It is becoming obvious that the Brewers are going to be competitive this season. They're beating it into our skulls as subtly as Khris Davis' repeated attempts at bludgeoning high fastballs with the Witch King mace he lugs across home plate 12 times a night (assuming 4 ABs here).
They currently sit at 20-7. They will not stop winning. In the universe's demand for order, the Brewers' best offensive players are dropping like flies to awkward not-quite-DL-injuries to force some short-term regression to the mean. Still, the Brewers brush off reasonable probability with a chuckle and just keep winning anyway.
Accordingly, the need for relief work in high-leverage innings is getting rather comical. The Brewers have been leading or tied to begin the 7th inning 19 of 27 times so far. That's a lot. Francisco Rodriguez has pitched in 7 of the last 10 games. From April 12-23, Tyler Thornburg pitched in 7 of 12. From the 13th-23rd Will Smith appeared in 6 games. You can't really blame Roenicke; each has been super-effective. Who wouldn't summon a Charizard to counter a trio of Venosaur or a pinch-Victreebell?
But even Charizard has only so many fire punches to throw. And it's been throwing:
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Another way to put this: 5 of the 41 most used major league relievers in terms of game appearances are Brewers. The good news is that as the eyes drift to the right, the situation looks a little less scary. It appears the physical toll, in terms of quantity, is less than the appearance total would indicate. Individual outings (for Smith in particular) have been relatively short and/or efficient. However, not every pitch or inning is the same; high-leverage pitches are often argued to cost more in terms of physical exertion than cruising through a couple mopup innings.
Part of the problem is that Brandon Kintzler just missed some time with a short stint on the DL. Henderson was on the shelf for a short period to begin the season. Another is that the Brewers have, in effect, a 6-man bullpen. Rule 5 pick Wei-Chung Wang is not treated like a major league pitcher. He's more like an intern than a full-time employee. Except firing this intern means he is immediately re-hired by your competitor. If you don't let him try to sell some dishwashers he might be selling your clients whole kitchen sets in a couple years.
I am of the mind that there aren't too many teams that can afford to carry dead weight on the major league roster and get away with it (for an example, see: 2011 Brewers). It relies on consistently elite production from a few or consistently very good production from many to counteract the negative pull coming from the bottom of the roster. The Brewers are off to a great start, yes, but I'm not sure how comfortably they slide in to one of those categories.
I don't think it's much of a reach to speculate that Roenicke and Melvin do not see eye-to-eye on this. The tension is likely quelled by the 20-7 start, but it is clear that Melvin wants Wang in the organization but Roenicke does not want to use him. I think Roenicke would much prefer Alfredo Figaro or Rob Wooten. Maybe even Donovan Hand. Because he's familiar with them. He knows they can be effective. He knows they can bunt.
But no matter Roenicke's perceptions, Wang is on the roster of a very competitive team. If he's going to remain there, he ought to be able to contribute on the field in some capacity. Occasionally he may need to pick up a mid-to-high-leverage batter or inning or help keep a game tied in extra innings when his coworker(s) needs a day off. Most importantly - they can't know if he can handle it if he never gets a chance to try it.
I believe the appropriate course of action to be straightforward: use Wang as a major league baseball player. If the perfect opportunity for feet-wetting doesn't come along, like it hasn't, give him a chance or two to hold a lead. If he falters repeatedly, at least the Brewers can feel justified in sending him back to Pittsburgh. If not, Roenicke might just have another weapon out of the bullpen - like a fresh Charmander eager to evolve to his full potential. This would be especially nice when one or more of the above standout relievers start to inevitably regress to human-type production and Roenicke's allegiances start shifting.
The worst possible scenario is that Roenicke continues to refuse to use him and the Brewers cut him loose before ever finding out how effective he can be. Then devoted Brewers fans like us end up hunting for Pirates affiliates' box scores for several years quietly and reluctantly rooting against his success. Blech. No thanks.
Let's hope that no matter the result, we see more of Wei-Chung Wang very soon.
Oh, and happy Wei-Chung Wang Wednesday.