Hellweg bulks up to avoid second-half fade

Brewers pitching prospect Johnny Hellweg admits he was worn down as he lost weight in the second half of last season, and spent the winter bulking up to avoid the same fate in 2014.

The 6-foot-9, hard-throwing Hellweg, acquired with shortstop Jean Segura and fellow right-hander Ariel Pena in the July 2012 trade that sent Zack Greinke to the Angels, finished last season at 208 lbs. but reported for duty this week at 245.

“Just worked out hard, changed my diet, ate right,” said Hellweg, 25. “I cut out a lot of bad stuff in my diet. Mostly protein and carbs, no gluten. It helped. It was a lot of work, actually. In the end I was sick of eating so much this offseason. It’s a grind.”

And now?

“I feel great,” he said. “Spring Training is always a fresh start. It’s another year to prove yourself.”

Hellweg was the Brewers Minor League pitcher of the year and Triple-A Pacific Coast League’s pitcher of the year last season after going 12-5 with a 3.15 ERA in 23 starts. He led PCL starters with a .228 opponents’ batting average, and enjoyed one 10-start stretch from mid-May through the end of July in which he was 9-0 with a 1.16 ERA.

It earned a promotion to the Majors, where Hellweg struggled badly with command and went 1-4 with a 6.75 ERA in seven starts and one relief appearance. He walked 26 batters and struck out only nine in 30 2/3 innings.

Hellweg did not blame those struggles on his falling weight, but wanted to report for his second full season in the Brewers organization a bit stronger.

“I lost a lot of weight in July and August, so I just wanted to put it back on to make sure that if I was going to lose it again, I was going to be OK weight-wise,” he said. “I think I was just underweight to begin with. It’s something I have to work on.”

Hellweg is not expected to break camp with the Major League team, though that could change with injuries.

Club officials will be looking for him to show better command.

“It’s time on the mound,” Brewers manager Ron Roenicke said. “It’s confidence and knowing that when you’re behind in counts you can throw a ball over the plate and still get by with it. The guys that throw 90 who are pretty straight, it’s hard to just say, ‘I’m going to throw this ball right down the middle because I’m behind in the count.’ When you throw 95, 96 and you have movement, you should be able to go at a guy any time you want to.”

Over time, Roenicke is confident Hellweg will develop that confidence.

“If you go over his Minor League career, this isn’t a guy who was a starter every year,” Roenicke said. “He doesn’t have a lot of total starts in the Minor Leagues, so I think it’s going to take a little time.”

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