MILWAUKEE -- Ryan Braun got healthy just in time to keep his streak of Opening Days alive, and he’ll be joined by a Wisconsin native in reliever J.P. Feyereisen when the Brewers take to the foul lines for Friday’s series opener at Wrigley Field.
The Brewers’ 30-man opening roster includes six players poised to experience their first Opening Day and 12 players who are new to the organization since the end of last year’s Minor League seasons. Among both groups is Feyereisen, the native of River Falls, Wis., who particularly impressed since teams returned for Summer Camp, and who will be the first Wisconsinite to play for the Brewers since Vinny Rottino in 2008.
The Brewers’ 60-game regular-season schedule begins on Friday at 6:10 p.m. CT against the Cubs.
“In everything we're doing, it's one day at a time, and it keeps everyone on our toes,” president of baseball operations David Stearns said. “I am sure, as we've all gone through this in varying degrees, I certainly have learned to appreciate things that I took for granted about how easy things are when you're able to freely move around and freely interact, and we're all going to appreciate that when we get back to that sense of normal.”
Here's the breakdown of how the Brewers will start the season.
Narváez, acquired in an offseason trade with the Mariners, has swung the bat well in Summer Camp and says he’s right where he needs to be in terms of learning a new staff. He’ll probably get the majority of playing time, with Piña as a backup, and either Nottingham or Freitas making road trips as part of the three-man taxi squad in the event a replacement is needed.
The Brewers have newcomers all over the diamond -- and might have had one more had Urías not been sidelined all camp by an asymptomatic case of COVID-19. Smoak is likely to see most of the time at first base, with Braun and Morrison playing there occasionally or serving as the designated hitter. Hiura and Arcia are back on the middle of the diamond with new reinforcements in the third-base duo of Gyorko and Sogard and utility man Holt, who will play all over. Expect many moving parts on the infield.
Braun was a question mark after missing the entirety of the intrasquad series at Miller Park with back, neck and left oblique issues, but he returned to serve as the DH for Wednesday’s exhibition win over the White Sox and said he was ready to go. The Brewers are shifting Yelich from right field to left to accommodate the arrival of García on a two-year deal. García’s strong throwing arm makes him more of a prototypical fit in right. It'll be a solid starting trio if Yelich gets back to hitting after what was mostly a quiet camp, if Cain bounces back from what he termed disappointing offensive production in 2019 and if García, 29, can put all the tools together. And Gamel is a quite capable backup; he was one of Milwaukee’s most productive Summer Campers thanks to an amended approach at the plate.
The Brewers will open with the rotation in that order, though manager Craig Counsell cautioned not to get too hung up on the distinction between starter and reliever. Anderson will make starts as soon as the blister on his left index finger is healed. He’s eligible to come off the 10-day IL as early as July 31, the date of the Brewers’ home opener, and Lauer isn’t far behind. Lauer was seven to 10 days behind the other pitchers because of contact with a COVID-19-positive individual, though he never tested positive himself.
On active roster: Josh Hader, Corey Knebel, David Phelps, Brent Suter, Alex Claudio, Bobby Wahl, Devin Williams, Eric Yardley, Justin Grimm, J.P. Feyereisen, Mike Morin Others in player pool: The pitchers in the starters’ pool, plus Ray Black, Drew Rasmussen, Angel Perdomo, Clayton Andrews, Phil Bickford, Dylan File, Antonie Kelly
Given all the moving pieces in the pitching staff, expect an active shuttle to and from the team’s alternate training site in Appleton, Wis. The return of a healthy Knebel from a 2019 season lost to Tommy John surgery is potentially big, as it gives Counsell added flexibility in how he deploys Hader, the electric left-hander who often finds himself on the mound at the most critical moments of a game. The Brewers love using their relievers for multiple innings and have a number of options, including Hader, Suter, Williams and others.
“Everybody has looked awesome,” Yelich said. “You know, I guess you hear the talk about how we don’t have any pitching, but all of us, we don’t think that. It doesn’t really make any sense to us. We really believe in our guys out there on the mound. We think they can do a great job and have done a great job. They might not be household names yet, but we’re really confident that they’re going to give us a great chance to win every night. I’m looking forward to watching them this year.”
On the injured list (4) Anderson (blister), Black (right shoulder), Urías (COVID-19), Lauer (COVID-19)