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Bullpen perhaps in flux, but Brewers turn to Jimmy Nelson to replace Gallardo in rotation

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MILWAUKEE — With a month until spring training, the Brewers are minus a workhorse starting pitcher and their All-Star closer.

Milwaukee seems committed to staying in-house and turning to young right-hander Jimmy Nelson to fill the spot in rotation that opened following the trade of Yovani Gallardo to the Texas Rangers.

The bullpen, though, could still be a work in progress.

Francisco Rodriguez, who had 44 saves in 49 opportunities in 2014 remains a free agent. For now, Jonathan Broxton would be the favorite to close if the Brewers don't make another move.

"We have an opportunity to" add a reliever, general manager Doug Melvin said this week. "We're having some conversations with a few people. There's a chance of possibly adding a reliever."

Maybe even Rodriguez.

The right-hander known as "K-Rod" has spent all or parts of the last four seasons in Milwaukee. Last year, Rodriguez signed a one-year, $3.25 million deal with the Brewers about 10 days before spring training began.

Rodriguez didn't take over the closer role last year until the season opener. He got the job at the last minute when presumed stopper Jim Henderson struggled out of spring training.

Rodriguez ended up having his best year out of the bullpen since saving 47 games in 2006.

"You think at the end of the year somebody would jump on him but he's still out there," manager Ron Roenicke said at the Brewers On Deck fan event. "I know he's had some conversations, like he does with everybody."

PHOTO: FILE - In this Sept. 26, 2014, file photo, Milwaukee Brewers starting pitcher Jimmy Nelson throws during the first inning of a baseball game against the Chicago Cubs in Milwaukee. The Brewers are down a workhorse starter and, for now, and a reliever who regularly closed games last season. Milwaukee seems like it will stay in-house and go with young right-hander Jimmy Nelson as the a rotation replacement, but could still look around for a closer. For now, Jonathan Broxton would be the favorite to close games. (AP Photo/Morry Gash, File)
FILE - In this Sept. 26, 2014, file photo, Milwaukee Brewers starting pitcher Jimmy Nelson throws during the first inning of a baseball game against the Chicago Cubs in Milwaukee. The Brewers are down a workhorse starter and, for now, and a reliever who regularly closed games last season. Milwaukee seems like it will stay in-house and go with young right-hander Jimmy Nelson as the a rotation replacement, but could still look around for a closer. For now, Jonathan Broxton would be the favorite to close games. (AP Photo/Morry Gash, File)

The Brewers had also spoken to the Phillies about potentially trading for closer Jonathan Papelbon, who signed a four-year, $50 million contract with Philadelphia before the 2012 season. The contract also includes an option for 2016.

The team is keeping tabs on Papelbon, Rodriguez and other potential relief options, though no moves were imminent.

On the current roster, Broxton has the most closing experience. He had seven saves last year with Cincinnati before going 0 for 2 in save opportunities following a trade in August to Milwaukee.

Broxton has 118 career saves in a career spanning 10 seasons. Left-hander Will Smith and right-hander Jeremy Jeffress are hard throwers who could also be in line for saves.

"I think if we need them to close some games, they can. We've got some arms good enough that, I think, we're OK late in the game," Roenicke said.

They appear comfortable, at least, with the rotation, even with the trade of Gallardo. The durable veteran who owns the Brewers' franchise record of 1,226 strikeouts was dealt to Texas for right-hander Corey Knebel, infielder Luis Sardinas and a minor leaguer.

Kyle Lohse, Matt Garza, Wily Peralta and Mike Fiers take up Milwaukee's first four rotation spots. Nelson, a right-hander who went 2-9 in 2014 and struggled down the stretch during his most extensive season in the big leagues, will be counted on take a jump as a consistent fifth starter.

"He struggled with command last year. His stuff is awesome. He has great stuff; a power slider, a sinking fastball and now all he needs to do is be able to locate the strike zone," catcher Jonathan Lucroy said. "If he can execute and locate for strikes, he's going to be just fine. That's all we need from him right now."

Gallardo was eligible to become a free agent after the 2015 season, though Melvin has said there was a need to also give Nelson a bigger role than just as a long man out of the bullpen or spot starter.

When asked about a reliable third pitch, Nelson pointed to a changeup to go with his fastball and slider.

"The problem was I got away from my game plan when I got to the big leagues. ... I got away from the things I was doing in Triple-A to be successful," Nelson said. "I have to get back to that and stick with what is working."

Brewers pitchers and catchers are scheduled to report to spring training in Arizona on Feb. 20.

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Photo Gallery:
PHOTO: FILE - In this Sept. 19, 2014, file photo, Milwaukee Brewers relief pitcher Jonathan Broxton collects himself on the mound after giving up a three-run home run to Pittsburgh Pirates' Russell Martin during the eighth inning of a baseball game in Pittsburgh. The Brewers are down a workhorse starter and, for now, and a reliever who regularly closed games last season. Milwaukee seems like it will stay in-house and go with young right-hander Jimmy Nelson as the a rotation replacement, but could still look around for a closer. For now, Jonathan Broxton would be the favorite to close games.  (AP Photo/Gene Puskar, File)
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