Counsell says Brewers are in two-week season and will continue bullpen days
By Fabian Ardaya
MILWAUKEE -- The Brewers found themselves ahead of schedule in their rebuild at this season's non-waiver Trade Deadline. Instead of being near the bottom of the National League Central, as many expected would be the case this season, they were suddenly in the mix for highly prized players, like Sonny Gray and Jose Quintana.
The Brewers didn't land either starter and kept their talented pool of prospects intact. They weren't silent around the Deadline, though. General manager David Stearns made a few under-the-radar trades that have paid off for Milwaukee, which is still fighting for the NL Central and second NL Wild Card spot.
"They weren't the acquisitions that are in the rumors every day leading up to the Trade Deadline, but they've been very important and very productive for us," Brewers manager Craig Counsell said.
Milwaukee acquired four players who have become integral parts of their playoff push, and only one -- reliever Jeremy Jeffress -- happened on July 31. Jeffress and former White Sox right-hander Anthony Swarzak have boosted a bullpen that entered Saturday's game against the Marlins ranked third in the NL with a 3.68 ERA since the All-Star break.
Swarzak quickly adopted the eighth-inning role for the Brewers, and in 21 appearances since being acquired on July 26, he had posted a 2.29 ERA entering Saturday. Jeffress had a 3.38 ERA in 15 appearances since returning to Milwaukee, which dealt him at last year's Deadline.
"'JJ' and Swarzak, we're going to get probably upwards of 60 innings from them at the end of the year, and pretty darn good innings," Counsell said.
"Anthony's obviously pitched well, and that's incredibly important," said Counsell, "But where he's put everybody else kind of, it's really lined everybody else up to [be in] very good spots. We're able to get them in spots to succeed."
The Brewers also added a pair of veteran bats with postseason experience. Left-handed-hitting catcher Stephen Vogt beefed up the Crew's depth behind the plate. The two-time All-Star catcher was designated for assignment by the A's on June 22 and was claimed by Milwaukee three days later. Switch-hitting Neil Walker has already made his Aug. 12 trade from the Mets pay off playing across the Brewers' infield.
The pair combined for six RBIs -- highlighted by a Walker grand slam -- in a 10-2 win over Miami on Friday. They've seen upticks in their production since arriving to Miller Park, with Vogt maintaining an .817 OPS and Walker an .898 OPS as Brewers entering Saturday's game against the Marlins.
"Vogt and Walker, I think we've gotten two ... left-handed bats that have, at times -- really against right-handed pitchers -- been able to provide a challenge and really put us in a good position," Counsell said.
'Johnny Wholestaff' to be tested
"Johnny Wholestaff" is 3-0 for the Brewers on bullpen days after Friday's victory, but how long can Milwaukee trot out the majority of its entire bullpen to win a game and still maintain a playoff chase?
Counsell admitted Saturday that the Brewers, who have become reliant on bullpen days out of necessity due to Jimmy Nelson's season-ending injury and Matt Garza's struggles, likely would not be able to replicate their small-sample success over a whole season. But with two weeks left in the regular season, he doesn't have a full season to worry about.
"We can't sustain it on an everyday basis," Counsell said. "We're going to need innings from our starters. The stretched-out guys, we're going to need innings from them. But I don't think this is the time of the year to be looking from a long-term basis. The season is not a long-term season right now. It's a two-week season. Guys are going to have to do a little more over the next two weeks, and that's how we're going to treat it."
Fabian Ardaya is a reporter for MLB.com who covered the Brewers on Saturday. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.