Nelson eyes Opening Day job with Brewers

Right-hander missed 2018 season following shoulder surgery

January 28th, 2019

MILWAUKEE -- Jimmy Nelson is aiming high after spending all of last season rehabbing from shoulder surgery.

Asked during Sunday's Brewers On Deck event whether it was realistic to think he would be on the club's active roster come Opening Day, the right-hander said, "Not just Opening Day roster. One of my goals is to start Opening Day. I'm not going to beat around the bush."

That would be a surprise, since Nelson has not thrown a competitive pitch since Sept. 8, 2017 -- the day he sustained significant damage in his right shoulder diving back to first base after singling against the Cubs, ending a season in which he struck out 199 batters in 175 1/3 innings. He escaped rehab protocol last fall and has enjoyed a normal offseason, putting him on track to be a full participant when pitchers and catchers report for Spring Training in two weeks.

Brewers president of baseball operations David Stearns didn't mind the enthusiasm.

"I love that mentality," Stearns said. "I love the fact that Jimmy wants to do that, and believes he can do that. Jimmy has gone through a really nice offseason to this point in terms of going through a normal throwing program. We're going to let Jimmy's health and progress dictate the pace at which this moves throughout the spring."

Is there a potential downside to such high expectations?

"It's a balancing act, right?" Stearns said. "You want your players to be motivated, to get after it as hard as possible. It's our responsibility to make sure he's doing that as safely as possible. So, he and our medical staff have been in contact throughout this entire offseason. He has followed our throwing program to a tee, and I know will continue to do that.

"I'm an optimistic guy so I'm cautiously optimistic. But we understand, and we learned something last year, about the gravity of this injury. The unpredictable nature of the rehab process. Until we see him pitching on a mound in a Major League game, there's always going to be some caution involved here."

Braun tweaking swing

At 35 years old and entering the next-to-last guaranteed season of his contract, is embracing the sort of adjustments he pondered last year while hitting into a heavy dose of hard luck.

Braun has been working this offseason with swing gurus Craig Wallenbrock and Brad Boyer, who are well known in baseball circles for helping a number of players use technology to perfect their mechanics. Such work with players like Red Sox slugger J.D. Martinez and others produced what has been called baseball's "launch angle revolution," though there's more to it than just hitting fly balls.

Braun has been doing drills three days a week.

"What [Wallenbrock's group] taught almost all of them is my swing, but there are some little things that I think I used to do better than I do now," Braun said. "It's fun to get back to the drawing board and see if I can make some of the adjustments I need to. The offseason is when you have the time to do that stuff.

"There's really good drills that they introduced me to that I've never done before, that I think help get you back to a good place with your swing. There's a ton of drills, but the biggest thing is getting my bat path to a place where I'm staying through the ball better instead of coming around the ball and cutting it off a little bit. That's kind of what everything is designed to do."

Only the keenest eyes will see a change in his swing, Braun said. But he's hoping the work shows up in his results.

Suter resumes throwing

Left-hander played catch from 45 feet on Wednesday and again on Friday, marking the first times he'd picked up a baseball since undergoing Tommy John surgery last July 31. Suter said he's confident he will pitch for the Brewers before the end of the 2019 season.

"I purposely didn't pick up a ball for a long time because I knew if I did, I'd be tempted to do a throwing motion," Suter said. "So when I picked up that ball for the first time to throw it was, like, so cool. You forget how much you love it."

Suter lives in Cincinnati in the offseason and he has been doing his rehab under the watch of Reds doctor Timothy Kremchek.

Passing the mic

Robb Edwards, the voice of Brewers baseball since 1999 as the public address announcer for the final three years at County Stadium and the first 18 seasons at Miller Park, said he's at peace with cutting back his schedule beginning in 2019. The Brewers are interviewing finalists to split the schedule with Edwards, who will call 20-25 games.

"I don't want to be the guy hanging on by the last rung of the ladder, like, 'I'm going to do this forever,'" Edwards said. "Nah. It was a fair time to let another guy do it -- or a gal!"

Brewers radio announcer Lane Grindle filled in for Edwards last year during the postseason after Edwards fell outside Miller Park and injured his right knee. That has healed, but Edwards said other family medical matters were contributing to his reduced schedule.

"I have five grandchildren and two sons, and I want to be there when they call for me," Edwards said.

Last call

• New Brewers catcher wasted no time in getting to work for his new team. Reliever told Grindle that Grandal texted soon after signing his one-year deal, and days later, the duo met for a mound session. Grandal and Hader both live in Arizona during the offseason.

• Manager Craig Counsell said he's prepared for a timeshare at second base if the Brewers don't fill the position with a free agent or a trade. In-house candidates include right-handed hitters and and left-handed hitter .

"If we have choices of guys that can play there and kind of put together some different matchups or whatever, there will be somebody that will step forward and really perform," Counsell said. "As I look at it right now, it's definitely a job that will be shared. ... As the season goes, we should have more options with some really good players close to being ready in the Minor Leagues."  

• Outfielder Ben Gamel was in the middle of a weeklong cruise when he was traded to the Brewers. He was the last to know.

"We went to go take a nap and the last thing I saw was a guy in a Brewers jersey," Gamel said. "When I woke up, I read on Bleacher Report that I got traded. I texted my agent after that and he said, 'Yeah.'"

Was that jarring?

"I'd been through it before so I pretty much knew what to expect," Gamel said.