The Milwaukee Brewers lost reliever Corey Knebel to Tommy John surgery before the 2019 season started. Will he return in time for Opening Day?
Knebel was the historically good Brewers closer before being a historically good closer was cool. He struggled out of the gate in 2018, lost the closer’s role to Hader, and emerged as a vital part of the bridge to the ninth inning. He was expected to play a similar role in 2019, but he felt a twinge in his elbow and had to spend a year on the shelf after undergoing Tommy John surgery. Is there any chance he makes it back for Opening Day?
What is Knebel’s current timeline to return?
He’s been given a 13-month time table for his return to the mound. That means that he’ll be ready to start a rehab assignment some time in mid-May. Relievers don’t require the same lengthy process to return to game shape. They do have to be able to throw on back-to-back days, but it doesn’t take quite as long as building up arm strength to throw 100+ pitches takes.
Knebel could conceivably return before the end of May or in early June.
How important was Knebel to the Brewers’ bullpen?
He earned an All-Star Game selection in 2017, and posted a sub-2.00 ERA with 39 saves in 76 games. In 76 innings, Knebel struck out 126, walked 40, and was tagged for six homers.
He followed 2017 with an uneven 2018 that saw him lose the closer’s role. However, even in a rough season he still posted a 3.58 ERA in 57 games. He worked 55 1/3 innings, struck out 88, walked 22, and picked up 16 saves. He also worked 10 innings in the post season, and posted a 0.90 ERA. He picked up a save in the NLCS against the Los Angeles Dodgers.
The Milwaukee Brewers know who their closer is, and that’s about all they know about their 2020 bullpen. The team has yet to add capable veteran options to the roster, and will try to cobble a bullpen together with a several options that lack Major League experience. The sooner Knebel can work his way back, the better. He’s the only clear option to serve as a bridge to Hader, but he’s not going to be available until the end of May at the earliest.