Hand re-joins cadre of Brewers' arms

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Todd Rosiak, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Sunday, February 16, 2014

PHOENIX—The Milwaukee Brewers’ signing of free-agent reliever Francisco Rodriguez for his third go-round turned into the ultimate win-win for the ballclub.

Not only did they add some much-needed experience to their revamped bullpen, they were also able to bring back Donovan Hand after the swingman cleared waivers on Wednesday.

The Brewers had to outright Hand to Class AAA Nashville on Feb. 7 to clear a spot on their 40-man roster for Rodriguez. But after Hand went unclaimed, Milwaukee was able to bring the 27-year-old back into the fold and invite him to spring training as a non-roster player.

“Worked out pretty good in the end—they’ve got everybody still,” Hand said Saturday as a smattering of players made their way to the team’s complex in Maryvale.

“I’m not saying that they won because they kept me. It just worked out pretty good.”

Hand was one of the real surprises last spring training for the Brewers. A 14th-round pick in 2007, Hand made it all the way to the end of camp before being edged out by Alfredo Figaro for the final spot in the team’s opening-day bullpen.

Figaro, as it turned out, was a member of the 40-man roster. He also possessed a blazing fastball, while Hand is reliant on his command of the strike zone.

Hand didn’t have to wait long to get his first taste of the major leagues, however, as he made his debut on May 26. Hand had three stints with the Brewers, finishing with a 1-5 record and 3.69 earned-run average in 31 appearances (seven starts).

Member of the 40-man or not, he finds himself in a similar position to the one he was in last year at this time.

Hand admitted he was caught off-guard by the news he had been removed from the 40-man roster but ultimately dismissed it as “part of the business.”

He also made it clear he harbors no ill will toward the Brewers, saying a major-league deal elsewhere would have been the only way he would have welcomed a fresh start.

“That’s the only way I’d want to be claimed,” he said. “I love this organization. This is my seventh year here. Of course, you want to be back in the big leagues, back on the roster. You always wish that, so you can better yourself.

“But as far as being claimed to get out of here? No, not at all.”

The Brewers have a clearly defined starting rotation and a wealth of young options waiting in the wings like TylerThornburg, Jimmy Nelson, Johnny Hellweg and Hiram Burgos as well as left-handed swingman Will Smith.

In the bullpen, there are only two spots available at this point with 40-man members like Figaro, Rob Wooten and Michael Blazek also in the mix.

That leaves another uphill climb to make the opening-day roster this season for Hand. But that’s pretty much all he knows at this point.

“Same deal, man,” he said. “My whole career I’ve fought for everything, so why stop now?

“The team’s not the same from April 1 to May 1. There’s a lot of moving parts, and hopefully I’m one of the moving parts. I was last year.”

On the mend: Reliever Tom Gorzelanny has progressed to the point of playing catch as he continues his recovery from early December shoulder surgery.

Gorzelanny is one of only three left-handed pitchers in camp along with Smith and non-roster invitee Zach Duke and once again is being expected to fill a role in the bullpen.

Manager Ron Roenicke said as of Saturday morning he hadn’t been briefed by the training staff on the status of Gorzelanny’s rehab schedule but that it was probably too early to count him out for opening day.

“If everything stays on schedule, he should be OK,” Roenicke said. “Just because we don’t feel like a reliever needs to have 10-15 outings in camp. I think if everything goes well and he gets a few outings, we’ll see how he is. Is his command good enough to where we can go into the season with him?

“If it isn’t and he needs to go a couple weeks to start a rehab, then we’ll do that.”

Rodriguez awaiting visa: Roenicke confirmed Rodriguez won’t report to camp for another seven to 10 days as he awaits his work visa. Rodriguez is a native and resident of Caracas, Venezuela.

“I’m not too concerned about that,” he said. “He threw some winter ball this winter. He knows what he needs to do.”

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