Brewers opt for caution with red-hot Knebel

Brewers opt for caution with red-hot Knebel

MILWAUKEE -- "Forty-one is a lot, but when you think about it, it's only 11 more than 30," Brewers reliever Corey Knebel said of his 41-pitch effort against the Red Sox on Thursday. And while it was hard to argue with that logic, the Brewers are opting instead to play things safe with one of their most valuable bullpen arms.

Knebel was off-limits for a second straight game Saturday, said manager Craig Counsell in a rare pregame admission of relief availability.

"He did a lot. It was high-stress," Counsell said. "We gauge that. It's subjective a little bit, but we gauge the stress of the innings and the pitches and what he's accustomed to doing. We felt like [giving Knebel another day off] was the right thing to do."

In his pressure-packed appearance in a 1-1 game against Boston, Knebel struck out red-hot Mookie Betts with a runner aboard to end the seventh inning, then threw 33 more pitches while working into, and out of, a bases-loaded jam in the eighth. The Red Sox put runners at second and third with no outs to start that inning, but Knebel did not surrender.

After striking out Jackie Bradley Jr. and Josh Rutledge with the bases loaded to end the threat, Knebel pumped his fist and let out a yell.

"I blacked out after getting out of it," Knebel said. "I got so excited."

He saw his reaction on video later.

"I don't think I've ever had that kind of emotion in college, the minor leagues, professionally, anything," Knebel said. "I didn't even know I did that. I saw the video and was like, 'Wow.' I was fired up. It was probably the most pressure situation I've ever been in."

Now he stands to pitch more big innings. Counsell announced Friday he was backing Neftali Feliz out of the closer role for the time being and would mix and match when the team encounters save opportunities. Knebel is a leading candidate, though Counsell also said he likes the flexibility to use Knebel as early as the seventh inning in a big spot.

Knebel adds to strikeout streak

Entering Saturday, Knebel was worth 0.9 WAR (Wins Above Replacement), tied for fourth among Major League relievers behind Red Sox closer Craig Kimbrel, Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen and Astros early-season standout Chris Devenski. Knebel has struck out at least one batter in all 19 of his appearances this season, one shy of John Axford's Brewers relief record for consecutive games with a whiff. Knebel's 29 total strikeouts were most in the National League.

Is a closer turn up next? Knebel saved 37 games in three seasons at the University of Texas, second in school history behind Huston Street's 41, and he had 26 saves in the Minors. Knebel said he would welcome the opportunity to add to his two career saves in the Majors.

"If that happens, it would be great," he said. "There haven't been any words spoken about it that I know of. I know [Counsell] likes where I am now."

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.