Crew plucks righty Jackson from Japan as NRI

Braun to stay in outfield for season; Houser's role to be determined

February 15th, 2019

PHOENIX -- The Brewers on Friday added a reliever who has not pitched in the big leagues since 2015 to camp. But that doesn't mean he has not pitched some big games.

It was a Minor League deal with an invitation to big league camp for 31-year-old right-hander , a one-time Brewers farmhand who was a September callup for San Diego in 2015, before he played the past three years in Japan for the Hiroshima Carp. That team won the league title all three years Jackson was there, and twice advanced to the Japan Series.

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"I think I can help," said Jackson.

Before heading to Japan, he pitched for five Major League organizations, including six starts for the Brewers' Triple-A Nashville affiliate in 2014. Overseas, he made 175 appearances with a 2.10 ERA and 9.8 strikeouts per nine innings, good enough to draw a cult following -- Jackson has a personalized logo, which adorned the T-shirt and cap he wore Friday -- and to draw interest from clubs including Milwaukee.

From Jackson's perspective, the deal came together quickly. He was in Japan two days ago, spending time with his girlfriend and newborn son.

"It's been an experience, but it's been a great experience, to say the least," Jackson said.

Braun to stay in outfield

It does not sound like will need his first baseman's mitt this spring. With traded to the Mariners and to the Mets over the winter, last year's outfield logjam has been cleared, and Braun is expected to remain mostly in left field this season.

"There could be games he gets over there because of how the game rolls," said Brewers manager Craig Counsell. "But, as we sit now, I don't see first base being a big part of his season. Spring Training is for exploring positional versatility, and we will do that with other guys. If we do it with Ryan, it's just because there may be a game [during the regular season] in the 13th inning where Ryan ends up at first base. You want to create as much comfort for him as possible.

"I'd say the same thing for , or [Cory] Spangenberg in the outfield. Those things are going to happen."

Braun started at first base for each of the Brewers' first two games last season, then made only five more starts there the rest of the year as claimed the position. Aguilar projects as the starter this season, with , and Grandal all available to back up.

If there was any question about Thames' status entering this spring, Counsell cleared it up Friday.

"Eric's going to be on the team," Counsell said.

Houser's assignment TBD

Starter or reliever? Big leagues or Triple-A? For Brewers right-hander , it's all up in the air.

Houser, one of the players acquired from Houston in the 2015 blockbuster trade that essentially started the Brewers' rebuild, learned over the offseason that by virtue of missing swaths of the 2016 and '17 seasons due to Tommy John surgery, he'd been deemed eligible for an elusive fourth option. That means Milwaukee can once again move him between the Majors and Minors in 2019.

That was a bit of a disappointment, since it impacts Houser's chances of making the Opening Day roster. But the most important thing, said the 26-year-old, is that he is healthy at the onset of camp after splitting last year between Triple-A and Milwaukee.

"That was our main goal: Get through last season healthy, and that's what we did," Houser said. "I definitely could have gone longer. Hopefully it got me prepared for this season."

Houser made starts in the Minors last year but only appeared for the Brewers in relief, including a memorable outing against the Phillies on June 17. At the risk of regurgitating a bad memory, that was the day Houser, after a long day of travel to Milwaukee, got sick on the mound in front of 40,985 fans.

He has an open mind about his role for this season.

"I'm coming in thinking I'm a starter, and we'll go from there until told otherwise," Houser said. "Wherever they need me to be an out-getter at, that's where I'll be. Especially last year, those guys did such a good job of that. If everybody adopts that, I think it will be really good for us."