Milwaukee slugger Braun nears return from DL for calf strain

   CHICAGO (AP) -- Milwaukee slugger Ryan Braun could return as early as Sunday from a left calf strain.

   Manager Craig Counsell made the announcement Friday before the Brewers' series opener at Wrigley Field against the Cubs.

   Braun has been on disabled list retroactive to May 11. In 27 games, he has seven homers, 18 RBIs and is batting .287.

   Braun, a six-time All Star and 2011 National League MVP, has been taking batting practice and throwing. Counsell says Braun has been "making progress" and "won't say it's going to be for sure on Sunday yet, but it will be close."

   Slugger Eric Thames was back in the Brewers' starting lineup at first base on Friday after missing three games in San Diego with strep throat. He pinch hit on Thursday, when the Brewers won their ninth game in 11.

   Thames has 13 homers, 25 RBIs and is batting .313.

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