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Brewers tab Anderson as Opening Day starter

MLB.com @AdamMcCalvy

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- When the Brewers traded for Chase Anderson in January 2016, he was a 28-year-old back-end starter with a good changeup. During the second half of his debut season in Milwaukee, he played with a new curveball grip. In 2017, he added a cutter and a few miles per hour on his fastball.

Now, at 30, Anderson is on track to be an Opening Day starter.

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- When the Brewers traded for Chase Anderson in January 2016, he was a 28-year-old back-end starter with a good changeup. During the second half of his debut season in Milwaukee, he played with a new curveball grip. In 2017, he added a cutter and a few miles per hour on his fastball.

Now, at 30, Anderson is on track to be an Opening Day starter.

Manager Craig Counsell on Monday named Anderson his choice to start the Brewers' regular-season opener against the Padres in San Diego on March 29. Anderson called the news "super humbling."

"It's really [an honor] to set the tone, as I call it, for the season," Anderson said. "I think for us as a team, we want to continue to build off last season, and to get the ball the first day means everything."

The right-hander had a breakout season last year, going 12-4 with a 2.74 ERA in 25 starts. He struck out 133, walked just 41 in 141 1/3 innings and was rewarded over the winter with a multiyear contract extension.

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Anderson's only significant setback came just before the All-Star break, when he strained his left oblique swinging the bat in Cincinnati and went to the disabled list for seven weeks.

"Chase has put together, when healthy, over a year of really high-quality starts," Counsell said. "The step that Chase took last year I think started in 2016. It probably didn't go as noticed, but when we started talking about last spring how we thought our pitching had turned the corner, Chase was really at the forefront of that. What's been fun about watching him is, we've seen him get better over the last year."

Anderson shared credit for that with Brewers pitching coach Derek Johnson, who taught him that new curveball midway through the 2016 season, then helped him work a cutter into the mix last year.

Tweet from @AdamMcCalvy: Chase Anderson got to his first Opening Day start by being less predictable. He was ~85% fastball/changeup in ���15 and ���16. Last year, <70%.>pic.twitter.com/DusT8YSICB

In the meantime, Anderson added some bulk to his frame that produced extra zip on his fastball, which averaged 93.3 mph in 2017, up from 91.6 mph in his first Brewers season.

"When I got to the big leagues … I was [at] 90-92 [mph] with a good changeup, and after a couple of years hitters figured that out. You have to evolve," Anderson said. "I have more confidence on the mound each time I go out there because four pitches gives you more weapons."

Jimmy Nelson likely would have earned the Opening Day nod if healthy, after he emerged as the Brewers' staff ace last year, but he is recovering from the major right shoulder surgery he underwent in September and will miss a significant chunk of the season.

So the honor went to Anderson, whose new contract guarantees $11.75 million through 2019 with a pair of club options that would cover '20 (Anderson's final year of arbitration eligibility) and '21 (his first year of free agency). Including incentives for innings pitched, it could pay Anderson more than $30 million over the next four years.

Video: Outlook: Anderson can produce followup to breakout

Counsell said Jhoulys Chacin will also pitch during the series in San Diego, leaving the Brewers some flexibility with Zach Davies, who has been dealing with a balky left oblique. Davies, who had a breakout season himself in 2017 and went 17-9 with a 3.90 ERA in 33 starts, pitched three innings against Brewers Minor Leaguers on Monday without issue.

Milwaukee might not finalize the rest of its rotation until much closer to Opening Day. Because of a day off following the first series -- on Easter Sunday -- the Brewers will not require a fifth starter until the eighth game of the season, April 6 against the Cubs. Left-handers Brent Suter and Wade Miley look like the frontrunners for the two spots behind Anderson, Davies and Chacin, though prospect Brandon Woodruff and 2017 Opening Day starter Junior Guerra remain in the running.

"Every team's roster is usually a little fluid those first 10 days, if you look back," Counsell said.

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

Milwaukee Brewers, Chase Anderson