Counsell did say that Junior Guerra and Zach Davies “are set” in the rotation. That leaves five pitchers battling for three spots.
Those five would be Chase Anderson, Matt Garza, Tommy Milone, Jimmy Nelson and Wily Peralta. All of those, with the exception of Milone, an offseason acquisition, were in Milwaukee’s rotation at some point in 2016.
Anderson, Garza, Nelson and Peralta also were part of Milwaukee’s six-man rotation (along with Davies and Guerra) down the stretch last season.
“Jimmy is probably the guy who didn’t finish the season strong but the other five guys really finished the season very strong,” Counsell noted.
To illustrate Counsell’s point: Anderson had a 1.98 ERA and 1.207 WHIP in his five September starts. Garza had a strong August (3.51 ERA in six starts) and overall had a 4.16 ERA in 14 second-half starts. Peralta was strong in August and September, posting a 2.92 ERA with a 1.151 WHIP and 7.4 K/9 in 10 starts.
“I think we saw towards the conclusion of last year when that rotation really stabilized we’re a very good team,” general manager David Stearns said. “We had one of the best starting rotations in the National League over the last month-and-a-half of the season.”
Davies was one of those who helped lead the starting staff at the tail end of last season, posting a 3.38 ERA and 1.208 WHIP in his final four starts. He finished with a 3.97 ERA in 28 starts and is why he and Guerra (three runs in his last 14 1/3 innings and overall a 2.81 ERA in 20 starts) are now rotation locks.
Nelson, though, struggled in the second half (6.10 ERA in 14 starts) and has something to prove this spring training. He, along with Garza, have yet to make an appearance on the mound this spring. Peralta went two scoreless innings in his lone appearance while Milone and Anderson each have pitched one inning.
“It’s still early and we’re going to give these guys plenty of time to ramp up before and get their feet under them before we really start making any sort of evaluations heading into the season,” Stearns said.
Of course, not making the original five doesn’t mean a pitcher won’t make any starts for the Brewers in 2017. Just ask Davies and Guerra, neither of whom opened 2016 in Milwaukee’s rotation. Or even continue to make starts, as was the case with Peralta, who was the Opening Day starter and was sent down to the minors before re-emerging with his strong second half.
“It’s an important group for us and we’re going to let them play it out. It’s another position where we know we’re going to need more than five, we’re going to need nine, 10, 11,” Stearns said.
There are other starting pitchers in camp, too, who could get a look later in the season, such as prospect Josh Hader, minor-league hopeful Aaron Wilkerson and once-upon-a-time prospects Hiram Burgos and Jorge Lopez.
“Depth is the place you want to be sitting at this time of spring,” Counsell said.