Russell Branyan, the journeyman third baseman signed by Jack Zduriencik and turned into a first baseman by Don Wakamatsu, turned in the best season of his career.
Now, officially, that season is over.
“If I’m not feeling 100 per cent, it doesn’t make sense to try to force it and play again,” Branyan said today. “I’ve swung the bat and my back feels pretty good, but I haven’t taken a ground ball yet. I haven’t really run hard yet.
“I tried to rush it back, but it’s not looking like I can finish the season on the field. If I rest and do the right exercises, I should be like anyone else next spring.”
Branyan played 116 games this season before going on the disabled list with a herniated disk, batting .251 with 31 home runs and 76 RBI. That made him one of the top Mariners run producers in a year in which he remains second on the team in RBI despite missing the final month.
“We hoped he’d feel remarkably better and be able to finish the season playing, but it hasn’t happened,” Wakamatsu said. “We’re not going to jeopardize anything for a few games.
“Considering how little he’d played first base before this season, he really did a nice job there for us, he came a long way. He proved to the fans and to himself what he could do playing regularly.”
In professional baseball since 1994, Branyan had played 766 big-league games in 7 1/2 seasons in the majors but hadn’t played as many as 100 games since 2002.
This season, Branyan played against left and right-handed pitchers, and hit 10 home runs in 158 at-bats against lefties.
“He had a first half that had him being considered for the All-Star game,” Wakamatsu said. “It’s hard to judge what he’s done since, because we don’t know how much the back bothered him.”
Branyan said wear and tear on his hips changed the way he rotated in the field and at the plate, and that in turn caused back problems. A physical therapist has told him working on his hips might alleviate the back problem, as well.
Though he wouldn’t use his injury as an excuse, he admitted in an early August interview with the News Tribune that he was having problems – a question brought up when he couldn’t bend quick enough to field a routine ground ball.
Branyan played another month with the pain, then was shut down. Now he goes into the off-season unsigned, although both he and Zduriencik want him back in Seattle next season.