Inbox: How will Counsell handle pitching staffs?

Beat reporter Adam McCalvy tackles fan questions about baseball's new rules for 2020

July 1st, 2020

The past week has been a crash course in player pools, alternate training sites and a bevy of other changes in MLB as the league attempts a 60-game regular season in 2020. With Summer Camps opening on Wednesday for COVID-19 testing and physical exams -- the Brewers’ first workouts aren’t until Saturday -- it seemed a good time to check the Inbox. I tried to stick to a rapid-fire approach to cover as many topics as possible, starting with two similar questions.

What might we see in terms of how teams manage their pitching staffs in a 60-game season? Could the Brewers’ focus on relievers be an advantage? -- @merkin_peter on Twitter

Rather than extend out the starters, do we see Craig Counsell use “out-getters” for the entire season? If you take a 15-game stretch (quarter of the season) with Brandon Woodruff pitching six innings every five days vs three innings every three days, he comes out to three fewer innings pitched but he appears in two more games. -- @NickCorrigall on Twitter

I’m starting with an “I don’t know” kind of question because I’m intrigued by pitching management over a 60-game season. Manager Craig Counsell said two important things during his first Zoom meeting with reporters since the restart: One, he anticipates carrying 16 or 17 pitchers on the initial 30-man Opening Day roster, which roughly equals the number of arms he’s had in recent Septembers, and two, he will have to ascertain each pitcher’s readiness once camp gets underway before forming any plans. Remember, rosters start at 30, then go down to 28 players after two weeks and to 26 players two weeks after that.

So it’s safe to say that the first month of this season will be managed differently than the first month of a “normal” season. How dramatic will the difference be? Will the Brewers or some other team try something unique with their starters? I just don’t know yet. One other important thing: Counsell sounded pleased with the work put in by his pitchers during baseball’s pause.

“We have a bunch of guys that are much further along than I anticipated, so I’m not as concerned about that as I would have originally thought when we departed in mid-March,” Counsell said. “They’ve all been throwing on a regular schedule. They’ve all been throwing to hitters. Now, the challenge when we ramp up intensity, what does recovery look like? That’s probably the thing I’ll think about the most.”

In the new 60 player pool, is a non-roster invitee facing the two options of making the 40-man roster or being cut? Or is there a third option? With nine non-roster invitees, what is your over/under for how many will stick? -- @DonnyTPS on Twitter

My colleague Mark Feinsand wrote an excellent primer on roster rules for this season, and I would recommend everyone give it a read. There is indeed a third option: Players in the 60-player pool who don’t make the 30-man Opening Day roster remain in the pool and will stay sharp at the Brewers’ alternate training site in Appleton, Wis. The Brewers already optioned one member of the 40-man roster, outfielder Tyrone Taylor, to the alternate-site roster after deciding not to invite him to camp at Miller Park. Note that the alternate-site roster is not the taxi squad. The taxi squad consists of the up to three players from the alternate training site who will travel with the team on each road trip in the event a replacement is needed (to avoid commercial air travel as much as possible). When the team returns home, those three players return to Appleton.

It’s all new, and a little confusing. It will take all of us some time to get comfortable with these rules.

As for non-roster invitees on the initial 30-man roster, put me down for 1.5 as the over/under to start. Remember, those players still must be added to the 40-man roster to be eligible for the big league club.

Any explanation for the Brewers' decision to withhold some of the names included on the 60-man player pool they’ve already submitted to MLB? -- @CreamCityPro on Twitter

The Brewers did not withhold any names. They opted to start with 45 players in their 60-man player pool and announced them all -- the players invited to Summer Camp at Miller Park, the ones most likely to make up the Opening Day roster. The other 15 spots are open at the moment, and teams can add as long as there are openings. A few other teams also opted to do it this way, waiting to add players at a later date when alternate training sites open.

With 30 players initially on the roster, is there a limit for the amount of pitchers that can be on the 30 man? For example, can the Crew keep the normal 4-5 bench bats, and have, like, 16 pitchers? -- @CarsonS_97 on Twitter

Unlike the initial plan for 2020, in which active rosters were to expand from 25 to 26 with a limit of 13 pitchers, there are no rules regulating the pitcher-hitter breakdown for this season.

Are the guys at Appleton just going to work out, or will they have intrasquad games? Seems like something resembling competition would be helpful in case of callups. -- @hemming_hawing on Twitter

Not just in Appleton -- expect a lot of intrasquad games at Miller Park during Summer Camp, Counsell said. The Brewers are planning batting practice sessions beginning Saturday on Day 1, so it won’t be long before players are getting back into game mode. MLB’s regulations allow for up to three exhibition games before Opening Day, and no team wants to wait that long to get into game mode. 

Any chance Mike Felder will be brought in to be the extra-innings runner on second base? -- @GormansTapRoom on Twitter

I don’t see Felder making the cut, but I like Keon Broxton’s chances a bit better. Just like a normal September, expanded rosters open room for specialists, and it would be nice to plant the speedy Broxton at second base to begin a 10th inning.

Does Ryan Braun see a lot of defensive reps? Or do you think it’s DH strictly? -- @tanner_degrave on Twitter

On paper, Braun looks most likely to lead the 2020 Brewers in at-bats as the designated hitter. But I don’t think he will appear “strictly” as the DH. I think we’ll see Counsell install a number of players in that spot in an effort to keep everyone fresh for what is still a grind – 60 games in 66 days or so.

How is Corey Knebel doing? Is there any specific timeframe for him? -- @skg_18 on Twitter

As of late last week, the Brewers had a full, healthy complement of players. Knebel, however, does need to face some hitters to make sure he’s all the way back from missing last year due to Tommy John surgery. But I would anticipate him being on the Opening Day roster.

If a home team wins a game in their final at-bat, will fans see a celebration at home plate? -- @frank_coz on Twitter

Theoretically, no. And that will be one of the very weird things about this season. The teams that most strictly adhere to the protocols laid out by their teams and MLB figure to have the best chances of staying healthy. That will require tremendous focus and commitment, because everyone’s instinct will be to mob the hero.

Over/under 30 appearances for Josh Hader this season? -- @JTabaska on Twitter

Do you think Hader is used more often because of the shortened season? Possibly fewer multi-inning appearances so he can be used in more games? -- @Ted_Dongelman on Twitter

Counsell has explained many times that it’s not the innings that are at issue, it’s the back-to-back appearances. Experience says that Hader is most dominant when coming off a rest day, so the team developed a usage pattern of stretching him multiple innings and giving him days off in between. Considering he was the National League Reliever of the Year each of the past two seasons, I don’t see that strategy changing. So, without a doubt, give me the under.

Do you need to be tested, Adam? -- @RealTimcy on Twitter

Reporters are not part of the testing protocols. We will enter and exit the stadium separate from the players, coaches and other on-field personnel. We won’t even set foot on the clubhouse level of Miller Park this year. The plan is designed to limit to a bare minimum those who come in contact with players.

When are they going to release the schedule? -- @IowaBrewers on Twitter

All I can say is, as soon as the schedule is out, you’ll see it on the site.

The Brewers had some amazing celebrations planned for their 50th anniversary. Clearly a lot of effort went into commemorating each decade for a week. Has there been any word on if the Brewers will move these events to next season or what will be done? -- @cdrkbab on Twitter

I’ve heard chatter about this, but no firm plans yet. I was really looking forward to seeing all of the former players at Miller Park in 2020, and I’ve heard from several of them that they were looking forward to attending. I think it’s a great idea to hold the same events on a belated basis at American Family Field in 2021.

Will they make a new video to lighten the mood? -- @NeisesTom on Twitter

I’m no good at seeing into the future, but I think they were working on something in Spring Training, so…

Is everyone still in the best shape of their lives? -- @CarsonS_97

You can be sure I’ll ask. Once I settle on a gimmick, I tend to beat it to death.