Notes: Knebel returns; Smoak to market

September 9th, 2020

Brewers reliever came off the 10-day injured list for Tuesday’s 8-3 loss to the Tigers and delivered a clean eighth inning on seven pitches, giving the former All-Star closer a chance to continue his comeback from Tommy John surgery.

Knebel, who missed all of the 2019 season following right elbow surgery, was on the Brewers’ 2020 Opening Day roster but posted a 2.25 WHIP and surrendered four home runs in 6 2/3 innings over nine appearances before Milwaukee placed him on the IL with a left hamstring strain.

“The hope is that getting his legs back under him, having his legs firing on all cylinders and just having a little more time with his arm, that he can have a good last couple of weeks,” Brewers manager Craig Counsell said. “We’ll have to ease him back into it a little bit, but that’s still a reasonable hope for us that he can be a big factor the last couple of weeks.”

After taking some time to calm the hamstring issue, which either contributed to or resulted from some bad habits as he shook off the rust from a long layoff without the benefit of the usual Minor League rehab assignment, Knebel pitched at least twice at the Brewers’ alternate training site while on the IL. He has been traveling with Milwaukee throughout its road trip awaiting activation, and also threw a bullpen on Sunday at Cleveland.

“The first month and a half of the season was my rehab process,” Knebel said. “Personally, I felt like I had some pretty good outings, but there were some pretty bad outings. That’s part of the Tommy John rehab process, I guess. … You could see my leg going further and further [across the mound] and throwing more and more across my body. I guess it was just bad habits on myself.

“Now I kind of have more adjustments to look at. Keep moving forward and everything will work out.”

The Brewers might have activated Knebel sooner, but a spate of minor injuries to position players -- , , and over the weekend, -- delayed the move because the team didn’t want to be caught short of hitters.

With those issues all trending in the right direction as of Tuesday, the Brewers optioned utility man back to the alternate site to clear a spot on the active roster for Knebel.

“If you end on a good note … there’s a lot of positives that come out of that, and it’s a good confidence-builder when we meet back up for Spring Training again,” Knebel said. “Hopefully I can finish these last three weeks of the regular season strong and we’ll see what we can do in the postseason.”

Smoak hits open market
Five days after designating for assignment, the Brewers formally released the veteran first baseman on Tuesday after no other team claimed him on waivers. Even if he signs with another team, Milwaukee owes Smoak a $1 million buyout of his $5.5 million club option for 2021.

It was the second instance in which the Brewers cut their losses with a slumping veteran. When they released utility man Brock Holt in August, they owed a $750,000 buyout of his $5 million club option for 2021. Holt was 3-for-30 (.100) with the Brewers. Smoak was 21-for-113 (.186).

“I think we all were [surprised],” Gyorko said. “[Smoak] was one of the guys I hung out with the most. He’s just a great guy, a guy that’s been around. It’s tough to see him go. He was a great clubhouse presence.

“Obviously, when the organization decides it wants to go in another direction, that’s just how it is. It’s never easy. You see this happen every year. Guys get released every single year. It’s just a part of it. But it always stings a little bit.”

Gyorko stood to gain at-bats at first base after the Brewers cut Smoak loose, but he was sidelined over the weekend after aggravating a sore foot.

Last call
• García was back in center field on Tuesday against the Tigers after missing more time with a stiff hamstring, which he developed in his first game back from a sprained ankle. The Brewers are hoping that García has had enough time to clear those minor ailments so he can contribute to an offense that needs every productive bat it can get.

“I think you’ll see more of Ryan [Braun] starting [Wednesday], and I think Avi, at least health-wise, we’re in a pretty good place,” Counsell said. “We’re definitely going to need those guys to produce.”

• Counsell wasn’t ready to say whether would rejoin the rotation on Sunday against the Cubs or at some point during the team’s subsequent series against the Cardinals -- five games in three days. But Lindblom, who owns a 6.25 ERA after appearing out of the bullpen on Sunday, will rejoin the rotation, Counsell confirmed.

• Wednesday’s 12:10 p.m. CT game against the Tigers will air exclusively on YouTube. The broadcast will include commentary by Scott Braun, Dan Plesac and Sean Casey, while Jon Morosi will report live from the ballpark. Counsell and Brandon Woodruff will take part in mid-game interviews.