In 2020, the Milwaukee Brewers bullpen was one of their strongest assets and a big part of how they were able to make the postseason for a franchise record third straight season. In 2021, that trend was expected to continue.
That expectation was based on the fact that a majority of that outstanding bullpen, one that finished 7th in MLB with a combined 2.8 fWAR, was returning for this season. Instead, the unit, outside of one pitcher, has been largely plagued by inconsistency.
Closer Josh Hader has been nothing short of dominant in 2021, and somehow still isn’t talked about enough. But 2021 Rookie of the Year Devin Williams has been up and down this year compared to last, as has Brent Suter and Eric Yardley, who currently resides at Triple-A Nashville.
J.P. Feyereisen was exceeding expectations to start the season and Drew Rasmussen was solid as well. But they are now in Tampa Bay as a result of the trade that brought in shortstop Willy Adames.
For the most part, outside of the main core of Hader, Williams, and Suter, as well as Brad Boxberger, who has been reliable in 2021, the rest of the bullpen has struggled, which is a big part of the unit sat 17th in MLB in both ERA (4.07) and fWAR (1.0) going into Thursday.
Whether it be from an internal or an external option, the Brewers could use a spark in the back half of their bullpen
Enter Jake Cousins, who made his Brewers and MLB debut against the Diamondbacks on Monday.
If you had 26-year-old Jake Cousins as a Brewers prospect to make his MLB debut in 2021, you would be quite the fortune teller. The 2017 20th round draft pick by the Nationals was released by them in 2019 and subsequently signed by Milwaukee hadn’t pitched about High-A before this season.
He put up a 1.91 ERA in 14 games across two levels in 2019, then played independent ball in the lost 2020 minor league season. He would get a 2021 spring training invite, giving up five earned runs over three Cactus League innings, before starting the regular season in Double-A Biloxi.
Cousins was good to start, putting up a 3.00 ERA and 1.000 WHIP with a trio of saves in eight games for the Shuckers. He was even better after a promotion to Triple-A Nashville, compiling a 2.08 ERA and 0.923 WHIP in eight more games for the Sounds.
Then came his addition to the Brewers roster. In that game on Monday, Cousins would strike out five of the eight batters he faced, his only blemishes being a walk and a hit batter. Not bad for an MLB debut.
Cousins utilizes a pitch combination that could give batters fits in a high-90s sinker and a mid-80s slider. He also threw on changeup on Monday that sat right around 90 mph. That’s a pitch mix that will play in any bullpen in the league.
It’s only been one outing from a pitcher with no MLB experience to speak of, so it’s impossible to know whether Cousins will be able to successfully make such a fast jump to the majors. But if he does, it could be just the spark that the bullpen needs.