ARLINGTON, Texas - The season is just one day old and the reigning NL Central champs have already been dealt a big blow.
Milwaukee closer Corey Knebel has a torn ligament in his elbow and as a result, has chosen to undergo Tommy John surgery to repair it instead of the riskier option of rehab:
Brewers reliever Corey Knebel has elected to undergo Tommy John surgery next week. He will miss the 2019 season.— Adam McCalvy (@AdamMcCalvy) March 29, 2019
Knebel was presented two options: TJ surgery and miss all season, or attempt rehab and make it back sometime in summer. The risk was that if rehab didn’t work, then he would need surgery after all, and essentially miss two whole seasons. At 27 years old, made sense to do it now.— Adam McCalvy (@AdamMcCalvy) March 29, 2019
Knebel, 27, is a big part of the Brewers bullpen, breaking out with a 1.78 ERA in a league-leading 76 appearances in 2017. That included 39 saves, 11 holds and an absurd 126 strikeouts in 76 innings.
Last year, he dealt with some injuries and general ineffectiveness, even getting sent down to the minor leagues for a little over a week in August. But he was still a huge piece in the Brewers bullpen, leading the team with 16 saves and striking out 88 batters in 55.1 innings.
Knebel was absolutely lights-out following his demotion to the minor leagues. After being recalled, he did not allow a run in all of September (16.1 innings) and permitted just 8 baserunners (5 hits, 3 walks) while whiffing 33 batters. He carried that right into the postseason as he allowed only 1 run on 2 hits in 10 October innings against the Rockies and Dodgers.
Over his career, Knebel has a 2.77 ERA against the Cubs in 26 innings, striking out 38 of the 107 batters he's faced. He picked up the win in Game 163 at Wrigley Field last October.
This leaves the Brewers shorthanded in the bullpen, which was a major area of strength for the team last year. Josh Hader is still around and was his usual dominant self in Game 1 Thursday, but now Knebel won't be able to provide anything in 2019 (and who knows how he'll bounce back for 2020) and fellow high-leverage reliever Jeremy Jeffress is on the injured list with a shoulder injury.
Milwaukee also opted this spring to move up-and-coming young right-handers Corbin Burners, Brandon Woodruff and Freddy Peralta into the starting rotation, which further weakened the relief corps. All three were effective out of the bullpen down the stretch last season.
Maybe this Knebel news will push the Brewers to go out and get Craig Kimbrel, as it's been reported the team has been in talks with the elite free agent closer.