Jeffress feels blessed to be back with Brewers

The Brewers took a flier on their former first-round pick, Jeremy Jeffress, by calling him up from Triple-A Nashville on Monday. Jeffress' road to the big leagues has featured numerous bumps along the way.

Kim Klement

MILWAUKEE — There was a time not so long ago when Jeremy Jeffress thought about giving it all up and quitting baseball.

The inability to find the cause of his uncontrollable seizures while pitching in Triple-A almost was too much for the talented right-hander to handle.

"I just felt like giving up, like ‘I can’t be in this game,’" Jeffress said.

Jeffress’ path back to the big leagues began at the Women’s and Children’s Hospital of Buffalo, N.Y. It was there where doctors diagnosed the 26-year-old with juvenile epilepsy and finally began properly treating his condition.

In the year that has since passed, Jeffress has fought off past demons to stay clean and sober, hasn’t had a seizure and became a father for the first time, something he says has completely changed his life.

The Brewers took a flier on their former first-round pick when Toronto waived Jeffress in April and called up the right-hander from Triple-A Nashville on Monday to provide their bullpen with a hard-throwing, power arm.

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"I think the biggest thing that helped me was people telling me, you know, the past is the past," Jeffress said. "You can only live by what you do in the future, what’s to come. People have always told me, ‘What can happen, will happen if you can go out there and play to the best of your ability, keep the off-the-field stuff clean.’

"Because everybody knew I was a good pitcher and had the stuff to do it. I just had to put it into the play. They just kept me comfortable and believed in me, and I believed in myself, to be honest."

Selected by the Brewers out of high school as the 16th-overall pick in the 2006 first-year player draft, Jeffress’ career took a turn in August 2007 when he was suspended 50 games for violating Minor League Baseball’s Drug Treatment and Prevention Program.

He rebounded to be named Milwaukee’s minor-league pitcher of the year in 2008, but again tested positive for marijuana and was suspended 100 games on June 29, 2009.

The Brewers brought Jeffress to the big leagues for the first time in September 2010, as he appeared in 10 games and had eight scoreless outings out of the bullpen. His time in the organization ended shortly thereafter, as he was traded along with Lorenzo Cain, Alcides Escobar and Jake Odorizzi to Kansas City for Zack Greinke the following winter.

Jeffress began experiencing seizures in 2008 but couldn’t find an explanation for what was causing them to occur. Even though the seizures would come only in the morning, doctors told Jeffress the cause was sleep deprivation and stress.

That led to a raised level of anxiety whenever he would try to go to sleep.

Things got worse for Jeffress last year, as he said he had five seizures in just one month of the 2013 season. Pitching in the Toronto organization with Triple-A Buffalo at the time, the Blue Jays sent him to the Women’s and Children’s Hospital in town.

"There was one doctor who took care of me," Jeffress said. "I stayed about a week in the Women’s and Children’s Hospital, and I actually had a seizure in there. They did all the tests on me, and came back. I mean I couldn’t tell you what was the problem, but they put me on extended-release medication that helps through the night and through the day.

"I haven’t had (a seizure) in a year and a half."

Jeffress worked his way up to the Blue Jays last September, allowing just one earned run in 10 1/3 innings. He made Toronto’s Opening Day roster this season but was designated for assignment in April after posting a 10.80 ERA in 3 1/3 innings.

The Brewers brought him back into the organization and sent him to Nashville where he appeared in 30 games out of the bullpen with a 1.51 ERA before being called up to the big leagues Monday.

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"The big thing was, he pitched well enough," general manager Doug Melvin said. "We talked about getting a power arm since (Tyler) Thornburg and (Jim) Henderson (got injured), so that’s the reason he’s here. I told him he’s got an opportunity. Take advantage of it."

Jeffress is also reunited with Brewers director of psychological services Matt Krug, someone he said was a big help through his time of personal struggle.

Another major change in Jeffress’ life came over five months ago when his daughter, Journey Giselle, was born.

"Something came over me as soon as she came out," Jeffress said. "It was the greatest experience in the world. My first Father’s Day was exciting.

"Everybody’s text messages and stuff brought tears to my eyes."

The Brewers are hoping Jeffress becomes more than just a momentary feel-good story. Outside of closer Francisco Rodriguez, Milwaukee has just two other right-handed relievers in the bullpen in Brandon Kintzler and Marco Estrada.

Kintzler has struggled to get on track, while Estrada is in a long-relief role.

Jeffress has the stuff to step up and earn a prominent role in Milwaukee’s bullpen but whether he seizes the opportunity will likely come down to if he can consistently throw strikes.

"I hope (adding a power arm) helps," manager Ron Roenicke said. "You don’t know. Sometimes a guy might not command it as well. It just depends on if he’s able to put his great stuff into good locations."

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