Though there were bumps and bruises along the way, the Milwaukee Brewers got through spring training largely avoiding big injuries to any major contributors for the 2021 season. But that was before last weekend was finished.
Hard-throwing reliever Justin Topa was pulled from a simulated game on Saturday with elbow discomfort and the next day it would be announced, amid a series of roster news, that he would begin the season on the injured list. Hope among the team and fans was that his IL stay would be brief.
Unfortunately, it turns out that Topa’s elbow injury is a pretty serious one and it will result in him missing a good portion of the start of the 2021 season per Adam McCalvy of MLB.com.
Not only is this obviously a huge blow for Topa, who was looking to make the first Opening Day roster of his career and was on track to do exactly that, but it’s quite the hit to a bullpen that looks to be brutal to opposing hitters this season.
Justin Topa will miss a significant amount of time, but the news could be worse and there’s a good chance he still contributes for the Brewers in 2021.
The news of an elbow injury for Topa brings immediate fear for a reason. He’s had Tommy John surgery twice, which is just a small part of what makes his backstory so amazing and what makes fans pull so hard for him.
Thankfully, if this elbow injury will, in fact, be able to be resolved via just rehab, then Topa may have avoided would could have been a career-ending injury. And that’s a good thing considering the Brewers probably have big plans for him in the team’s bullpen.
After giving up two earned runs in his debut outing for the Brewers in 2020, Topa didn’t give up another earned run in his final five appearances. He’d been roughed up in some Cactus League outings, but still had a solid shot at making the Opening Day roster due to his pure stuff.
Topa’s bread and butter is a high 90s sinking fastball. He mixes that with a slider that has plenty of movement and is a pitch on which he didn’t give up a hit last year in his limited playing time. It’s the type of mix that plays well in high leverage situations.
As a team, the Brewers should be able to weather the storm. Pitchers like Drew Rasmussen, J.P. Feyereisen, and Ray Black should be able to compliment former NL Relievers of the Year Josh Hader and Devin Williams while pitchers like Angel Perdomo and the recently returned Brad Boxberger will be waiting in the wings.
That pitching depth was already going to be important for the Brewers in a return to a full 162-game slate and will be even more valuable now. It won’t include Topa at the beginning, but that will be a heck of a boost to the bullpen down the road in 2021.