Brewers sign Dontrelle Willis to minor-league contract

Dontrelle Willis last saw the big leagues in 2011 with the Reds.

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Dontrelle Willis is going to try to return to the majors leagues with the Milwaukee Brewers.

The team signed the left-handed pitcher on Wednesday to a minor league contract with an invitation to major league spring training.

Once known as the "D-Train," Willis won the National League Rookie of the Year award in 2003 while with the Marlins. He hopes to return to the majors for the first time since 2011, when he was 1-6 in 13 starts with the Cincinnati Reds.

Willis, who will be 34 in January, has bounced around since then on minor league deals. Brewers general manager Doug Melvin said that a couple scouts saw Willis and reported that it looked as if he had a shortened delivery.

The Brewers might be looking for starting pitching depth after trading away Yovani Gallardo to the Texas Rangers. They are also looking for a left-handed reliever in the bullpen after not re-signing Zach Duke and Tom Gorzelanny.

"Better to wait and see him … just try to make the club at this point," Melvin said when asked how he envisioned Willis’ role.

Duke in particular was a success story for the Brewers last year after making the team in the spring as a minor league invite. He went 5-1 with a 1.13 ERA last season, parlaying that success into a three-year deal with the Chicago White Sox in the offseason.

"There are always players that have the kind of passion and desire" as minor league invitees to spring training, Melvin said. "You keep working at it. You never know."

Duke worked with pitching coach Rick Kranitz in his one season in Milwaukee. Kranitz was also Willis’ pitching coach in Florida in 2006-7; Willis was 22-27 with a 4.49 ERA in those two seasons.

Otherwise, the Brewers appear satisfied with a rotation headed by right-handers Kyle Lohse, Matt Garza, Wily Peralta and Mike Fiers.

Melvin said Milwaukee wasn’t actively shopping Gallardo, who was traded to Texas for infielder Luis Sardinas and right-handers Corey Knebel and Marcos Diplan, along with $4 million of Gallardo’s $14 million salary.

Young right-hander Jimmy Nelson, the Pacific Coast League pitcher of the year last season, is viewed as the ideal replacement for Gallardo. Nelson went 2-9 with a 4.93 ERA in 14 starts for the Brewers last year.

"We weren’t shopping Yovani," Melvin said. "Knowing he (will) be a free agent, we had to weigh again possibly getting nothing back next year."

Gallardo was 8-11 last season with a 3.51 ERA. He is the franchise leader with 1,226 strikeouts.

"The philosophy is still to win as many games as we can," Melvin said. "Yovani — we’ll miss his experience and his competitiveness … It’s time to give the ball to Jimmy Nelson."