PITTSBURGH -- The Brewers hope that hard-worked closer Corey Knebel got just the break he needed to finish the season strong.
By circumstance, Knebel had been exempt from the Brewers' recent reliance on bullpen days, appearing on Monday for the first time in six days -- and only the fifth time in 17 days -- to lock down a 3-0 win over the Pirates at PNC Park that improved Milwaukee's place in the standings, within two games of a Wild Card spot, and 3 1/2 off the division lead.
Knebel has converted 20 consecutive save chances, been unscored upon in 23 of his last 24 games and, with 36 saves and 12 regular-season games to go, is within striking distance of the fourth year in franchise history of 40-plus saves.
"Our games the last three weeks have allowed Corey and [setup man Anthony Swarzak] to be on a more normalized schedule," manager Craig Counsell said. "Their usage -- we're fine. They're ready to take it on their shoulders.
"We've played some good winning games where we've scored a bunch of runs, and we've played some losses where we got behind early. It's been a good stretch for them. They're in a great spot to finish up really strong."
That was a concern of Counsell's earlier in the summer as Knebel racked up appearances at a furious rate. He pitched 15 times in August and again on Sept. 1, his 65th appearance in the Brewers' 134th game. That was a pace for 79 appearances. Only two pitchers in Brewers history -- lefty Ray King in 2001 (82 games) and righty Ken Sanders in 1971 (83 games) -- have pitched that often.
Knebel said all along that he felt strong, but Counsell and his coaches knew they were taking a risk, especially since Knebel was limited to 35 appearances in 2016 because of an oblique injury early in the season.
"Lately, they've been scoring a lot of runs and keeping me out of there," Knebel said. "It has its ups and downs. You never want to be the guy who's not getting in there because we're not going good. I've been getting some good rest. I'm feeling good now."
This is Knebel's first season as a Major League closer, a role he filled at the University of Texas. He took over ninth-inning duties in May after the Brewers removed Neftali Feliz from the role after a period of struggle. Knebel was good enough, quickly enough, that he made the National League All-Star team.
He set records along the way. His 45 consecutive appearances with a strikeout from April 3 to July 15 broke Hall of Famer Bruce Sutter's single-season record.
"I would say, I guess, that I expected it," Knebel said. "I just came in and embraced the role."