Lindblom eager for new opportunity with Crew

December 16th, 2019

MILWAUKEE -- went to pitch in South Korea five years ago expecting to finish his career there. But after harnessing a split-fingered fastball and dominating the league in each of the past two seasons, Major League teams, including the Brewers, opened their doors again.

Lindblom opted to step through them.

“If it wasn’t this year,” he said, “it wasn’t going to be ever.”

Lindbloom, the reigning Korea Baseball Organization MVP and two-time winner of that league’s version of the Cy Young Award, finalized a three-year contract with Milwaukee at Miller Park on Monday. At 32 years old, and with new perspective on and off the field, he joins a team in the midst of a starting rotation makeover but intent on making the postseason for a third straight year in 2020.

“I’m not getting any younger,” Lindbloom said. “Every day you show up to the ballpark, you get one day closer to the end of your career. So, coming back now with my kids and my family, it was the right time.”

Lindblom’s wife, Aurielle, was about to give birth to the couple’s first child when the opportunity in Asia first presented itself in 2014. Lindblom had 24 hours to decide. He accepted, beginning a five-year run (interrupted briefly by a stint with the Pirates in 2017) in which Lindblom went 63-34 with a 3.55 ERA for Lotte and Doosan. The last two years, armed with that splitter and better feel for the rest of his offspeed arsenal, Lindblom went 35-7 with a 2.68 ERA. In 2019, he was 20-3 with a 2.50 ERA.

The KBO is not MLB, but a combination of technology and old-fashioned scouting offered clues that led Brewers president of baseball operations David Stearns to believe that Lindblom’s stuff will play for in Milwaukee. The Brewers traded away nearly 300 innings in sending Chase Anderson to Toronto and Zach Davies to San Diego in deals meant to maximize payroll, and also lost second-half star Jordan Lyles to free agency. Stearns replaced them with left-hander via trade and Lindblom and fellow veteran via free agency.

Those pitchers will join and in the rotation, with others like , and among the backup options to make starts when needed.

“I’m never going to close the door on adding more. I’m never going to close the door on adding depth,” Stearns said. “But I would say that if we were going to go into the season today, we feel good about where we are.”

Lindblom is eager for the challenge. Besides the opportunity to play for a contender, he said he views the Brewers as a team that makes pitchers better. One example was Lyles, who was struggling with the Pirates when the Brewers acquired him last July before finishing so strong (7-1 with a 2.45 ERA in 11 starts in Milwaukee) that he earned a two-year deal from the Rangers.

“You look at me in 2015, even the year before when I was here [in the U.S.], I’m not the same guy I was,” Lindblom said. “I continued to refine, continued to develop, continued to just get better. Facing players in Asia provides some different challenges [from] the way guys hit. I knew I needed to adapt. … With there being only 10 teams, you’re facing the same guys over and over and over again. You need to be able to give different looks. You need to be able to change our game plan. You can’t do the same thing over and over again.

“Adding the split, turning my slider into a cutter to induce weak contact, those are all things I needed to do to be consistent and be able to perform over there.”

There was also development off the field. Lindblom, a native of Indiana, became a father three times over during his tenure in Asia. One of his daughters, Monroe, was born with a heart defect and has required multiple surgeries.

"She’s doing great today," Lindblom said. All three of the couple’s kids were on hand to see their dad join a very short list of players to don the Brewers’ new cream-colored uniform.

“I haven’t taken the most direct route to sitting next to David [Stearns],” he said. “Learning through those things has made me who I am as a player, who I am as a person. When you don’t just look at Xs and Os, there is something behind the stats that I can offer. There are young guys that I can help. This is about a team winning and coming together. Hopefully I can be a part of that.”