The early parts of the 2016 season were not kind to the Brewers. In one single Spring Training, they started with a total of seven players on the disabled list. Among them were numerous vital cogs in the plans: left-handed reliever Will Smith (right LCL tear), right-handed reliever Corey Knebel (strained left oblique), and right-handed starter Matt Garza (lat strain), among others. As the season moved along, they have been forced to manage injuries to names like Domingo Santana, Chris Capuano, and Ryan Braun. But as injuries have piled up on their plates, the Crew managed to maintain a solid and competitive team. With a mixture of seasonal debuts and returning players, the Brewers could be fielding their best lineups of the season in the month of June. Get ready, folks.
LHP Will Smith: After the left-handed reliever’s freak injury, nearly all seemed lost with his torn right LCL. However, Smith decided to stray away from surgery that would have kept him off the mount for months. Due to his and Knebel’s injury, the Brewers were faced to patch the bullpen up with a mix of left-hander Chris Capuano and righties Blaine Boyer and Ariel Pena. After an extremely short stint, Pena was designated for assignment (which began the Freeman-Kirkman-Marinez train). Blaine Boyer rose to the occasion, tossing 25.2 innings of 2.10 ERA ball despite a miniscule 3.51 K/9. Capuano also pitched adequately before going down with elbow inflammation last Thursday (24 IP in 16 appearances, 4.13 ERA, 1.58 WHIP, 10.13 K/9). Another relief spot was added into the mix yesterday, as the Brewers picked up Cubs reliever Neil Ramirez while designating INF Colin Walsh for assignment. As for Will Smith, his rehabilitation has gone well, and he returned to the Brewers roster late last night – a move that meant interim reliever David Goforth would be sent back down to Triple-A Colorado Springs for the second time this season.
Of all the players coming back in the month, Smith’s return could be a major factor in the coming days. Both a competitor on the mound and a charismatic teammate on and off the field, he surely was missed (even tough his mother’s jokes got pretty corny at times). Since coming to Milwaukee, Smith has been the primary left-handed option out of the bullpen – posting 129 innings of 3.21 ERA, 1.31 WHIP ball, striking out 177 (12.3 K/9) and walking only 55 (3.8 BB/9). But in the beginnings of a rebuild, many analysts and front office executives are awaiting his return to determine his potential trade value. Still under control thru 2019, the 26 year-old could be a hot-commodity on the trade market if he can maintain his abilities despite his knee injury. If all goes well, Brewers fans could look to similar deals teams got for righties Ken Giles, Craig Kimbrel, and Aroldis Chapman. Smith’s southpaw tendency could make him stand out from other relievers in this year’s market – but so could his knee.
RHP Matt Garza: I can’t believe I’m saying this either after his showing last season, but I’m a little excited for Garza’s return.
After losing Garza early in Spring Training due to a lat strain, Craig Counsell and company were forced to use a 4-man rotation with RHP Tyler Cravy as extra depth in the bullpen. After 5 appearances (5.2 IP, 8 H, 2 ER, 5 K’s), Cravy was optioned to AAA Colorado to make room for OF Alex Presley on April 21st. In turn, Presley filled-in for OF Keon Broxton, who was sent down four days prior to make room for RHP Zach Davies – Garza’s fill-in. The ‘6-0’ right-hander struggled in April (3 starts, 0-3, 13.1 IP, 8.78 ERA, 2.25 WHIP, 10-7 K-BB), but has since pitched admirably in Garza’s April absence (5 starts, 2-0, 28.1 IP, 3.81 ERA, 1.13 WHIP, 19-8 K-BB). Meanwhile, Garza has slowly made his way through rehabilitation, and made the start for Low-A Appleton last night, throwing 33 pitches in 2 innings of work. In those innings, he gave up 4 hits, 3 runs (2 earned) and struck out one – earning the loss. While the line doesn’t appeal to the eye, it’s a step in the right direction. His end goal is to return to the team on June 14th, when the Crew plays their second game of three in San Fransisco.
The mid-June return of Garza will definitely shake up the rotation. Out of the five right-handed starters, it is easy to eliminate both Jimmy Nelson and Junior Guerra from being sent down due to their success. Even though Chase Anderson had himself a rocky patch early on, he has put together a nice string of four starts (24.2 IP, 3.28 ERA, .174 opp. AVG, 19-4 K-BB). As mentioned earlier, Davies has also found recent success in the month of May. This leaves former 17 game-winner Wily Peralta, who has continued his struggles thus far. In mid-May, Counsell had told reporters that the best option was to keep him in the rotation. Since then, Peralta did pitch two decent outings by going into the 6th inning and allowing at-maximum 3 runs to score on a given night. However, it’s still clear that Peralta hasn’t been able to break his funk, thus making him a prime candidate to be sent down to figure things out in the “hitter’s haven” of Colorado Springs. Garza will be a sight for sore eyes, as the Brewers are in need of a solid veteran presence in the rotation. And who knows – perhaps he could flash some intriguing value to a team that’s desperate for pitching.
RHP Corey Knebel: Probably the most forgotten name on this list, late-inning reliever Corey Knebel is set to return in the first half of the month as well. Out the beginning of the year with a strained left oblique, the Brewers may have directly replaced him with RHP Carlos Torres, as the DL announcement came in the signing’s wake. So far this season, Torres has put up a respectable 3.08 ERA in 26.1 innings (23 appearances, 25-15 K-BB). Now into June, Knebel has been set to have two outings in High-A Brevard County before advancing to Triple-A Colorado Springs for back-to-back outings. He tossed an inning yesterday night, giving up a hit and a walk but striking out two in 24 pitches. If all goes well, he could return late this week or early next week at the earliest.
A tough decision will have to be made regarding the bullpen when Knebel returns. Although Torres has been pitching well, he has the worst numbers out of Marinez and Boyer. Marinez could be an option to be replaced, but has been producing a ton of swings-and-misses in limited time (10-2 K-BB in 5.2 IP) despite giving up two runs in his last outing. Some have speculated a name like Boyer or Torres could also be used as a fluff piece in a trade (i.e. Braun or Lucroy), but there have been no major trade rumblings at this point in time. For all we know, one of these names may get injured and open up a spot – though none of us wish ie upon anyonw. Either way, Stearns will have a tough decision on his hands regarding Knebel’s active roster spot.
RF Domingo Santana: Although Santana has only been out since May 20th, his lingering shoulder issue had been around since the beginning of the month. To make due with the situation, the Crew added Keon Broxton to use alongside of Alex Presley, Ramon Flores, and Kirk Nieuwenhuis. Since raking in the minors (.301/.390/.972 slash with 7 HR, 11 SB), Broxton has returned to similar major-league numbers as his initial chance (3 for 18, 3 BB, 9 K’s, 2 R). As for Santana, he finally made a rehab stint last night in Double-A Biloxi, going 1 for 2 with a solo home run, a walk, and 2 runs scored. He is currently scheduled to return this weekend when the Brewers play in Philadelphia.
However, the decision to make room for Santana may be a little more difficult than to simply send Broxton down yet again. Of the other outfielders since May 20th, Ramon Flores has been the only pleasant surprise at the plate, going 7 for 24 (.292) with a home run. Alex Presley (4 for 26, 4 R, 4 K’s) and Kirk Nieuwenhuis (1 for 28, 5 BB and 17 K’s) have been under-performing since Santana’s injury – even for depth pieces. While Presley has continued to put the bat on the ball, Nieuwenhuis may be on the chopping block alongside Broxton. Either way, Santana’s return will mean the right field spot – and another spot in the lineup – is filled on a consistent basis.
One major thing to make note of is the emergence of infielder Jonathan Villar, who has fit nicely in the leadoff role. Due to his success, Counsell may slot Domingo’s power bat into the middle of the order – giving him a chance to drive in more runs in than he did before. It may also help players like Jonathan Lucroy or Chris Carter as well due to his walking abilities. Either way, Santana’s return could definitely increase the team’s run production.
LHP Chris Capuano: After making the team out of Spring Training, the left-handed veteran found himself on the DL six days ago with left elbow soreness. Being the only southpaw on the pitching staff, the Brewers had to wait almost a week to fill that position again (Smith). In the meantime, the Crew opted to use the ‘seemingly-stuck-in-the-middle’ right-hander David Goforth. In Capuano’s absence, Goforth’s second stint on the active roster only produced two appearances – most notably his two inning, four strikeout line against the Cardinals on Memorial Day. Nonetheless, Goforth was sent down to Triple-A Colorado Springs to ensure a spot for Will Smith. Although the return date for Cappy is much cloudier than the others, he should return to the bullpen by the end of the month (barring unknown severity – it is his throwing elbow).
As we’ve seen so far this season, much can happen to he roster in a matter of 2-3 weeks. If every reliever stayed healthy, either Marinez, Boyer, or Torres (whomever is still around after Knebel) would have to be ousted for the southpaw. By this time, it could be an apparent choice between Torres or Marinez. Nonetheless, it is still too early to tell.