Closer conundrum? Knebel outpitching Feliz

Although relievers trending in different directions, Counsell wants to stay flexible

Closer conundrum? Knebel outpitching Feliz

MILWAUKEE -- With Corey Knebel piling up strikeouts and Neftali Feliz getting burned by walks and home runs, do the Brewers have the beginnings of a closer conundrum?

Manager Craig Counsell did not go that far after Feliz surrendered a tie-breaking, three-run homer in the ninth inning of a 4-1 loss to the Red Sox on Thursday at Miller Park. But he did concede that Knebel and Feliz have been heading in different directions.

"Neftali is struggling right now. He's struggling, and we have to get him on track," said Counsell, who brushed aside the notion that pitching with the teams tied at 1 in the ninth had anything to do with Feliz's troubles on Thursday. "Save situation, non-save situation -- it's a tie ballgame in the ninth inning. It's a big spot. We're not playing for saves, we're playing for wins.

"That's a big spot. It's the biggest spot in the game. That, to me, is not part of it. We just have to get him on track. He's struggling with the leadoff hitter. Walks are getting him in trouble."

That was precisely the case on Thursday, when Feliz followed Knebel's harrowing -- but scoreless -- eighth inning by walking Boston's eight-hole hitter, Christian Vazquez, leading off the ninth. Deven Marrero followed with a comebacker, which Feliz fielded before throwing to shortstop Orlando Arcia covering second base. Arcia dropped the baseball for an error.

Mookie Betts then capped a monster series by hitting a down-the-middle fastball for a three-run homer. It was the fifth home run off Feliz in 16 innings this season.

Betts' clutch go-ahead homer

Knebel, meanwhile, had more success.

He inherited a Jimmy Nelson baserunner in the seventh inning and struck out Betts, giving Knebel at least one whiff in all 19 of his appearances this season. He returned for the eighth and found immediate trouble as the Red Sox put runners at second and third with nobody out, but he managed to escape without allowing a run.

The final two outs came via bases-loaded strikeouts. Knebel has 29 strikeouts vs. eight walks in 18 innings.

"He throws a straight fastball but just pitches well up in the zone," said Red Sox rookie Andrew Benintendi, who popped out for the first out of the eighth. "It looks really hittable, and then it gets by you, so he uses that high fastball well."

Said Brewers left fielder Ryan Braun of Knebel: "I think he's slowly starting to turn himself into one of the great relievers in our game."

Would Counsell consider flipping the two relievers' roles?

"Corey is doing exactly what we want him to do," Counsell said. "The flexibility we have with him, using him in different situations, has been very effective. My preference is to be flexible with Corey. He's getting some of the biggest outs of the game. He did today. He went through the toughest part of their lineup and got four outs. Using Corey in that way is something I prefer to keep on course."

After throwing a career-high 41 pitches on Thursday, Knebel will probably not be available for Friday's series opener against the Mets.

"He's pitching at a really high level right now," Counsell said. "We have to keep him in that place."

Adam McCalvy has covered the Brewers for MLB.com since 2001. Follow him on Twitter @AdamMcCalvy, like him on Facebook and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.