Smith, Jeffress to open season as co-closers

Brewers manager Counsell says there's no reason for restrictions on role

Smith, Jeffress to open season as co-closers

PHOENIX -- As one half of the Brewers' closer committee moved to the brink of game action Wednesday, manager Craig Counsell reiterated his intention to use both Jeremy Jeffress and Will Smith in the role at the start of the season.

Smith has been sharp so far in Spring Training (one hit over four scoreless appearances), but Jeffress is just getting going after sustaining a strained right hamstring early in camp. He faced hitters in an impressive live batting practice session Wednesday morning, and he could pitch in a game by the weekend, Counsell said.

Brewers Spring Training information

As for anointing one or the other as the replacement for departed closer Francisco Rodriguez, Counsell said, "I can guarantee you, it will not happen. There's no such position as 'Opening Day closer.' That's not a baseball position. You don't have to announce it. There's no spot on the lineup card for closer."

Beyond that, Counsell expects to use both Smith, a left-hander, and Jeffress, a right-hander, in early-season save opportunities.

Smith's four-strikeout 9th

"I'm not putting any limits on it," Counsell said. "It certainly could end up being one guy, but I don't think there's any reason to put restrictions on it right now. Those guys are both really good. One throws left-handed, one throws right-handed, and I think we should take advantage of that."

Jeffress, a former first-round Draft pick of the Brewers who has been suspended, traded and designated for assignment in his hectic career, is coming off a career year in which he posted a 2.65 ERA in 72 games. He's best friends with Smith, who posted a 2.70 ERA in 76 games last season.

Jeffress fans Pham

While closer isn't a question, the rest of the Brewers bullpen is. Michael Blazek, Corey Knebel and Tyler Thornburg are expected to take three other spots, leaving two or three more (depending on whether the Brewers begin the season with seven or eight relievers) for a field of candidates.

"It's still the same question: We're looking for guys to supplement Will and J.J.," Counsell said.

Gennett inches closer

Second baseman Scooter Gennett is healthy and on the brink of playing Cactus League games after rehabbing a strained throwing shoulder.

"For sure by the weekend, if not sooner," Counsell said. "Saturday at the latest is what I'd say."

Rather than compile at-bats in Minor League camp. Counsell said Gennett was likely to jump right into 'A' games. The Brewers host the Reds on Friday and travel to Tempe, Ariz., to play the Angels on Saturday.

"Really, for me, it's about getting that timing back, however long that takes," Gennett said. "It could take a few days, it could take longer. But once you get that timing back, once you get that internal clock on defense, you're good to go."

Last call

• Right fielder and leadoff candidate Domingo Santana was scratched from Wednesday's game with stiffness in his left neck and shoulder. Counsell expects Santana to miss just "a day or two."

• Lefty reliever Franklin Morales was so efficient in his inning of work in Minor League camp Tuesday that the Brewers sent an extra hitter or two to the plate to extend the outing, Counsell said. It marked the first game action for Morales, who signed a Minor League contract with Milwaukee on March 4 and is competing for a bullpen spot.

"What's been encouraging is he has got himself into game action quickly," Counsell said. "So we'll be able to see him in ['A' games] quickly."

Typically, relievers take two days off in the spring before pitching again. That makes Morales an option to work Friday's game against the Reds.

Adam McCalvy is a reporter for Follow him on Twitter @AdamMcCalvy, like him on Facebook and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.