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Craig Counsell: Different ways to piece together ‘puzzle’ of 27 outs a focus for Brewers

With Jimmy Nelson expected to miss a significant part of 2018, the team’s manager says they’re focused on finding innings anywhere they can

MLB: Winter Meetings Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Managers across baseball were made available to the media today during the Winter Meetings, and Craig Counsell had a few interesting things to say about the year ahead.

As expected with Jimmy Nelson's shoulder injury, pitching was a big topic of conversation -- specifically how they plan to cover Nelson's innings while he's out, and piece together 27 outs every night.

While there's still no timeline on when Nelson will be able to return, Counsell did say it's possible he'll be able to do some throwing in Spring Training, and that could help them get a better idea. In the meantime, the Brewers are keeping an open mind on all options to soak up innings in his absence:

Q. Are there resources in the want to add a No. 1 pitcher out there via trade or free agency?

CRAIG COUNSELL: “Yeah, there's the want to, yeah, yeah. I think what we have to do is we have to just -- to me it's a puzzle of the innings. It's putting together the innings and how we're going to cover all the innings. And I think the better the pitcher, you feel like the more innings the guy can pitch, which has a carryover effect, to me, to the rest of the team, to the bullpen specifically.

So I think we're definitely in need of innings and how we get those innings, starters, relievers, is kind of still what we're trying to sift through.”

Of course, getting someone like Jake Arrieta would conceivably make some of the decision making easier (although Arrieta has been no guarantee to work deep into games recently), but echoing comments from GM David Stearns a few days ago, Counsell says they don't necessarily have to go out and get an "ace" to replace Nelson:

“I think that great starting pitching certainly it makes your job easier, for sure. The decisions don't happen as soon in the game; they tend to happen a little later in the game with really quality starting pitching. But I think we have to be open to figuring out different ways to piece together the 27 outs, and I think we were pretty successful at that last year in kind of deploying some guys in different ways. It certainly gave us another avenue to do that.

So depending upon how our pitching kind of -- our look of how we look for pitching and how we find pitching this winter, I think that will kind of dictate our approach to it next year.”

Regardless of who is added, that approach seems likely to include a heavy reliance on relief matchups again in 2018:

Q. With all the starting-pitcher focus, when you get up there with Dave and those guys, how focused are they on the bullpen?

CRAIG COUNSELL: “Well, as I say, putting innings together to put together a season is what our job is. That can be done in the bullpen. You can put innings together in the bullpen that maybe lessen the need for a guy that you can count on for the huge number of innings.

So I think really it was a big piece of our success. We obviously lost a lot of games in the bullpen, but really it was a function of us playing so many close games. In the end, really, our bullpen was a place that we really leaned on heavily and they got lots of outs, the traditional reliever got lots of outs for us. And it was a successful formula.”

Speaking of successful formulas, Josh Hader had an electric debut out of the bullpen in 2017. According to Counsell, though, his role for next season is still up in the air, and likely won't be decided for awhile:

"Yeah, I think -- look, we have not added any pitchers to the mix as of yet. So I think part of that decision kind of is reflective on what we add and who we add. The other thing is that he had a lot of success in the role we used him last year. Are there ways to expand on that? Can you use him at the start of the game in a role like that? So we're considering everything right now with Josh and like I said on Dec. 10, you feel like you got some time still."

It seems pretty clear that the organization is planning on adding pitching one way or another this winter, even if the names and roles are still being figured out.

You can find the entire transcript of Counsell's media availability on Other noteworthy soundbites include some high praise for Orlando Arcia, and Counsell basically admitting there won't be enough time for all three of Keon Broxton, Lewis Brinson and Brett Phillips to play in 2018.