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Brewers: Bullpen still in flux with Opening Day looming in 8 days

March 27, 2017 GMT

With Opening Day just over a week away, the Milwaukee Brewers’ roster is starting to take shape.

It’s established that Eric Thames will play first base with second baseman Jonathan Villar, shortstop Orlando Arcia and third baseman Travis Shaw rounding out the infield. Ryan Braun will anchor left field, while center fielder Keon Broxton and left fielder Domingo Santana fill out the outfield.

Hernan Perez will be a multi-tool utility player off the bench, Scooter Gennett will likely play a similar role and a late-camp injury to Andrew Susac may have solved the three-men-for-two-spots issue behind the plate, with Manny Pina and Jeff Bandy as the Brewers’ catchers.

The biggest remaining question marks are in the starting rotation, where five players are still competing for three spots, and the bullpen, where some difficult decisions remain.

“We’re at a point right now where we have to decide, breaking camp, who are going to be the seven or eight relievers,” Brewers manager Craig Counsell said. “I think we’re down to 16 pitchers (in camp). “We have to get those guys ready.”

Right-hander Jhan Marinez learned this past week he’ll be on the Opening Day roster, as will right-hander Carlos Torres. Both were picked up early last season and pitched well enough to take on high-leverage situations as the season wore on.

Right-handers Corey Knebel and Jacob Barnes and left-hander Brent Suter also figure to be in the mix.

“We want to get all these guys on the mound more,” Counsell said. “They’ve really been pitching every three days, which is not a normal season progression. They’re starting to get antsy for more innings.”

Milwaukee thinned the ranks of relievers in camp earlier this week, releasing right-hander Joba Chamberlain and optioning right-hander Michael Blazek to Class AAA Colorado Springs.

Chamberlain, signed to a minor league deal over the winter, went 1-2 with a 3.38 ERA in eight Cactus League games but the Brewers opted to go in another direction and give the 10-year veteran enough time to latch on elsewhere.

Blazek battled injury and consistency last season and had a 5.45 ERA in spring games, but Counsell said that wasn’t the deal-breaker in sending Blazek to the minors to start the year.

“He finished last season in a place where he needed to throw more strikes,” Counsell said. “He’s made a lot of progress towards that and I think he’s on a very good path. He had to go on that path. It’s disappointing for him but I think ultimately it’s going to make him a better pitcher.”

The only real lock heading into camp this year was veteran right-hander Neftali Feliz, who was signed to a one-year major league deal in January and is expected to start the season as the Brewers’ closer.

He’s struggled a bit in spring, posting a 5.14 ERA in seven appearances, but Counsell believes that with regular work, Feliz will look more like himself.

“I have no concerns, really,” Counsell said. “He’s throwing hard. It’s in there.”