COVID protocols sideline trio of relievers

Cousins, Strickland test positive; Gustave deemed close contact

July 31st, 2021

ATLANTA -- The Brewers placed relievers and on the COVID-19 injured list on Saturday and plan to add a third reliever, , on Sunday after Cousins and Strickland reported symptoms of the virus and subsequently were confirmed positive. Gustave was deemed a close contact per MLB’s tracing protocols.

It marks the Brewers’ second brush with COVID-19 this week, after left fielder Christian Yelich had symptoms and tested positive on Monday and utility man Jace Peterson also landed on the IL due to contact tracing.

As a result of Cousins, Strickland and Gustave being unavailable to pitch, the Brewers played one man short against the Braves on Saturday night. Two new Brewers relievers -- left-hander Daniel Norris and right-hander John Curtiss, both of whom were acquired in trades the day before -- were added to the active roster in time for the game.

Asked if he was concerned about a recent spate of COVID-19 positives around MLB, including Marlins manager Don Mattingly on Saturday, Brewers manager Craig Counsell said, “I think we’re trying to keep moving forward, so I wouldn’t say that, no. I think this is something that’s happening. You can’t be completely prepared for it. Today, we frankly got a little bit lucky that we had a couple players [joining us] here. ... COVID is still around us, so we have to understand that. Everybody’s doing their best, but obviously, like we’ve talked about before, it’s challenging.”

Cousins and Strickland were both vaccinated, Counsell said, but were tested for COVID-19 after reporting symptoms.

Of the three, only Cousins pitched in Friday’s comeback win over the Braves, dealing a scoreless seventh inning to continue a dominant start to his Major League career: Thirteen appearances spanning 14 1/3 innings, no earned runs, four hits, five walks, 20 strikeouts.

Welcome to the new guys
Norris was in the Tigers' weight room when Detroit manager A.J. Hinch came to tell him he’d been traded. Curtiss was in the outfield in Miami with the other Marlins relievers when he watched Mattingly approach.

“There was a group of us it could have been, and we were kind of standing in a line,” Curtiss said. “We were all looking at him, like, ‘Who’s it going to be?’ I didn’t know if it was going to be [Dylan] Floro or [Richard] Bleier, and he said, ‘J.C., come here.’ I said, ‘Where?’ And he said Milwaukee.”

Curtiss pitched twice against the Brewers for the Marlins in 2021, taking a loss on April 27 in Milwaukee and then allowing a two-run home run to Avisaíl García in a May 8 game in Miami.

“I’ve been helping this team since April,” Curtiss joked. “I’m thrilled, honestly. I couldn’t be more excited to be coming into August and September baseball where it means something.”

And Norris?

“It’s hard to say goodbye abruptly like that,” he said of departing Detroit. “Obviously I’m beyond excited to be here, but goodbyes are never easy. It was heartfelt and it was genuine that I am going to miss those people, but I am very fortunate to be here with such a good team right now. The last couple of years, [trade rumors] have been out there. So whenever this time comes around every year, you’re kind of antsy.”

Norris’ story is somewhat similar to another lefty acquired by the Brewers at the Trade Deadline in 2019, Drew Pomeranz. Like Norris, he was a converted starter who found success -- and joy -- pitching as a reliever.

“I consider this my first year out of the bullpen because last year I was following [Michael] Fulmer, who was going three innings, and then I would go three innings,” Norris said. “So I kind of knew when I was going to pitch and I would do my starters’ routine. This year was a transition period of being ready to pitch every day. It was different for me. I had to really change up my workout routine and what I did to get my body ready to play every day. It took a little getting used to but I’ve come to really enjoy it.”

First things first
Eduardo Escobar spent a few minutes working with Brewers bench coach Pat Murphy on Saturday afternoon, and that was it. He was in the starting lineup at first base for his first-ever appearance at the position at any level of professional baseball.

“He’s a baseball player. We’re not sending a baseball player into a basketball game here,” Counsell said. “Look, he’s going to have to learn on the job. That’s where we’re at. The situations that are going to be challenging for him are going to come up in the game, not practice, and I think the fact that he’s an instinctual, heady player -- there’s going to be a learning curve, there’s going to be mistakes.

“It’s the right time of the year where getting him on the field at that spot, when it makes sense for our team, is what we need to do to get him as prepared as possible as we move on in the season.”