We don’t know yet how long Corey Knebel will be out, but the assumption is it’s going to be awhile, based both on the postgame reaction and the way Knebel crumbled to the mound after delivering a pitch to Tommy La Stella.
While the Brewers wait for Knebel’s MRI results to get a better idea of the severity of the injury, they’ll have another game against the Cubs tonight, and if they take a small lead into the 9th inning, they’ll need someone to step into Knebel’s cleats and lock down a win.
Luckily, the bullpen has been a strength of the team so far, so there’s no shortage of candidates to take over in the final frame. So who makes the most sense when it comes to getting the first shot at the job, if Craig Counsell decides to continue having a dedicated closer?
Here’s a look at 5 candidates:
This would probably be the easiest solution, at least for the time being. Barnes has picked up a few saves in his career filling in when Knebel has been unavailable to handle the 9th, or picking up the last inning after a comeback that followed a blown save, like he did on Opening Day this year. Barnes’ inconsistent 2017 might make some uneasy about the idea of giving him the 9th inning in Knebel’s absence, but he’s been on fire to start the year after a rough spring training that looks like it was caused by his working on a curveball that he’s since ditched in favor of going back to his cutter/slider combo. Moving Barnes to the 9th would basically just allow Craig Counsell to move everyone up an inning in the bullpen pecking order.
Jeffress is the guy with the most established Capital-C Closer resume, holding down the role before he was traded to Texas in 2016 -- which opened the door for Tyler Thornburg and then Knebel to take the role. He piled up 27 saves with a 2.33 ERA in 2016, but his success in the Milwaukee bullpen has been by a very different method compared to Knebel. Instead of overpowering hitters with strikeout stuff, Jeffress has used his power sinker to induce lots of ground balls and weak contact. That has the benefit of making him much less homer-prone that Knebel’s high velocity-high in the zone style, but working the edges and bottom of the strike zone also makes him more susceptible to working himself into trouble with walks, much like Francisco Rodriguez did when he held down the final inning.
Like Barnes, moving Albers to the 9th would have the benefit of basically just moving everyone up a spot. He’s worked exclusively in the 8th inning to this point, putting up 3 scoreless innings to start his Brewers career. Albers has finished 122 games during his 13-year career, but only 2 of those have come in a save situation, and both came last year when he was in Washington. He’s coming off a great year out of the Nationals bullpen, but like most relievers, has a volatile year-to-year history that might make it hard to trust him (at least compared to the Know-What-You-Have guys in Barnes and Jeffress) until Counsell can see more of him.
This is going to be a popular pick, especially among the talk radio types who value closers more than they probably should. Yes, Hader has electric stuff and can be unhittable when he’s on. Yes, he could be capable of picking up the occasional 4-out save with the way his arm has been built up. And yes, he just sort of looks like a scary closer. But it’s just not the best way to use Hader’s talents. And with the Brewers’ starting pitching the way it is right now, Hader putting up zeroes in the middle of the game is a lot more valuable to the team than saving him for the last inning and praying you get there with a lead.
The newest member of the Brewers’ bullpen, Jennings only has 1 career save in 314 games, but has impressed in his first four appearances as a Brewer despite being called on in some challenging situations. While Jennings is a lefty, he’s pretty much equally effective against righties as he is righties. For his career, he’s allowed a .255/.335/.348 line (.683 OPS) to left-handed batters and a .252/.332/.370 line (.702) OPS to right-handers. Having Jennings take over the 9th would allow the Brewers to still deploy Hader as a mid-to-late inning weapon when needed while still having a steady hand to grab the last three outs.
Who should be the Brewrs’ closer while Corey Knebel is on the DL?
This poll is closed
Closer By Committee/Play the Matchups