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Crew inks Jennings, puts lefty right to work

Veteran reliever turns in 1 2/3 scoreless innings vs. Padres
MLB.com @AdamMcCalvy

SAN DIEGO -- There was Carlos Torres in 2016 and Jared Hughes in '17, veteran relievers cut loose late in Spring Training and scooped up by the Brewers. Lefty Dan Jennings makes it three years in a row.

Jennings, recently released by the Rays, passed a physical before finalizing a one-year contract with the Brewers in time for Friday night's game against the Padres. The Brewers moved Jimmy Nelson to the 60-day disabled list to clear a 40-man roster spot and optioned first baseman -- and Opening Day co-hero -- Ji-Man Choi to Triple-A Colorado Springs to make room on the active roster for Jennings, who will serve primarily as a lefty specialist.

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SAN DIEGO -- There was Carlos Torres in 2016 and Jared Hughes in '17, veteran relievers cut loose late in Spring Training and scooped up by the Brewers. Lefty Dan Jennings makes it three years in a row.

Jennings, recently released by the Rays, passed a physical before finalizing a one-year contract with the Brewers in time for Friday night's game against the Padres. The Brewers moved Jimmy Nelson to the 60-day disabled list to clear a 40-man roster spot and optioned first baseman -- and Opening Day co-hero -- Ji-Man Choi to Triple-A Colorado Springs to make room on the active roster for Jennings, who will serve primarily as a lefty specialist.

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"I couldn't be happier to be closer to home," said Jennings, who resides with his wife and two young kids in West Des Moines, Iowa. "I'm always happy having a job. I get to play a game for a living."

He got to play right away for the Brewers, and in a big spot. Jennings was called upon in relief of Jhoulys Chacin with the bases loaded, one out and the Crew in a 4-2 hole in the fourth inning of Friday's 8-6 Brewers win. Jennings' second pitch produced a double-play grounder from left-handed hitting Eric Hosmer, and Jennings returned to the mound for a scoreless fifth. In all, he faced three lefties, one switch-hitter and one right-handed batter.

Video: Jennings, Stearns on Jennings joining the Brewers

Jennings, who is wearing No. 38 with the Brewers, split last season between the White Sox and Rays, posting a 3.45 ERA in a career-high 77 appearances. He addresses the Brewers' need for a lefty reliever while Boone Logan recovers from a triceps strain. Logan is expected to be out of action until early May.

Torres and Hughes ate some valuable innings for the Brewers, who are hoping Jennings can do the same. He has relatively even splits -- a .669 OPS against left-handers, and .700 against right-handers -- but has improved his success against lefties in the past two seasons by developing a good sinker, which is now his primary pitch.

Jennings' salary was not immediately available, but it's believed the Brewers got him for less than $1 million. He also gets about $600,000 from the Rays after they released him before his $2.375 million salary locked in.

"We've been able to sign guys over the last couple of years who we think can help," Brewers GM David Stearns said. "I don't know that we can always plan on it, but it's worked out the last few years."

Did Jennings see his release coming?

"They started to write about it toward the end," he said. "[The Rays] are doing some interesting things there, with the four-man rotation and now three-man rotation. I've always taken pride in my career in throwing in any situation. That hasn't changed. I'm just looking forward to being here now.

"That's something I take pride in, taking the ball every day. I think I was third in the league in appearances last year, and I wanted to be first. I love taking the ball; I love pitching. I made sure [Brewers manager Craig] Counsell knew that."

One and done (for now)
The Brewers were upfront with Choi that his stay on the big league roster could be brief, but it was still a tough demotion. Choi, who signed a Minor League deal with the Brewers this offseason and made the team as an extra bench bat, knocked a two-out pinch-hit double in the 12th inning and scored the deciding run in Milwaukee's 2-1 win over the Padres on Opening Day. That came after he posted a 1.245 OPS during Spring Training.

"I think he knew that there was the potential for [a demotion]. It's still not easy to hear, especially when he had a day like he had yesterday and helped us win a ballgame," Stearns said. "But, look, he knows he's a Major League-caliber player. We've made that clear to him on a variety of fronts, and he's going to be back here."

Choi joins a Triple-A SkySox club that looks pretty good. Among the other position players there are outfielders Keon Broxton and Brett Phillips, each of whom logged significant Major League time last season. Stearns indicated that the Brewers were close to signing a player with big league experience to man third base at Triple-A. The starting rotation is led by 2017 Brewers Opening Day starter Junior Guerra and No. 2 Brewers prospect Corbin Burnes. The bullpen has veteran reliever J.J. Hoover and promising prospect Taylor Williams. Other prospects on the club include shortstop Mauricio Dubon and catcher Jacob Nottingham.

"It's going to be a fun Triple-A team," Stearns said. "I think those guys recognize that they are playing with other Major League-caliber players, and they're all fighting to get back here."

Franklin converts to catcher
One former big leaguer not headed to Colorado Springs is Nick Franklin, a onetime first-round Draft pick of the Mariners who is being assigned to Double-A Biloxi and converting to catcher, Counsell said.

"We started this about two weeks ago in Spring Training, and it was something, really, that Nick was playing with last year," Counsell said. "We all thought he was really good at it. We're taking it a step further. He caught some [Minor League] Spring Training games already, and it was really good. So we're going to transition him into it."

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

Milwaukee Brewers, Ji-Man Choi, Dan Jennings