MILWAUKEE -- Before a low-stress, 7-2 win over the Nationals on Sunday, the Brewers had not won a game without using All-Star closer Corey Knebel since Aug. 5 at Tampa Bay. But that gets an asterisk, since he was off-limits that day. To find the last time Knebel was available
MILWAUKEE -- Before a low-stress, 7-2 win over the Nationals on Sunday, the Brewers had not won a game without using All-Star closer Corey Knebel since Aug. 5 at Tampa Bay. But that gets an asterisk, since he was off-limits that day. To find the last time Knebel was available to pitch and the Brewers won without using him, one had to go all the way back to July 25 at Washington, and an 8-0 Brewers win.
That bit of trivia, raised by manager Craig Counsell on Sunday during a discussion of Knebel's heavy workload, reflected the Brewers' propensity to play close games. Counsell expects the habit to continue, which is why he was standing by the decision to stay away from Knebel on Saturday night as a one-run lead evaporated in the eighth inning of a 3-2 loss to Washington.
"It is a little of the battle and the war decision," Counsell said.
The Brewers have played more close games than any team in the Majors -- 93 decided by three or fewer runs (the Giants were second with 89), and 71 games decided by two or fewer runs (tied with the Blue Jays).
That means more than half of the games Counsell has managed this season (71 of 138) could have swung on a bloop hit and a homer. The Brewers also entered Sunday tied for fifth in one-run games, with 40. The Phillies lead the way with 50.
"We have enough games left, to me, that he needs rest," Counsell said. "We need to keep him at this level as best we can. It's not fun saying he is not going to pitch, believe me. He wants to pitch. But we have to be prudent in how we use him to get the most out of him for the next -- hopefully -- six or eight weeks."
Only one Major League reliever entered the day with more appearances than Knebel's 65: Juan Nicasio, the Pirates-turned-Phillies right-hander had pitched 66 times. Entering Saturday, when he was deemed off-limits, Knebel had pitched three straight days and five times in seven days. He logged saves in all of those games, three of them one-run games, including a long-harrowing ninth inning at Dodger Stadium on Aug. 27.
Knebel has risen to the challenge to the tune of 15.17 strikeouts per nine innings entering Sunday, good for third in MLB. His 13 saves in a scoreless August set a franchise record for saves in any calendar month, and earned Knebel National League Reliever of the Month honors on Sunday.
On Saturday afternoon, Counsell decided it was time for a break.
"You have to decide before the game. You don't let the moment decide it," Counsell said. "You are doing the right thing for the team, and you are doing the right thing for the player. Corey wants to be out there. He's lobbying to be out there, believe me. You look at the last three days, you look at the last week, you look at the last two weeks, it has been heavy. …
"It just speaks to the nature of our games. We still have a month worth of games left. We want him to be available for as many as he can be. And he will be. If he is going to pitch in the bulk of these games, there are some games we still have to say it is a day off for Corey."
Adam McCalvy has covered the Brewers for MLB.com since 2001. Follow him on Twitter @AdamMcCalvy and like him on Facebook.