During his tenure as general manager, David Stearns has shown himself not to be afraid of working the waiver wire or shuttling players back and forth from Colorado Springs to fill holes on the back end of the roster.
He’s gotten good at finding value on waivers and keeping fresh arms in a bullpen that’s had to cover a lot of innings. But something he hasn’t done well is making use of the 10-day disabled list.
Back when a stint on the DL cost a player 15 days, it made a lot of sense to hold guys out for a few days to make sure they weren’t going to improve. Nobody wants to lose a player for a half of a month, after all, and that made it a tough decision to deactivate a player for that long, especially if it was a key member of the team.
But that changed last year with the implementation of the 10-day DL. It’s sort of amazing how much of a difference of just five days can make, but suddenly, a few teams realized it was really good for providing players extended rest for pulled muscles or other minor injuries they might’ve tried to play through in the past.
Most notably, the Los Angeles Dodgers used the 10-day DL for just about every little thing they could to keep their starting pitchers fresh and give them extra days of rest — after all, when a starter throws, that’s a roster spot that’s unavailable for 4 days, so why not put them on the DL for a hangnail or general soreness and miss one turn (plus a day) in the rotation? The fact the Dodgers had about 6 or 7 Major League-quality starters they wanted to get into the rotation helped, but it was a big reason why they were able to run laps around the league for much of the season.
That’s just one example of using the shorter disabled list to an advantage, and the Dodgers weren’t the only ones to take advantage of the extra flexibility gained — DL stints were up by 21 percent last year, according to the Associated Press. It’s not necessarily that more players were getting hurt, but things like arm fatigue or quad strains were putting guys on the shelf for 10 days. This year, Toronto’s Josh Donaldson started the year with shoulder soreness/a “dead” arm that prevented him from making throws across the diamond. Even though Toronto has the benefit of using him as a DH and it didn’t affect his swing — he had 3 home runs and 9 RBI with an .808 OPS in 12 games — they still threw him on the DL this past week to see if 10 days’ rest helps.
The main purpose behind using the 10-day DL in this way is to maintain roster flexibility and take advantage of organizational depth. For some reason, Stearns and the Brewers have been reluctant to use the shortened disabled list to the point where other teams have.
It possibly cost the Brewers on Sunday against the Mets.
The Brewers were already carrying a short bench as a result of carrying 13 pitchers. On top of that, heading into Sunday’s game, Manny Pina hadn’t played in 5 days due to a nagging calf injury, leaving the Brewers with one healthy catcher. Ryan Braun was presumably unavailable unless in an emergency after leaving the game the night before with back soreness. That essentially left the Brewers with Eric Sogard and Jesus Aguilar as their only two bench players. Then Eric Thames had to leave early that afternoon after an abductor strain, putting Aguilar into the game after just three innings.
Things almost got disastrous in the 5th inning, when Jett Bandy nearly got himself thrown out of the game disputing a called third strike call. Bandy probably deserved to get tossed, but Craig Counsell quickly came out of the dugout and more or less asked to get thrown out instead. After the game, Counsell said Pina would’ve been available to pinch hit if he had to, but the assumption is defense and running are still a no-go, so he wouldn’t have been able to sub in for Bandy if he got run from the game.
The short bench also meant that Jhoulys Chacin hit for himself after the Bandy incident despite the Brewers being down 1-0 with a runner on third and 2 outs against Noah Syndergaard.
The Brewers couldn’t burn their last position player in the 5th inning of a one-run game, and while Chacin did well for himself in the at-bat and nearly beat out a hard-hit infield single, that was still a situation where you’d hope to see a real hitter step into the box instead. Braun was on deck after Chacin, but after the game Counsell said he was hoping to only use Braun in a clear game-changing spot — first-and-third if Chacin somehow got on base, or if there had been less than two outs and a guy on third. Braun ended up pinch-hitting later in the game with two outs and nobody on in the 8th inning after Sogard was already put into the game on a double switch.
Taking a wait-and-see approach can be fine when it’s only one player struggling with a day-to-day nagging injury. The Brewers now potentially have four: Pina, Braun, Thames and Lorenzo Cain, who hurt his quad in St. Louis and hit the same spot in an outfield collision with Domingo Santana, who was also dinged up on the play. Cain hasn’t looked the same since the initial injury, and hasn’t been able to get a day off because there’s no one else capable of playing centerfield on the roster. That group doesn’t include Christian Yelich, who was also unavailable for a handful of days before the team ultimately put him on the disabled list and is now day-to-day waiting to come off the DL.
Now, the Brewers (probably) can’t put all of them on the disabled list at the same time. But in the case of Pina especially, if you have a catcher who hasn’t been able to play for a week, it’s fair to think the team should just bite the bullet and shut him down for an additional 5 days, especially when there is a third catcher on the 40-man roster in Jacob Nottingham. As it turns out, Nottingham is now on his way to Milwaukee, but it’s a move that probably should’ve been made a few days sooner.
Carrying 8 relievers doesn’t help the situation, and for most other teams, shuttling Taylor Williams back to Colorado Springs and calling up Brett Phillips or Keon Broxton might be the obvious move in this situation. But the Brewers almost need all 8 of those arms with how they’ve managed their starting rotation so far — even outside of unintentional short starts by the likes of Jhoulys Chacin and Zach Davies, they’ve been limiting the good starts by Chase Anderson to 23-or-so batters, not allowing him to throw 7 full innings to this point. The extra arm in the bullpen gives Counsell the freedom to use Josh Hader or Jeremy Jeffress or Williams for 2 innings at a time, and is a big reason why they’ve been able to survive to an 8-8 record to this point in the season.
But as the minor ailments start to pile up and the team is in the middle of a stretch where they play 10 straight games — the next off day isn’t until April 23rd — it might be necessary for Stearns to play the 10-day DL game, if only to get another body in the bench so Brent Suter doesn’t end up finishing a game in left field in the next week.