ST. LOUIS -- In a devastating blow for a team with World Series hopes predicated on pitching, the Brewers placed Devin Williams on the 10-day injured list on Wednesday with a fractured right hand, which the ace setup man suffered from punching a wall in the hours following Sunday’s National League Central-clinching win over the Mets.
Williams will begin the postseason on the IL for the second straight year and while there is “an outside chance,” president of baseball operations David Stearns said, that Williams could pitch by the World Series, he first needs surgery to install a plate in his hand to help heal the fracture. Last season, Williams suffered a right shoulder injury during the final week of the regular season and missed the NL Wild Card Series against the Dodgers.
This time, the Brewers are lined up to play the Braves or Phillies in the NL Division Series without Williams, the reigning NL Rookie of the Year Award winner who posted a 2.50 ERA and 87 strikeouts in 54 innings this season with a changeup so nasty it has its own nickname: "The Airbender."
Williams addressed teammates on Tuesday afternoon to tell them what happened. He said he had too much to drink and got upset about something on the ride home. He later punched a wall with his pitching hand.
“I’m pretty upset with myself. There’s no one to blame but me,” he said. “I feel like I’ve let my team down, our coaching staff, our fans, everyone. I know how important of a role I play on this team and a lot of people count on me.”
Williams did not specify what angered him in that moment, but he was not involved in any altercation on Sunday, Stearns said.
The news came as a shock to the entire clubhouse, including Williams himself. The Brewers were off Monday and Williams did not realize he had a problem until he tried to play catch on Tuesday afternoon in St. Louis as the Brewers prepared to begin their final road trip of the regular season.
He alerted members of Milwaukee’s medical staff and underwent an X-ray at Busch Stadium that revealed the fracture. Stearns said the Brewers would do everything in their power to expedite surgery to give Williams a fighting chance to pitch again this season, but conceded that it’s a long shot.
"I think Devin is motivated and certainly we are motivated to do everything we can to accelerate this as much as possible," Stearns said. "We also understand we've got a finite time frame here.
"The most likely outcome is this will end Devin's season, but I think everyone is invested in doing everything possible so that if we move this along, perhaps there's a chance he'll be available for the World Series."
Said Williams: "I didn't initially think it was going to be that serious. I tried to throw through it, but I wasn't able to."
In Wednesday’s players-only meeting, Williams said teammates expressed that “they have my back.”
“It’s not that he’s put the team in a bad position, because I think we have a ton of quality guys who can step up and that’s the cool part of it,” Brewers starter Brandon Woodruff said. “But I know personally he feels terrible, and you have to feel for him because he’s had a phenomenal year and he’s been our setup guy. It just happened at a sucky time.”
How does Brewers manager Craig Counsell process the fact that this loss is so self-inflicted?
“I don't, really,” he said. “It means a player's unavailable and I'm moving forward. I'm looking forward to the playoffs. I can't wait for them to get started. It's really unfortunate that Devin's not going to be a part of it, and we're all upset by it, certainly, but I'm still looking forward to the playoffs.”
“If you judge any person by their worst moment,” Stearns said, “we aren’t going to like what we see in any of us. And we’re not going to judge Devin by this moment.”
Williams is not the first pitcher to lose his temper and lose a bout with a wall. It happened just this year in Milwaukee, when Braves right-hander Huascar Ynoa punched the padded bench in the visitors’ dugout at American Family Field and fractured his hand. He missed six weeks before beginning a Minor League rehab assignment.
“I think that happens a lot more than people know about," Woodruff said.
As famously depicted in the film "Bull Durham," don’t they teach pitchers to punch with the opposite hand?
“They do,” Woodruff said. “But when you get ticked off and you’re seeing red, you just don’t think. If you’re going to do anything in our job, especially as a pitcher, do it with you off-hand. But I feel for Devin. That’s tough.”