Lohse should help.

"We've all talked about how we want to do things maybe a little differently in spring training. Maybe get some of the players to play longer in the games later on in spring training. I don't know if there's any perfect solution," Melvin said.

Staying healthy, though, could go a long way.

The full squad is required to be in camp by Friday.

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