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Counsell: Hader to start season in bullpen

Braun confirms he's open to playing first base to ease outfield logjam
MLB.com @AdamMcCalvy

MILWAUKEE -- After months of speculation about Josh Hader's role for 2018, Brewers officials said Sunday that the left-hander will remain in a relief role to begin this season.

"There are things that could happen that could change that, but right now that's what we're thinking," manager Craig Counsell said. "I think we can help him be better and he can be even better in that role with a year of experience and a year of training specifically for that job. I think he can be as strong as he's ever been in that spot."

MILWAUKEE -- After months of speculation about Josh Hader's role for 2018, Brewers officials said Sunday that the left-hander will remain in a relief role to begin this season.

"There are things that could happen that could change that, but right now that's what we're thinking," manager Craig Counsell said. "I think we can help him be better and he can be even better in that role with a year of experience and a year of training specifically for that job. I think he can be as strong as he's ever been in that spot."

Hader, who entered last season as Milwaukee's top-rated pitching prospect by MLB Pipeline, earned a callup to the bullpen in June and thrived in that role as a multi-inning threat. Pitching mostly with his fastball, he ranked second among National League relievers last season with a .156 opponents' average while posting a 2.08 ERA in 35 games.

Video: MIL@MIA: Hader fans Yelich to strike out the side

The 23-year-old said he was on board with the assignment.

"I like the pressure situations, coming in later in the game. That's what I enjoy," Hader said. "But anything works for me as long as I get to pitch."

Hader could have helped the Brewers fill out a rotation to be led by Chase Anderson, Zach Davies and Jhoulys Chacin, with Jimmy Nelson due back from shoulder surgery sometime in the middle of the first half. Milwaukee has internal candidates for the remaining openings, but remains in the market for the top starting pitchers available in free agency (Jake Arrieta, Alex Cobb and Lance Lynn) and trade (Chris Archer, Danny Salazar, Patrick Corbin).

Video: Nelson on Brewers' acquisitions, rehab process

"There may be more moves to come, but the honest answer at this point is 'I don't know,'" general manager David Stearns said. "We're always going to be pursuing ways to improve the team. If there are deals out there to be made -- whether it's a free agent or a trade -- we're certainly going to pursue them."

•  Hot Stove Tracker

Owner Mark Attanasio indicated the Brewers have money to spend on any of those pitchers.

"Look, you can never have enough pitching. David is working on that," Attanasio said.

Braun on board with infield work

Outfielder Ryan Braun confirmed that he is open to playing some first base this season, which would help ease the outfield logjam in the wake of last week's acquisitions of Lorenzo Cain and Christian Yelich. And Braun added further intrigue when he said he'd spoken with Stearns about trying some second base, too.

"We've had a few conversations about second base, a few conversations about first base. I'll play wherever they want me to play," Braun said. "I'll do the best I can. We'll communicate about it and I'm sure we'll have plenty of dialogue as we go, see how things are going, see how our roster develops. But I'll do the best I can at wherever they want me to play."

Could Braun really see action at second base?

"I think he got you there," Counsell said.

Video: Braun discusses willingness to play any position

First base, however, is a reality. Braun's baseball roots are on the infield, at shortstop through his college years in Miami and at third base during his early professional years. He has manned a corner outfield spot since 2008.

"I'll put in as much work as I can and I'm sure I'll have plenty of conversations with guys who have played first, guys who have transitioned back to the infield," Braun said. "'Counse' was a phenomenal defender, so he's always a good person to have on your side to be able to ask questions to."

Last call

Domingo Santana, part of the Brewers' sudden outfield surplus and a player of interest to rival teams since he's 25 years old and has four years of remaining control, said he's rooting against being traded.

"I hope I stay here and contribute like I did last year," said Santana, coming off 30 home runs. "I'm looking forward for what is next."

Video: WSH@MIL: Santana belts two homers vs. Nationals

• Rehabbing Brewers starter Nelson reported no setbacks after the first full week of his post-shoulder surgery throwing program. But while pitching coach Derek Johnson mentioned June in a question-and-answer session with fans as a possibility for Nelson's return to the rotation, Nelson resisted setting a timetable.

• Catcher Manny Pina also offered a positive health report after missing the end of last season with a thumb injury. Pina was healthy enough by the end of 2017 that he considered playing winter ball in Venezuela, but that would have required a trip to Milwaukee to get medical clearance. Pina opted for rest instead.

• Keston Hiura, Milwaukee's first-round Draft pick last year and the No. 4 Brewers prospect per MLB Pipeline, said he would be a full participant in his first big league camp. Hiura was mostly limited to designated-hitter duty in 2017 by a preexisting elbow injury, but he said it healed with a PRP injection.

• Hiura among 3 Crew prospects on Top 100 list

• The Brewers no longer track attendance at On Deck, but a club spokesperson said that for the first time since the event moved to Milwaukee's downtown convention center, they ran out of tickets to sell. The supply was exhausted by 1:30 p.m. on Sunday.

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

Milwaukee Brewers, Ryan Braun, Josh Hader, Jimmy Nelson