MILWAUKEE -- Devin Williams has the stuff to be a big league closer, and now he has the opportunity.
The Brewers placed All-Star closer Josh Hader on the COVID-19 injured list on Monday, making Williams the leading contender to handle ninth-inning duties out of a bullpen that is suddenly depleted. After putting outfielder Christian Yelich on the COVID-19 IL at the start of last week, the Brewers subsequently added right-handed relievers Jake Cousins and Hunter Strickland over the weekend after they tested positive for the virus, and another reliever, Jandel Gustave, due to contact tracing.
Now, Hader as well.
“We’re going to miss [Hader] when he’s gone, but I think I’m up for the challenge of filling in for him as best as I can,” Williams said. “It’s the same game. That’s my mindset.”
Asked whether he was worried about the Brewers’ continued brushes with COVID-19, Williams said, “Everyone that’s had to step up has done it so far. I think that’s probably been the biggest key for our team and the success that we’ve had. Every time we lose a guy, the guy that comes in does the same thing or maybe even better.”
Unlike Yelich, Cousins and Strickland, who were tested for COVID-19 because they reported symptoms, according to the club, Hader was tested as a result of the intake process that greets players on game days. When he reported being in close contact with an individual who had COVID-like symptoms, that triggered a test. Hader tested positive.
As with last week’s cases, the Brewers are strictly adhering to MLB protocols when it comes to navigating the pandemic. Cousins, Strickland and Gustave stayed behind when Hader and the rest of the team traveled home Sunday night after a week-long road trip to Pittsburgh and Atlanta.
“I am heartened that the vast majority of our roster is vaccinated, and that we are dealing with a healthy segment of the population,” Brewers president of baseball operations David Stearns said. “But from a competitive standpoint, we’ve got a ‘drip,’ and we have to manage it the best we can and hopefully stop it, and in the meantime, put as competitive a team on the field as we possibly can.”
Stearns said that Hader was feeling well. The Brewers elected not to share Hader’s vaccination status.
The Brewers were among the earliest teams to reach the 85 percent vaccination threshold in May, allowing for relaxed protocols in public spaces.
Are those protocols tightening again, in light of the recent positives?
“A little, yeah,” Counsell said. “We're trying to kind of get guys away from each other when we can. We sent some guys home the other night that we knew were going to be involved in the game. We'll continue to do that in order to separate guys. …
“The symptoms the guys are experiencing are fairly minor. We check in with them and have had no real health scares with them, so we feel like we're in a good place there. Obviously, losing players fairly regularly hurts and makes it challenging.”
The Brewers did get Jace Peterson back from the COVID-19 IL on Monday after he spent the mandatory seven days sidelined as a close contact of Yelich. Peterson said he tested negative for COVID-19 throughout the week.
There’s optimism that Yelich won’t be far behind. Wednesday is the last of his mandatory 10 days on the IL, and he has been doing much better. Assuming no resumption of symptoms, he will undergo testing on Wednesday, and if he tests negative, Yelich will be cleared to rejoin the team on Thursday. The Brewers may give Yelich “a little ramp-up period,” Stearns said, before activating him from the IL.
They’ll keep their fingers crossed for a similarly smooth 10 days for Hader.
“He’s a big part of our team,” Stearns said. “Hopefully it’s just for 10 days and then we can get him back, but while he’s not here, we’ll miss him.”