With Opening Day only eight days away for the Milwaukee Brewers, it’s coming down to crunch time for the last few roster spots on the big league team. The Brewers came into camp with competition for their bench spots and in the bullpen. Last week, manager Ron Roenicke stated that their were seemingly three pitchers competing for one final spot in the bullpen, implying that Chris Perez, Tyler Thornburg, and Rob Wooten were fighting for the final big league slot. However, after another week of games, things took a somewhat surprising turn today when the Brewers announced that they had optioned Brandon Kintzler to AAA:
Kintzler has been a fixture in the Brewers’ bullpen for the last two seasons, appearing in 135 games and pitching to a 2.93 ERA over 135.1 innings pitched. Brandon broke through as a reliable setup man in 2013, pitching 77 innings with a strong 2.69 ERA, even better 2.54 FIP, 1.065 WHIP and only two home runs given up.
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Kintzler wasn’t quite the same pitcher last season, however. Though his 3.24 ERA was 17% better than league average, his 4.67 FIP said he was the beneficiary of a lot of good fortune. Brandon gave up four times as many home runs in 2014 as he did the previous year, despite pitching in nearly 20 less innings (8 home runs in 58.1 innings pitched). He managed only a 4.8 K/9 mark last season, a drop of two strikeouts from 2013, while also walking batters at a higher rate. By the end of the season, manager Ron Roenicke was trotting Kintzler to the mound only in low-leverage situations.
After agreeing to a 1 year, $1.075 mil contract this past winter to avoid arbitration, Kintzler seemed like a lock to begin the season in the Milwaukee Brewers’ bullpen. Brandon has struggled this spring, however, giving up six runs in just 8.1 innings pitched, while walking 5 batters. For Kintzler, who had two options remaining, these results were apparently enough to warrant sending his relatively high contract to AAA.
The Brewers’ have several other pitchers remaining in camp that are having better springs than the one Kintzler had been slogging through, and it now appears that the Brewers have four pitchers competing for the final two roster spots. In addition to the above mentioned three, Michael Blazek has pitched himself into contention for a bullpen spot with a strong spring, as well. Blazek, acquired in 2013 from St. Louis for John Axford, has thrived since converting to a full time starter last season in AAA. This March, Blazek has given up just five earned runs in 13.2 innings pitched, striking out 14 while walking only four. Ron Roenicke said the other day that Blazek was still very much in the mix for a big league spot, and he has voiced support of non-roster invitee Chris Perez, as well.
My belief is that Chris Perez now has a very strong chance of making the team, and he has put up the numbers to support his case. A 2.79 ERA in 9.2 innings pitched, striking out five while walking only three could be enough to give Perez, who is an Article XX(B) free agent, his ticket to Milwaukee. I’m also a big fan of Tyler Thornburg, and think he would be the best option to begin the season as Milwaukee’s long man. Keeping him stretched out allows him to remain the sixth man for the Brewers’ rotation while allowing Michael Blazek to slot in at the top of Colorado Springs rotation with Taylor Jungmann, giving Milwaukee some solid depth for their starting rotation. The possibility remains that the Brewers’ could always add another arm on a minor league deal for some more depth, as well.