Of all the things that went right for the Brewers in 2011, Marco Estrada might have been the most unlikely.
The Brewers claimed Estrada off waivers before the 2010 season but he appeared in just seven games: He made his last appearance on May 31 and spent the rest of the season on the DL. His injury was described as "shoulder fatigue," but kept him off the roster for the season's last four months.
It looked like that was going to be the end of the story regarding Estrada's tenure with the Brewers, as he was removed from the 40 man roster after the season. He re-signed with Milwaukee on a minor league deal, but wasn't even invited to major league spring training.
Others' bad luck and poor performance led to Estrada's big break, though: When Zack Greinke had to open the season on the DL and pitchers like Mark Rogers and Amaury Rivas couldn't prove they deserved the opportunity, Estrada stepped up and won the job as a temporary starter. His first outing on April 6 was only the third start of his major league career. He made the most of his opportunities, though, posting a 3.00 ERA in five April outings (three starts) and cementing a place on the major league roster.
All told, Estrada finished the season with a 4.08 ERA and 88 strikeouts in 92.2 innings. He also walked less than three batters per nine innings, and his 1.209 WHIP is close to numbers put up by Zack Greinke (1.200) and Yovani Gallardo (1.215)
If it weren't for the fact that all five members of the 2011 rotation are due back for 2012, Estrada would probably be a strong candidate to slot into a starting role next season. As it is, though, he's very good to have as depth in case the Brewers aren't as lucky with injuries going forward.
Estrada has just over two years of major league service time. He won't be arbitration-eligible for the first time until next winter, and remains under team control through 2015.
After spending several months in the bullpen Estrada was thrust back into the rotation on August 13, when Chris Narveson's scissor-wound forced him onto the DL. Despite the fact that he hadn't thrown more than 40 pitches in a game since June, Estrada shut the Pirates out for five innings, allowing just one hit and walking no one while striking out five. He also hit a double in the Brewers' 1-0 victory.
Here are the highlights from that performance: