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Brewers to open NLDS with bullpen game

October 5, 2018

MILWAUKEE — Craig Counsell has decided to lead with his strength.

For the Milwaukee Brewers, that means leading with the bullpen.

The Brewers manager said Wednesday that he would be going with a bullpen game to open the National League Division Series against the Colorado Rockies Thursday at Miller Park.

It’s a move that strikes a blow against baseball tradition and fully embraces the new wave of analytics-driven use of pitchers.

“We’re trying to get away from what the word starter and reliever means and that’s how we’re going to get through the postseason, I think,” Counsell said. “We really think when we’re going to put together our pitching staff for this series, every one of these guys we’re adding is going to pitch significant innings in the series. I think that’s what allows us to consider different ways to get to 27 outs.”

Counsell declined to identify which of his normal relief pitchers will be charged with the duty of getting the first outs. But he did indicate he’ll be looking for more than one out, as left-hander Dan Jennings got when he opened a big game in September against the St. Louis Cardinals to face just leadoff hitter Matt Carpenter.

“These aren’t going to be one-out appearances,” he said. “These are going to be two-, three-inning appearances that we think we can get through this with.”

Counsell did say he would be going with a traditional starter, right-hander Jhoulys Chacin, in Game 2 on Friday. Chacin, who pitched 5⅔ innings in Monday’s decisive NL Central game against the Chicago Cubs, will be pitching on short rest and Counsell said he wouldn’t be expected to go that deep into the game.

Beyond that, the Brewers’ pitching plans are a mystery. Their other most effective starters down the stretch have been lefties Wade Miley and Gio Gonzalez.

But they may not be a good matchup against a Rockies lineup that is loaded with right-handed power hitters such as third baseman Nolan Arenado and shortstop Trevor Story. Their only left-handed hitting regulars are leadoff hitter Charlie Blackmon and David Dahl. Carlos Gonzalez is a switch hitter.

The Brewers have yet to announce their 25-man roster for the NLDS and Counsell said its makeup will be impacted by the Rockies’ wild card victory over the Chicago Cubs on Tuesday.

“The personnel on the other team will affect roster decisions, yeah,” Counsell said.

That could bode well for rookie right-hander Freddy Peralta, who was 2-0 with a 1.54 ERA in two starts against the Rockies this year, including a 13-strikeout performance in his big league debut at Coors Field.

Then again, there’s no assurance he’ll even be on the 25-man roster.

Three sure things would be the anchors of the bullpen, lefty Josh Hader and righties Corey Knebel and Jeremy Jeffress.

Counsell has been judicious in his use of Hader this season, using him in back-to-back games just twice. But that could change in the playoffs, with days off built in following Games 2 and 4.

“You’re going to apply different rules when you’re on to games that it’s win or go home, for sure,” Counsell said. “There’s not going to be hard and fast rules on how we’re going to use any of our pitchers.

“But I want my guys to be successful and I want Josh to be successful. We’ve had a pretty good recipe to make him successful and we’ll consider that when we make these decisions.”

The Brewers’ bullpen compiled 614 innings over the regular season, second-most in the NL. Its 3.47 ERA was second only to the Cubs’ 3.35.

The relievers’ performance has established a high level of confidence with their teammates.

“I don’t think I’ve been on a team that’s had this many weapons in the bullpen,” Miley said. “I’ve been on some teams with some good bullpens, but any of those guys you bring out are throwing 95-96 and have got secondary pitches. It’s fun to watch.”

The return to form of Knebel has made a big difference, infielder Travis Shaw said. Since returning Sept. 1 from a short stint in the minor leagues, Knebel has pitched 16⅓ scoreless innings, allowing just five hits and striking out 33.

“Corey’s back to his form,” Shaw said. “That’s a huge, huge boost for us. We’ve got five, six, seven guys down there that no matter the situation everybody’s confident when they run out.”

Even if one of them runs out at the start of the game.

“To me, it’s about using the strengths of your team,” Counsell said. “That’s all we’re trying to accomplish. We try to use where we’re strong and apply that and use that to our advantage. We have to take advantage of our strengths.”

Road weary Rockies

The road-weary Rockies celebrated at Wrigley Field in the visiting clubhouse Tuesday, just like the Brewers did Monday.

“We’re a little tired, there was a lot of jumping last night,” Gonzalez said.

But they’re used to winning away from Coors Field — no small feat considering the adjustment from Denver’s high altitude. The Rockies were 44-38 on the road this season, which marked their most road victories in franchise history. The previous mark was 41 in 2009 and matched in ’17.

Slick fielding third baseman Nolan Arenado enters the series on a 10-game hitting streak, which is his longest of the season. Over the stretch, he’s hitting .341 with four homers.

He drove in the game’s first run against the Cubs in the wild-card game with a sacrifice fly in the first inning. Arenado is coming off a regular season in which he led the NL with 38 homers.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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