By Jim Owczarski Sports Editor Published Jul 23, 2014 at 1:05 PM

Mike Guerrero looked out onto sun splashed infield at Miller Park as it was being readied for batting practice. He’s been with the organization as a player, minor league manager and now major league coach – for nearly three decades.

For parts of four of those years, he managed a young Jeremy Jeffress. The first time was in West Virginia in 2007, then Brevard County in 2008 and 2009 and Huntsville in 2010. Guerrero didn’t have the hard-throwing right-hander for parts of three of those seasons however, due to suspensions for positive drug tests.

Now, both are in Milwaukee as members of a first place team.

Guerrero’s eyes narrowed in the light, and he spoke softly.

"He has been through a lot and hopefully he has matured and takes advantage of this opportunity," Guerrero said. "We all know he has an incredible arm, and I think it’s a great opportunity for him. It’s a matter of performance now."

Jeffress gets it. It is all about production now.

He’ll be 27 in late September, and it’s been over eight years since he was the million-dollar bonus baby drafted No. 16 overall straight out of Halifax County High School in tiny South Boston, Virginia in 2006.

Jeffress has been traded once and designated for assignment three times. His right arm could throw a baseball in the triple digits, but he often didn’t know where it was going, resulting in a constant shuffle between minor league affiliates and major league stadiums.

He also began suffering seizures in 2008, a disability that affected him emotionally and physically – and one that wasn’t properly diagnosed and treated until last year; the reason he said he self-medicated with marijuana.

Jeffress was arrested in January 2012 while a member of the Kansas City Royals, and required to complete community service. A lifetime ban by baseball loomed if he tested positive for "drugs of abuse" for a third time.

He considered leaving the game behind.

"I will tell you I was, because actually like two years ago, I just felt like giving up, like ‘I can’t be in this game,’" he said. "Especially in Triple-A getting up at four in the morning, getting on those flights to fly across country, I might have a seizure on the plane, what’s going to happen then? I did feel like (that) every once in a while. I got family who keep me pushing, players who say ‘Just put it in the past. You’re healthy now, you’re alright.'"

It always comes down to production in professional sports, but for Jeffress, his potential for production couldn’t be realized until his medical and drug issues were separated out and handled. For too long it all had been tied together.

When it was, he could sleep better – literally – and it began to come together on the field last summer while a member of the Toronto Blue Jays organization. He adjusted his arm angle from an over the top to a more three-quarter delivery and walked 13 in 32 1/3 innings, but just one over his final 10 – earning another shot in the majors.

In 9 1/3 innings last September, Jeffress didn’t allow a run while holding opposing batters to a .212 batting average while striking out 11 and walking three. Of his 159 pitches, 104 were strikes.

"Attacking instead of just trying to rear back and throw it," Jeffress said of his new approach on the mound. "I attack hitters better. I throw different pitches in different counts. I'm not just trying to strike everybody out. Pitching is a very strategic thing to do and you have to do it well to be in the big leagues."

Ultimately, the Blue Jays didn’t have time for him to develop at that level. With a payroll north of $130 million and expectations of winning the American League East, Jeffress was designated for assignment after just three early outings this March and April in which he was touched for four earned runs in 3 1/3 innings.

He cleared waivers, but rather than return to the Toronto minor league system, he opted for free agency, and he specifically sought out the Brewers.

"They stuck with me for a long time," Jefress said of the organization. "The psychologist, Matt Krug, he's kept in contact with me through text messages and e-mail, just staying with me through medical situations and the usage back in the day."

The Brewers brought him back into the fold on April 18, and he posted a 4-1 record with a 1.51 earned run average in Triple A Nashville, walking just 18 in 41 2/3 innings thrown in a variety of relief roles.

"With the arm slot being a little bit lower, he has more movement on his fastball," Nashville pitching coach Fred Dabney said. "The velocity has pretty much stayed the same. It’s a plus fastball. The consistency and the movement in the zone is much better than what it was when he was over the top. And he’s more consistent with his breaking ball."

Jeffress touched triple digits last year for the Blue Jays, and his fastball still averages in the high 90s.

"Guys that throw that hard, it’s rare," Dabney said. "I mean, you’re talking about special guys, who are working in that 95 and above range, to have that type of movement and have that kind of action in the strike zone. Obviously that’s the key for him to get an opportunity back up there. The consistency that he had when he left was in place. He’s been doing it day in and day out."

Not coincidentally, Jeffress has been more consistent off the field, too.

He became a father, hadn’t suffered a seizure in over a year thanks to proper medication, and maintains his sobriety.

"He’s kind of made the 180 switch both in baseball and more importantly his life," said Donovan Hand, who was teammates with a teenage Jeffress in 2007 in West Virginia. "He went through a lot of bad times, kind of dark times, and searching for who he was, who he fit into and what he was supposed to do.

"It’s nice to see him get his life together. He’s got a kid, and that kind of mature you very fast. I’m glad he’s getting his life together and he’s on the right path. An arm like that should be in the big leagues. There’s no way he should’ve been in the big leagues the last four years, but like everybody else you have to find your path sometimes and I’m glad to see he has."

Hand, like many of the players in Nashville and even in the Brewers clubhouse, grew up with Jeffress from 2006 through 2010. He’s suited up with a dozen players who have worn a Brewers uniform the last two years, and two more from his time in Kansas City.

"He needs all of us and we need him," said Brewers catcher Martin Maldonado, who is one of the dozen to have  played with Jeffress for years. "It’s a win-win situation. He knows what he has to do to stay here. It’s not his first time here, so he has to come here and compete day in and day out. It’s good when you have that comfort level with other guys. He knows that we know we have good men here that we have to do to have success here."

It’s a familiarity, a comfort level, that all involved feel will help Jeffress maintain consistency in all aspects of his life.

"It’ll help to have a support system for him because there’s a lot of outside things that creeps in up there, a lot more stuff," Hand said. "It’s a good support system for him. But I think he’s got it figured out enough and he’s strong enough and realized what he had to change to get there and has finally got there and I don’t think he’s going to jeopardize it now. Where as in years past, I’m not saying he would have, but you never know."

But – as Guerrero and Brewers manager Ron Roenicke have said – it’s about performance in the now, whenever the phone rings in the bullpen and his number is called.

"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, and 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."

Now that Jeffress has once again in Milwaukee, the line to congratulate – and support – him stretches from One Miller Park Way to Tennessee.

"Yeah. Oh yeah," Maldonado said. "You’re always going to want to see your teammates have success. And everybody’s goes through bumps in their career. People don’t realize that. He’s made some adjustments and he’s here, and I think that’s – for me – is bigger for him, that he can (learn) from the things he did in the past and keep moving forward. And look where he’s at now."

"I’m real happy," said Hand. "I’m really happy to see him turn it around. The baseball thing is a whole different deal. He can pitch. That’s obvious. With an arm like that, there’s a reason he wasn’t in the big leagues. And now that he’s figured that out he’s going to be a way better person for it and obviously he’ a lot better pitcher. He put up ridiculous numbers here. He’s made a 180 and it’s good to see. From seven years ago to this year, he’s a totally different guy."

Jeffress gives credit to the Royals, Blue Jays and Brewers organizations for their parts in helping him find the "good place" he says he now exists in, but more than anything it was their support.

"That was the big thing I needed to have, someone to believe in me, just keep pushing on me, keep me in line," he said. "Make sure I’m on time for everything, make sure I’m just clean and sober, and everything is going well."

Now, he hopes to hold up his end of it, which ultimately rests on his right shoulder.

"They told me when I came back, 'Just do what you have done before with recent teams,'" he said. "They had been watching me in the past with recent teams and they like the style of how I pitch now. Just don't change anything and bring it here. The club has been doing very well. Everybody in the bullpen has been doing very well. They feel like I can help them a little bit."

He smiled.

"There are a little nerves here and there, but I would love to get a World Series ring."

Jim Owczarski is an award-winning sports journalist and comes to Milwaukee by way of the Chicago Sun-Times Media Network.

A three-year Wisconsin resident who has considered Milwaukee a second home for the better part of seven years, he brings to the market experience covering nearly all major and college sports.

To this point in his career, he has been awarded six national Associated Press Sports Editors awards for investigative reporting, feature writing, breaking news and projects. He is also a four-time nominee for the prestigious Peter J. Lisagor Awards for Exemplary Journalism, presented by the Chicago Headline Club, and is a two-time winner for Best Sports Story. He has also won numerous other Illinois Press Association, Illinois Associated Press and Northern Illinois Newspaper Association awards.

Jim's career started in earnest as a North Central College (Naperville, Ill.) senior in 2002 when he received a Richter Fellowship to cover the Chicago White Sox in spring training. He was hired by the Naperville Sun in 2003 and moved on to the Aurora Beacon News in 2007 before joining

In that time, he has covered the events, news and personalities that make up the PGA Tour, LPGA Tour, Major League Baseball, the National Football League, the National Hockey League, NCAA football, baseball and men's and women's basketball as well as boxing, mixed martial arts and various U.S. Olympic teams.

Golf aficionados who venture into Illinois have also read Jim in GOLF Chicago Magazine as well as the Chicago District Golfer and Illinois Golfer magazines.