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Jeffress' Opening Day status up in the air

Hader harbors no ill will after contract renewal; Nelson passes test
@AdamMcCalvy
March 8, 2019

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- On one hand, time is working in Jeremy Jeffress’ favor. Late-inning relievers like the Brewers right-hander need only a handful of Spring Training outings to be ready for the regular season, and as he tries to overcome what he describes as right shoulder weakness, Opening Day is

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- On one hand, time is working in Jeremy Jeffress’ favor. Late-inning relievers like the Brewers right-hander need only a handful of Spring Training outings to be ready for the regular season, and as he tries to overcome what he describes as right shoulder weakness, Opening Day is still three weeks away.

On the other hand, Jeffress’ shoulder requires rest and strengthening. The longer that takes, the more that time will work against him.

“I think it’s fair to be concerned for the start of the season right now,” Brewers manager Craig Counsell said. “If he bounces back here, we’ll still have enough time. But now we’re getting tighter on the season, for sure.”

He added, “We’re not going to work to get him healthy by Opening Day; we’re just going to work to get him healthy.”

Jeffress exited his spring debut on Wednesday against the D-backs when coaches noticed his first three pitches registering 83-84 mph on the stadium radar gun. He was optimistic about having enough time to get ready for the start of the season.

“If I’m strong and my body’s healthy, you can just give me a couple innings,” Jeffress said. “Spring Training games are way different than regular-season games. It’s just all about getting healthy and getting strong for the season.”

Jeffress is coming off a career year in which he led the Brewers with 73 appearances in the regular season, logged a 1.29 ERA and made the National League All-Star team before stumbling in the postseason. The other two members of Counsell’s “Electric Dudes” trio at the back of the bullpen -- Corey Knebel and Josh Hader -- are back and would presumably combine to cover the ninth inning should Jeffress be sidelined at the very start of the season.

“We still have three weeks left,” said Hader. “Just a little setback, but I think he’ll be good. He’s a strong dude and he knows what he’s doing.”

Hader reacts to renewal
Hader expressed no ill will Thursday after having his contract renewed by the team because the sides were unable to agree on a fair 2019 salary.

“First of all, I love being here in Milwaukee,” said Hader. “I love the organization. I love how they treat us. On that end, it was a business decision that I talked to my agent about. That was just the route that we decided to go.”

Teams use mathematical formulas to determine salaries for their pre-arbitration players, whose only leverage is to refuse to accept the figure presented by the team. In those instances, the team “renews” the contract at the salary of its choosing. Theoretically, that refusal can come up later in arbitration hearings, but rarely is there serious animosity.

Hader’s salary for 2019 is $687,600, according to a source. His base salary last season was $556,500, when Hader made the NL All-Star team and set the all-time record for strikeouts by a left-handed reliever.

Hader doesn’t project to be eligible for arbitration until after the 2020 season. He said he was unaware of any discussions between the team and his representatives at CAA Sports about a long-term extension, which have become more common lately between teams and players early in their Major League careers.

“That [renewal] doesn’t change the game. I still have to go out and do my job as well,” Hader said. “There’s two ends of it, where you have the business and you’ve got the actual game. That’s where our focus is now, and we’re going to put ourselves in a good position to get back to the playoffs and get to that World Series spot.”

Nelson passes another test
Jimmy Nelson felt “fine” and “good” after pitching a two-inning simulated game on Thursday, which was the important thing. But he offered a glimpse into how he approaches even the routine activities of Spring Training when he answered reporters’ questions during a walk from the back fields at American Family Fields of Phoenix to the Brewers clubhouse.

“In my perfectionist mind, I missed too many spots,” Nelson said. “Too many mistakes. I fell behind a couple of guys too much. But there was some good stuff in there, some good comeback pitches. My curveball, slider, were pretty sharp. I only threw a few changeups and it wasn’t as good as it was last time out there, but I feel like it was coming out a little bit better today. I had some good life in the zone.”

The longest at-bat was against Brewers catcher Erik Kratz leading off Nelson’s second inning of work. Kratz fouled off several two-strike pitches before taking a walk that led to two runs when Dillon Thomas tripled and scored on Nick Egnatuk’s bouncing single through the left side.

“The leadoff walk is what frustrated me the second inning, especially against ‘Kratzy’ who’s got bragging rights, I guess. There were a couple of pitches in there that I felt like, if I executed, it would have gone my way.”

What’s next? Counsell said he would offer more on that Friday.

“No clue,” Nelson said. “I’m going to try to convince them to get me in a game.”

Last call
• Manny Pina was credited with an inside the park home run in the Brewers' four-run seventh inning of Thursday's 9-5 loss to the White Sox when Chicago left fielder Nicky Delmonico was injured chasing Pina's fly ball.

Delmonico, a former Brewers farmhand, crashed into the wall at the bullpen gate, which gave way and caused an awkward fall. Delmonico left the field on a golf cart.

"From what we heard, he hit the gate so hard that it popped the gate. Broke it," Counsell said. "And then there was an exposed pole that he hit his head on pretty good. Pretty scary. The guys in the bullpen said he hit his head pretty hard."

• Reliever Bobby Wahl is scheduled to undergo surgery to repair the ACL in his right knee on Tuesday in Los Angeles with Dr. Neal ElAttrache. The procedure is likely to sideline him all season.

• The Brewers will host the D-backs at American Family Fields of Phoenix on Friday for the second time in three days, with right-hander Freddy Peralta on the mound and left fielder Ryan Braun scheduled to make his spring debut. The 1:05 p.m. CT game, which starts an hour earlier than usual because the D-backs are departing later in the day for exhibitions against the Rockies in Mexico, will air on Fox Sports Wisconsin and the Brewers Radio Network.

Adam McCalvy has covered the Brewers for MLB.com since 2001. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram and like him on Facebook.