Knebel's return boosts Brewers' bullpen

Knebel's return boosts Brewers' bullpen

MILWAUKEE -- With the return of reliever Corey Knebel in Thursday night's 5-2 loss to the Mets at Miller Park, the Brewers bullpen took another step toward getting the band back together.

Knebel, who appeared in 48 games for the Brewers last season with a 3.22 ERA, made his first outing of the season after a left oblique injury shelved him for over two months. In one week, Milwaukee has now regained two of its top bullpen arms with left-hander Will Smith's activation from the disabled list on June 2.

"We were looking fantastic at the beginning of the season, we're looking fantastic now," Knebel said. "And everything's been going great and I feel like, no matter what's happening, we're going to look great and we're going to be dominant."

The Crew's bullpen entered the day in the middle of the pack, ranking seventh in the National League with a 3.99 ERA. That does not tell the whole story, however, as the Brewers are 23-2 when leading after seven innings and 11-8 in one-run games.

Setup man Tyler Thornburg (26 consecutive batters retired) and closer Jeremy Jeffress (16 saves in 17 opportunities) have been a formidable 1-2 punch in the late innings. Right-handers Blaine Boyer (1.93 ERA, one save) and Carlos Torres (3.30 ERA, two saves) have been reliable arms, as well, throughout the season.

Now, you can add Knebel and Smith to that mix.

For Knebel, it was a tale of two innings Thursday. He entered in the seventh inning and lit up the radar gun, retiring the Mets in order, highlighted by a strikeout of Yoenis Cespedes looking on a three-pitch sequence that concluded with a 97-mph heater.

"Everything felt good the first inning," Knebel said. "I was comfortable. Felt like I was right where I needed to be."

Manager Craig Counsell opted to send Knebel out for a second inning, and the first four batters reached base to plate two runs.

"His second inning was, to me, a different inning," Counsell said. "Two ground balls that just found holes."

Fittingly, Smith came on to replace Knebel and eluded further damage, inducing a weak pop to third base and an easy ground ball to shortstop.

Even with the recent additions to the bullpen, the Brewers are still down two arms. Right-hander Michael Blazek (right elbow impingement) and left-hander Chris Capuano (left elbow soreness) are both on the 15-day DL, but both are nearing their returns. Counsell noted before the game that Blazek threw a bullpen session Thursday, and Capuano was scheduled for one over the weekend.

"We're coming back together," Knebel said. "We've got Blaze and Cappy on the DL right now, and we're going to be at full strength. We're looking good out there."

Curt Hogg is a reporter for MLB.com based in Milwaukee.. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.