The "revamped" bullpen was one of the most often-discussed topics around the Brewers this spring. A unit that struggled mightily last season had been given a veteran infusion with free agents Michael Gonzalez and Tom Gorzelanny and trade acquisition Burke Badenhop. Combine those new faces with holdovers John Axford and Jim Henderson (and later the re-addition of Francisco Rodriguez) and this relief corps appeared to be more or less set.
Of course, that's not how things worked out. Gonzalez pitched in 75 games but had his worst MLB season. Gorzelanny pitched well enough as a reliever to get drafted into the starting rotation, but also had two stints on the shelf with shoulder issues. Badenhop slid down the depth chart, and Axford was removed from the closer role in the season's first week.
That combination of struggles left the door open for someone to emerge as a reliable late inning option, and Brandon Kintzler seized the opportunity. He finished second on the Brewers with 71 appearances this season (his previous career high was 14) and by the end of the year he had nailed down the #2 spot in the bullpen, frequently pitching the eighth inning before Jim Henderson save attempts.
As a setup man Kintzler did two things really well: First, he allowed just two home runs all season over 77 innings. 14 Brewer pitchers allowed more, including short-term starters Hiram Burgos (5), Mike Fiers (8) and Johnny Hellweg (3). Second, he limited damage by keeping his walk count low. He walked just 1.9 batters per nine innings this season, which is a key reason why he led all Brewers with a 1.065 WHIP.
Kintzler hadn't moved into the eighth inning role yet when the Brewers faced the Pirates at PNC Park on June 30, which is why he was still available in the bullpen when the game went into extra innings tied at 1. Kintzler singlehandedly kept the Brewers in the game by retiring the next nine Pirates in order, getting five groundouts, three strikeouts and one ground ball. Kintzler earned +.359 WPA (win percentage added) in the game, making it the second most valuable single outing by a Brewer reliever this season.
Here are all three strikeouts, and the ground ball that ended the eleventh.
Kintzler, by the way, had also pitched the day before.
Kintzler has about two and a half years of MLB service time, not quite enough to qualify for arbitration as a Super 2 player. He'll be eligible for arbitration for the first time in 2015 and free agency in 2018.
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