How will Brewers structure the bullpen without Williams?

March 14th, 2024

PHOENIX -- The Brewers will open their season two weeks from Thursday in New York without their closer , who has been shut down due to a back injury.

Williams, winner of the Trevor Hoffman National League Reliever of the Year Award last season, has been diagnosed with two stress fractures in his back and will not throw for the next six weeks, general manager Matt Arnold said Thursday. Beyond that, the team did not set a timetable for his return.

“Any time you lose a pitcher the caliber of Devin, it is always a tough loss,” Arnold said. “I don’t think there is any way to replace that, necessarily, but we have a lot of guys we believe in in our group and somebody is going to take a step forward.”

It will not be easy. Williams dominated in his first season as the full-time closer last year after taking over from Josh Hader, going 8-3 with a 1.53 ERA and 36 saves as part of a Brewers bullpen that posted an NL-best 3.40 ERA.

Williams’ successor will be the Brewers’ third Opening Day closer in the past three years. Williams inherited the role after Hader was traded to San Diego late in the 2022 season.

Right-handers and appear to be the chief ninth-inning candidates from a group of bullpen arms that also include Hoby Milner, Elvis Peguero, Trevor Megill and Bryse Wilson.

“It’s all part of it,” manager Pat Murphy said. "You’re going to get dealt some cards that are not face cards. You are going to get some low ones sometimes. This hurts. Immensely."

Murphy does not want to immediately name a replacement closer, though Uribe seems most likely to get the first look because of his elite power arm. The 23-year-old was 1-0 with one save and a 1.76 ERA in 32 appearances after being promoted July 8 following stops at Double-A Biloxi and Triple-A Nashville last season.

His fastball has been clocked at 103 mph, and he was used in high leverage situations down the stretch as the Brewers clinched the NL Central title. Six of Uribe’s eight holds last year came during an eight-day stretch in mid-September, when he was primarily used in the seventh inning.

“He’s certainly a candidate to get significant outs for us at the end,” Murphy acknowledged.

Payamps, 29, had 27 holds last season, tied for third in the NL; Peguero had 21, and Milner had 17.

Leverage situations, Murphy added, could dictate late-game usage, too.

“You might be better off being a little situational about it,” Murphy said. “‘OK, leverage right now is the seventh. The biggest leverage right now is the eighth.’ Worry about the ninth if we get there.”

How long the Brewers will need to cover the ninth inning will be determined by how quickly Williams can recover. Williams entered Spring Training with residual stiffness in his back, Murphy said, “but he didn’t believe it was very serious. After further review, he kind of put a halt to it.”