Brewers’ dynamic bullpen slowed with injuries as opening day approaches
PHOENIX — The Milwaukee Brewers vaunted bullpen is entering the season without a couple of its most imposing pieces.
Corey Knebel is out indefinitely with a partial tear of the ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow, the type of injury that sometimes ends in Tommy John surgery. He’s expected to join Jeremy Jeffress, down with a sore right shoulder, on the injured list to open the season.
Knebel had 16 saves and a 3.58 ERA with Milwaukee last season, plus a 1.29 ERA in six postseason appearances. He plans to see multiple doctors before deciding if he needs surgery.
“It’s going to take a week for him to compile some opinions from other doctors and then sit down and make a decision on what he feels is the best way to get this thing right,” manager Craig Counsell said Friday.
Knebel missed about six weeks early last season with a hamstring injury. He was an All-Star in 2017 with 39 saves and a 1.78 ERA in 78 innings.
Jeffress, another important cog in the bullpen a year ago, hasn’t thrown a Cactus League inning this spring. He is expected back by late April.
Counsell will have to mix, match and experiment with new pitchers to get through the beginning of the season. He faced a similar challenge early last season, which is when he began relying on long relievers for extended outings and relief openers at the start of games. Those strategies helped propel Milwaukee to the NL Championship Series, where it lost to the Dodgers in seven games.
“Sometimes the best answers come from when you get put in those situations,” Counsell said. “You have to come up with a different way to look at the problem.”
Josh Hader, the breakout star of the bullpen last season with 143 strikeouts in 81 innings, said the Brewers are uniquely equipped to deal with the situation.
“It’s going to take an army to get through the season,” Hader said. “You never know when we’re going to need it. I think we have the guys to do so.
“You gotta always adapt and you’ve gotta just be open for anything.”
Milwaukee added reinforcements Friday, agreeing with reliever Alex Wilson on a one-year deal for $750,000 plus performance bonuses, pending a physical. The 32-year-old Wilson has a 3.23 ERA in six major league seasons, the past four with Detroit.
NOTES: Counsell said starting pitcher Jimmy Nelson, trying to return from Tommy John surgery that has sidelined him since late 2017, had elbow soreness after an outing Thursday. “It’s going to slow him a little bit,” Counsell said. Nelson, however, was not scheduled to open the season on the active roster, and it may not have much of an effect on the timing of his return, which the Brewers hope is by the end of April. … The Brewers optioned infielders Tyler Saladino and Cory Spangenberg to minor league camp, which Counsell said means that outfielder Ben Gamel has made the opening day roster.