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Jeffress not rushing shoulder for Opening Day

Brewers reliever lasted three pitches into Cactus League debut
@alysonfooter
March 10, 2019

PHOENIX -- Nothing has gotten worse for Jeremy Jeffress as he works to strengthen his right shoulder, but there is one thing that has changed -- the number of days remaining on the Cactus League calendar. With each Spring Training day that passes as the Brewers inch toward Opening Day,

PHOENIX -- Nothing has gotten worse for Jeremy Jeffress as he works to strengthen his right shoulder, but there is one thing that has changed -- the number of days remaining on the Cactus League calendar.

With each Spring Training day that passes as the Brewers inch toward Opening Day, the odds of Jeffress needing more time to get healthy before he can join the active roster increase. If that means not being ready for the March 28 opener, then so be it. The reliever is more focused on being strong, rather than being on time.

"Once it's there, it's go time," Jeffress said. "I don't care if it's April 10. I've got to be right."

Jeffress was removed three pitches into his outing on March 6, not because he was in pain, but because the radar gun showed a significant dropped in fastball velocity. The Brewers medical staff did not see a need to run tests on the shoulder; instead, Jeffress is being monitored daily as he works slowly to gain strength in his rotator cuff, as well as his upper and lower body.

The right-hander said he's likely to start playing catch on Monday, starting with short distances and increasing as he feels stronger.

"I'm going to finish the program that the trainers have set for me and make sure everything is feeling good before I even try to let it go full potential," Jeffress said. "I'm trying to get the arm strong, body good, and it will be fine."

Jeffress said he reported to Spring Training a month ago feeling "wonderful," despite the shorter length of the offseason, due to the Brewers' long October run that didn't end until Game 7 of the National League Championship Series.

Jeffress pitched in a team-high 73 games, totaling 76 2/3 innings, in the regular season last year, posting a sterling 1.29 ERA. He added another eight innings during the postseason but wasn't effective, yielding six runs on 16 hits.

Several Brewers relievers from that October run have pitched limited innings this spring. For example, entering Sunday's game against the Cubs, Josh Hader and Corey Knebel had each thrown three innings all spring.

Jeffress wants to be ready for Opening Day -- "to be there with my teammates, who are behind me 100 percent, each and every day," he said -- and still has March 28 as the goal.

“I'm going to be ready,” he said. “I know it's getting close, but we’ve still got a little time. I'm going to be ready.”

That date is only moderately significant, though. The Brewers, favored to contend again for the National League Central division title they won last year, have up to seven months of baseball left to be played. No player wants to start the season on the injured list, but as the months of the regular season progress, few remember exactly who was on the 25-man roster during the pomp and circumstance of Opening Day introductions.

"If you can put health at the forefront more than days of the year ... just put health first, goals/landmarks second," Brewer manager Craig Counsell said.

Alyson Footer is a national correspondent for MLB.com. Follow her on Twitter @alysonfooter.