Hellweg, Thornburg optioned to focus on starting

PHOENIX -- Some day, Johnny Hellweg could develop into a 6-foot-9, flame-throwing reliever. But for now, the Brewers want to see if he can be a 6-foot-9, flame-throwing starter.

The team on Monday optioned right-handers Hellweg and Tyler Thornburg to Triple-A Nashville so they can stretch out to begin the season in that club's starting rotation.

Thornburg, No. 2 on MLB.com's list of the top 20 Brewers prospects, was expected all along to be a starter. But Hellweg, No. 4 on that list, came to camp as an option for the Major League bullpen.

"We still think he has a very good chance to be a real good Major League starter," Brewers manager Ron Roenicke said. "If we didn't think that way, we would have kept him in camp because he would have had a chance to make the team out of the bullpen.

"But I like him. We all like him. I think by doing this, it helps him in getting him stretched out, and more importantly in getting on a routine where he knows when he's going to pitch."

Hellweg, 24, was acquired last July in Brewers-Angels trade for Zack Greinke. After the trade, Hellweg made two starts and five relief appearances for Double-A Huntsville. He had a 4.15 ERA and seven strikeouts in 8 2/3 Cactus League innings.

"I think he has a lot of confidence going into his season from what he did here," Roenicke said.

Thornburg, also 24, was nudged out by the return of Yovani Gallardo and Marco Estrada from the World Baseball Classic. Thornburg was originally scheduled to start Wednesday night against the D-backs; now Gallardo will pitch that game instead.

Adam McCalvy is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Brew Beat, and follow him on Twitter at @AdamMcCalvy. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.