Barring any last minute surprises, the Milwaukee Brewers have set their 25-man roster by settling the bullpen and bench with a pair of moves made Tuesday.
Right-hander Rob Wooten was optioned to Triple-A Nashville, while left-hander Zach Duke was told he’ll make the 25-man roster. The Brewers also optioned infielder Elian Herrera to Triple-A, meaning Jeff Bianchi will be the team’s utility man.
Milwaukee’s bullpen is now set, as Jim Henderson, Brandon Kintzler, Francisco Rodriguez and Will Smith will be joined by Tyler Thornburg, Wei Chung-Wang and Duke.
The final decision, one Brewers manager Ron Roenicke called the toughest of them all, was deciding between Wooten and Duke. Wooten has minor-league options left, while Duke would have likely left the organization had he not made the team.
"Wooten is a major-league pitcher," Roenicke said. "We decided to go to with Duke simply because of what we thought was going to happen with the fit of the bullpen, matching up a guy with left-handers."
Duke, who has a 4.00 ERA over nine innings this spring, will be Milwaukee’s left-handed specialist. The 30 year-old split 2013 between Washington and Cincinnati, struggling to a 8.71 ERA with the Nationals before allowing just one earned run in 10 2/3 innings with the Reds.
"That doesn’t mean I’m going to just use him against left-handers," Roenicke said. "There’s times he’s going to have to pitch an inning, and it may be all right-handers. But he’s been a starter in the big leagues. He can get out right-handed hitters, but we’re going to try to match him up."
Wang will be making the biggest leap ever for a Rule 5 draft pick, as the 21-year-old has never pitched above rookie ball. He has to stay on Milwaukee’s 25-man roster all season or has to be offered back to Pittsburgh.
Instead of having him work as a starting pitcher in Triple-A, the Brewers are opting to use Thornburg out of their bullpen. He went 2-1 with a 1.47 ERA as a starter in 2013 and 1-0 with a 3.04 ERA as a reliever.
"We felt like he was the best guy for our bullpen and helping us win, and he deserved to be here," Roenicke said. "I’m not going to say this is how it is going to be all year, but the way he pitched last year and the way he pitched last spring, we feel in the bullpen he can help us win games."
While the incumbent at the position, Bianchi was pushed by both Herrera and Irving Falu this spring. He earned the job by hitting .386 in 236 at-bats this spring while also being the backup shortstop Roenicke was most comfortable with.
Bianchi hit .237 with a home run and 25 RBI in 100 games last season for the Brewers, appearing in 48 games at third base, 34 games at shortstop, 23 games at second base and three games in the outfield.
"Jeff picked up his game this spring," Roenicke said. "He told me coming into this thing that he’s going to win this job, and he won the job."
Falu, who has played in 25 big-league games, hit .357 this spring, while Herrera hit .268. They will provide the Brewers with depth at Triple-A.
"I think really with Falu and Herrera, we really like those guys," Roenicke said. "I’m really happy to have those guys sitting there. Who knows what is going to happen with two first basemen and two second basemen, I don’t know if that’s going to happen all year. If we need somebody, it was nice to see Falu and Herrera doing so well."