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Branyan expects to top himself in 2010

Branyan expects to top 2009

Life is good for Russell Branyan.

The swimming pool and Jacuzzi being built in the backyard of his Nashville, Tenn., home is nearly finished. A new addition to his family, a daughter named Quinn, was born on Friday. And his lower back is pain-free.

All he needs now is a job.

Getting one should be easy for the first baseman who last season led the Mariners with 31 home runs and drove in a career-high 76 runs before a herniated disk in his back ended his season a month early.

"I am feeling pretty good and could play right now if I had to," Branyan said during a telephone interview from his home. "I've been going to therapy three times a week since I came home, and I just started some lifting. I'm a little sore from that, but I feel a lot better than I did at the end of the season."

He would feel a lot better if he received a phone call from Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik and they worked out a new contract. Branyan, eligible to become a free agent, wants to continue his rejuvenated Major League career in the middle of Seattle's lineup.

"Honestly, it's a good fit for me, a good fit for the team," Branyan said. "I don't know exactly what they are thinking, but I should find out something in the next week or two."

Just in case, Branyan filed for free agency on Monday, but the Mariners still have exclusive negotiating rights until Nov. 20. Six of the seven Mariners eligible for free agency have filed, leaving only Ken Griffey Jr. to do so before the Nov. 19 deadline.

"Hopefully, they come and offer me something to come back to Seattle," Branyan added. "I'm not looking to break the bank. All I want is to be treated fairly."

Re-signing Branyan would definitely create more of a buzz in Mariner Nation than Dec. 3, when he accepted a one-year, $1.4 million offer that also included $350,000 in bonuses, becoming the first free agent signed during the Zduriencik regime.

It was the first of several moves Zduriencik made that turned out extremely well.

Branyan had a career year and is one of the leading candidates for the American League's Comeback Player of the Year.

Given an opportunity to play regularly for the first time in his career, Branyan had a superb first half, batting .280 with 22 home runs and 49 RBIs at the All-Star break. But lower back and hip issues plagued him during the second half of the season, and he played his last game on Aug. 28.

"I was feeling great going into the All-Star break," he said, "but when we played in Cleveland coming out of the break, my back started bothering me and gradually got worse and worse. It began affecting the way I was swinging the bat, but I wanted to continue to play, so I tried to play through it."

Looking back, he said he probably would have been better off taking a week or two off to let the pain subside. But his career year was going so well he didn't want to interrupt it.

"I guess it was a bit of a gamble on my part, but it was my choice," he said. "My therapist told me my body just kind of broke down from a strength and endurance standpoint, and the main reason was I was playing every day."

The program he's on now is designed to strengthen his back and hips. He should be ready to go full-speed when Spring Training opens. He said proper maintenance during the season should allow him to withstand the rigors of a six-month season.

Reflecting on this past season, Branyan said a lot of things stood out.

"We had a great time, and it was a great group of guys. From a personal standpoint, to be able to step up and produce when given the opportunity was huge. Deep down I knew I could do it and regardless how I ended up the final six weeks, I still had a great year."

Besides career highs in home runs and RBIs, he established single-season marks in at-bats (431), hits (108), walks (58) and strikeouts (149).

More than anything, perhaps, he dispelled the belief that he couldn't hit left-handed pitchers.

"One thing Jack and I talked about before signing is that I was truly convinced that I could produce against right-handers and left-handers," Branyan said.

During his healthy part of the season, Branyan batted .247 with five home runs in 93 at-bats against lefties. He walked 13 times and struck out 41 times.

"I was a little surprised I got off to such a good start because I hadn't faced lefties in the big leagues in a long time," Branyan added. "I would always be yanked out of games because the manager would go with a right-left matchup.

"The first time I faced [CC] Sabathia this year I felt overmatched. I hadn't faced anyone of that caliber. The second time I faced him, I felt better."

Even when he made outs against southpaws, he said he would go back to the dugout and tell himself, "I am this close to having better at-bats against them."

"There is no doubt in my mind that I will be healthy and produce," he said. "I feel that I will have a better year than I had this year. I'm really excited, and I want it to happen in Seattle.

"Don [Wakamatsu, the manager] and the coaching staff believe in me, and I think they know I will have a better year."

Branyan wants a chance to prove that he's right again.

Jim Street is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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