MILWAUKEE — The bullpen that was the strength of the Milwaukee Brewers last season in their run to within one game of the World Series is perhaps the biggest question mark as the 2019 season commences.
Josh Hader is back in his role as all-purpose out-getter, but the other two-thirds of the recently dubbed “Electric Dudes” were available for only the Opening Day introductions Thursday at Miller Park.
Corey Knebel’s prospects for getting on the mound at all this season probably will be determined today, while Jeremy Jeffress will return to Arizona to essentially restart spring training. Those two combined for 31 saves last year.
Knebel was due to see Brewers head physician Dr. William Raasch after the game Thursday for a final decision on whether he will need to undergo Tommy John surgery on his injured right elbow or whether a rehab program will do the trick.
Either way, Knebel is eager to make a decision and move on.
“I’m ready to know what we’re going to be doing,” Knebel said Thursday while addressing reporters for the first time since he was shut down last week. “It’s the unknown that (stinks). But I’m positive whatever happens, I’ll be ready to go. That’s it. The not knowing is the tough part. Once the decision’s made, then it’ll be full go with whatever the decision is.”
Knebel has spent the past week gathering information from specialists, including an examination from Dr. Neal ElAttrache in Los Angeles and a consultation with Texas Rangers physician Dr. Keith Meister, who treated Knebel when he originally suffered the partial UCL tear in 2014.
Knebel was able to come back with a rehab process that time and has pitched pain free for four years after being acquired by the Brewers in 2015.
While he will listen to the advice of his doctors, the final decision rests with Knebel.
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“I’ve got all the cards on the table, and it’s just, ‘Which one?’ It’s not really anybody’s decision but mine,” Knebel said. “But of course I’m going to talk to some of the doctors before I make a decision.”
Meanwhile, Jeffress will head back to Arizona to continue his recovery from shoulder soreness. He threw to hitters Wednesday and was scheduled to pitch in a minor league game on Saturday.
“We do have to essentially build Jeremy up as though he’s going through spring training,” general manager David Stearns said. “So we’re multiple weeks away.”
The injuries to Knebel and Jeffress have created uncertainty in the bullpen, and it could take a while for manager Craig Counsell to sort things out.
“We’re going to go into it, it’s undefined a little bit,” Counsell said. “As injuries do, they kind of provide room for people to step up, provide opportunity, and make some unknowns. We’re going to have to work through that. It likely will change as we go.”
Counsell has said he plans to use Hader in much the same way as last year, whether it’s in two-inning save situations like on Thursday or in high-leverage situations earlier in games as he frequently did last year.
“He’s not going to pitch every day,” Counsell said. “We’re going to take care of him. It’s absolutely crucial that we do right by him. That’s not going to change.”
Around the horn
The Brewers staged an MVP reunion for their Opening Day first pitch festivities, with Rollie Fingers (1981) and Robin Yount (1982 and ’89) throwing out ceremonial first pitches to Ryan Braun (2011) and Christian Yelich (2018). … Principal owner Mark Attanasio’s sons, Mike and Dan, carried on a family tradition by singing the national anthem on Opening Day. Their grandfather Joe Attanasio performed that role from 2005 through 2014, with his grandsons taking over following his death in 2015. … Mark Attanasio said that 98 percent of the team’s season ticket holders from last year renewed their tickets. “That’s extraordinary,” he said.