CINCINNATI -- Stone cold logic has dictated the Brewers’ pitching strategy throughout their magical month of September. Just ask any of the starters, who begin looking over their shoulders toward the bullpen once they approach the end of their second turn through an opposing order.
But in the ninth inning of Wednesday’s postseason clincher, logic took a back seat to sentimentality.
“I was fired up to have Junior out there,” Brewers manager Craig Counsell said. “I thought it was cool because it was David’s first move ever, and five years later a waiver claim is still here and he’s on the mound pitching in a game that means so much.”
Junior is Junior Guerra, the journeyman right-hander who pitched all over the world before landing in Milwaukee. And David is Brewers president of baseball operations David Stearns, who claimed Guerra off waivers from the White Sox on Oct. 7, 2015 -- the third official day of Stearns’ tenure.
“It was a little sentimental on my part,” Counsell said, “but I thought it was really cool.”
It was also fitting, since Guerra as much as any pitcher on the Brewers’ bulging September staff typifies the “anyone, anytime” mentality that has contributed to the team’s second straight sprint to the finish. Guerra has pitched in every role imaginable, from Opening Day starter in 2017 to struggling swingman in 2018 to steady, high-leverage reliever in 2019. Wednesday marked his 70th appearance, most among the team’s right-handers.
Guerra hasn’t pitched with many seven-run leads this season, but he didn’t ask any questions when Counsell called for him in a 9-2 game against the Reds.
“If he needs me to be batboy, I’ll be batboy,” Guerra said. “I don’t care. I just want to help the team win games. Start, reliever, middle of the game, late in the game. I’ll be ready for it.”
Guerra’s first celebratory hug came from first baseman Eric Thames after the game-ending groundout. Thames was another Stearns’ first: His first multi-year free agent acquisition.
“Junior has been a journeyman but he’s a big part of this team,” Thames said. “That’s really cool that he went out there for that inning. Hopefully he’s out there a few more times this year.”
“For me,” Guerra said, “it was really important because it was the last out of the game that we made the postseason. For me, it’s special.”
Pitching plan flexible
The Brewers filled in one of blanks in their probable pitchers by tabbing Zach Davies for the opening game of the final series of the regular season on Friday at Colorado. But it was still “TBA” on Saturday and Sunday.
The uncertainty was tied to their chances to win the NL Central. Mathematically, the Cardinals could clinch as early as Friday, which would shift the Brewers’ focus to the Wild Card Game. But the value of winning the division and avoiding that single elimination game is so high that the Brewers will keep pushing as long as they have a chance.
One and maybe two pitchers are most impacted. Brandon Woodruff is preparing for now to start Saturday in what would be his third outing off an oblique injury. Depending on the Brewers’ position after Friday’s game, a decision will have to be made about whether to rest Woodruff for a potential Wild Card Game.
And conversely, if the Brewers have a chance to clinch the division or tie the Cardinals on Sunday, might they consider starting second-half stalwart Jordan Lyles on short rest in the regular season finale? To be determined.
“Every day brings more information,” Counsell said. “And as we get more information, we make our decisions.”
• Christian Yelich and broadcaster Bob Uecker headed home to Milwaukee on Thursday, Yelich to continue rehabbing his right knee and Uecker to honor his doctors’ preference that he skip a trip to high-altitude Denver if possible. Both were prominent figures in Wednesday night’s celebration.