Corey Knebel was expected to return to the Brewers bullpen at some point in the first half of the 2020 season. With the season being delayed, is it safe to expect the Corey Knebel of the past right away?
It was early on in the spring training of 2019 that Brewers reliever Corey Knebel was shutdown with right elbow discomfort. In early April, Knebel had season-ending Tommy John surgery and missed the entire 2019 season.
Now fully healthy after the delayed start to the season, Knebel has appeared in a few of the Brewers intra-squad scrimmages with good success. So far, one takeaway is that he has displayed great command of his curveball.
Throwing the curveball for strikes has been a huge factor to Knebel’s success in the past. According to BrooksBaseball.net, Knebel’s curveball resulted in a strike 38% of the time during the 2018 season, the higher percentage of his two pitches.
Knebel’s other pitch is a high velocity fastball that comes at opposing hitters on average at 97 MPH. Knebel relies primarily on his fastball for he threw it on 70% of his pitches in 2018.
Hitters tend to swing at his fastball more than his big sweeping curve. In 2018 batters swung 51% of the time when he threw a fastball and only 33% of the time when it was a curve. To say the least, Knebel is very dependent on not only have a high velocity fastball but also placing it high in the zone to generate swings.
Throughout Summer Camp in 2020, Knebel is still working to get his fastball velocity back to normal. During his appearances his velocity has sat primarily in the 92-94 MPH range, which is down a few ticks from normal.
Despite the decrease in fastball velocity Knebel’s breaking ball has looked impressive so far, he is still recording outs, and is having success on the mound. Craig Counsell has said that opening day is within Knebel’s reach. However, his role is still unknown.
Many fans expect Knebel to challenge and/or split time with Josh Hader as the closer. A factor to monitor throughout the season may be his fastball velocity, but if Knebel can keep throwing his curveball for strikes and keep hitters off balance with a 15+ MPH difference in pitches, the decreased velocity may not be as big of a deal.
Opening day is July 24th vs the Chicago Cubs. Corey Knebel is expected to be a member of the Brewers bullpen on that date, but how Craig Counsell uses him initially will be interesting to monitor.