- Associated Press - Tuesday, March 25, 2014

MILWAUKEE (AP) - Two pitches into his spring training return, the Brewers’ most important player tried to prove his point.

Home run, Ryan Braun.

Now let’s see how he fares when the games count.

Bolstered by the return of Braun from a 65-game doping suspension and the signing of free-agent starter Matt Garza, Milwaukee enters the 2014 season hoping it has the pieces to contend again in the competitive NL Central.

Braun has vowed to return to his 2011 MVP form.

“I think the expectation is to have an opportunity to compete to get back to the playoffs. That’s our goal, I think it’s realistic,” Braun said during spring training in Phoenix.

Staying healthy would help, too. Besides Braun’s suspension, injuries sapped much of the Brewers’ power last year with projected 3-4-5 hitters Braun, Aramis Ramirez and Corey Hart each missing various lengths of time. Hart never played because of a knee injury.

Hart is gone, but Braun and Ramirez are back and bolstered by new team cornerstones who emerged last season in Carlos Gomez, Jean Segura and Jonathan Lucroy.

Five things to watch headed into new season at Miller Park:

ALL APOLOGIES: Braun heard mainly cheers after homering in his first spring training road game and got booed initially by visiting fans in his Brewers spring home opener.

Judging by the reception he received at an offseason team outreach event, Braun will likely be welcomed back with open arms in Milwaukee. The road might be another story.

Braun apologized several times in the offseason for his suspension last July for his involvement with Biogenesis, a Florida clinic accused of distributing performance-enhancing drugs. He has returned to a new position, moving across the outfield from left to right.

At the very least, he was doing just fine at the plate, hitting .440 with two homers and five RBIs in 25 spring at-bats as of Monday.

“He had a lot good years with not doing anything wrong. I expect him to be the same player, yes,” manager Ron Roenicke said this spring.

LEADING OFF: After a banner 2013, Gomez has a new home in the lineup this season. Meet the Brewers’ new leadoff hitter.

Story Continues →