Coincidental or not, Russell Branyan has earned his nickname and then some, helping muscle Milwaukee back into contention and within sight of Chicago and St. Louis in the National League's Central Division.>
"Russell the Muscle" contributed two hits in his first start, May 25, at Washington and was hitting .306 through Thursday's series finale against Toronto. He had 10 homers in 62 at-bats, or one every 6.2 official plate appearances, which amazingly was lower than his career mark of one long ball every 5.9 trips to the dish.
Branyan had accumulated 53 total bases with only 19 hits in his first 20 outings, by far the Brewers' best percentage, since being called up from Triple-A Nashville.
Not too shabby for an all-or-nothing kinda guy who's played for eight organizations because of his high strikeout totals. He still has whiffed 24 times, but his slight changes in the batter's box—he's lowered his hands and opened his stance—have helped him get off to such a magnificent start in his second round with the Crew.
Regardless of the positive results, the team needed a left-handed stick in its righty-dominated lineup. But the fact he has added pop has been the biggest thing the Brewers were missing from the left side and drastically needed after Geoff Jenkins departed and several of Milwaukee's regulars—Bill Hall, Mike Cameron and Rickie Weeks, for example—were performing below career numbers overall, and against righties in particular.
Branyan also has been adequate in the field, where Hall struggled a bit after making his fourth position switch in as many seasons. But it was Hall's lack of production against right-handers--currently .158 with 46 strikeouts in 152 at-bats—that prompted general manager Doug Melvin to make the move and manager Ned Yost to implement a platoon situation at third base.
A Tennessee resident, Branyan inked a deal with the Sounds just before spring training after getting no other offers. He batted .359 with 12 round-trippers and 36 RBIs, registering a .453 on-base percentage and slugging at a .693 clip in 45 games.
But perhaps the most important thing that's happened is that the Brewers—who've benefited from several players finding their long-ball swings—have been winning.
Milwaukee has posted a 16-7 record since Branyan's first appearance while averaging five runs per game, numbers that Brewer fans certainly can live with and hope continue.