The Milwaukee Brewers came to terms with veteran reliever Alex Wilson on Friday in hopes of helping their vaunted bullpen, which is entering the season without a couple of its most imposing pieces.
Wilson received a one-year deal for $750,000 plus performance bonuses, pending a physical. The 32-year-old right-hander has a 3.23 ERA in six major league seasons, the past four with Detroit.
Wilson would help cover the early-season void left by Corey Knebel, a 2017 All-Star, and Jeremy Jeffress, a 2018 All-Star, both of whom will begin the regular season on the injured list.
Jeffress is down with a sore right shoulder while Knebel is out with a partial tear of the ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow — the type of injury that sometimes ends in Tommy John surgery — and plans to see multiple doctors before deciding if he needs surgery.
Knebel had 16 saves and a 3.58 ERA with Milwaukee last season, plus a 1.29 ERA in six postseason appearances. He plans to see multiple doctors before deciding if he needs surgery.
"It's going to take a week for him to compile some opinions from other doctors and then sit down and make a decision on what he feels is the best way to get this thing right," manager Craig Counsell said Friday.
Knebel missed about six weeks early last season with a hamstring injury. He was an All-Star in 2017 with 39 saves and a 1.78 ERA in 78 innings.
Jeffress, another important cog in the bullpen a year ago, hasn't thrown a Cactus League inning this spring. He is expected back by late April.
Counsell will have to mix, match and experiment with new pitchers to get through the beginning of the season. He faced a similar challenge early last season, which is when he began relying on long relievers for extended outings and relief openers at the start of games. Those strategies helped propel Milwaukee to the NL Championship Series, where it lost to the Dodgers in seven games.
"Sometimes the best answers come from when you get put in those situations," Counsell said. "You have to come up with a different way to look at the problem."
Josh Hader, the breakout star of the bullpen last season with 143 strikeouts in 81 innings, said the Brewers are uniquely equipped to deal with the situation.
"It's going to take an army to get through the season," Hader said. "You never know when we're going to need it. I think we have the guys to do so.
"You gotta always adapt and you've gotta just be open for anything."
Counsell also said starting pitcher Jimmy Nelson, trying to return from Tommy John surgery that has sidelined him since late 2017, had elbow soreness after an outing Thursday.
"It's going to slow him a little bit," Counsell said. Nelson, however, was not scheduled to open the season on the active roster, and it may not have much of an effect on the timing of his return, which the Brewers hope is by the end of April.
Spangenberg, Saladino sent to minors
The Brewers set their Opening Day position player group, opting for extra coverage in the outfield instead of the infield. They will keep Ben Gamel, who will serve as the chief backup to starters Christian Yelich, Lorenzo Cain and Ryan Braun. He joins first baseman-outfielder Eric Thames, utility man Hernán Pérez and catcher Manny Piña.
Cory Spangenberg and Tyler Saladino, both of whom spent the spring trying to expand their skill sets as utility men, were optioned to Class AAA San Antonio.
Erceg's homer helps beat Reds
Third baseman Lucas Erceg hit a solo home run and Spangenberg drove in two runs before his departure during a 6-4 exhibition victory over the Cincinnati Reds in Phoenix.
Brewers starter Zach Davies gave up four runs on six hits in 5⅓ innings.
Reds All-Star second baseman and former Brewers player Scooter Gennett injured his groin while fielding a grounder, was helped off the field and will have an MRI.