Brewers show ability to find pitchers from all avenues

29-year-old rookie Jason Alexander goes 7 innings in debut

June 2nd, 2022

CHICAGO -- Sometimes it feels like pitching has been sanitized, numerized and commoditized, like the soul of the thing is being exorcized. Then along comes a week like this for the National League Central-leading Brewers, a team stocked with All-Star pitchers which nevertheless needed every extra arm it could get to reach the end of an 11-game, 10-day road trip with Wednesday’s 10-inning, 4-3 loss to the Cubs.

Along the way, the Brewers showed that big leaguers still come in all shapes, sizes and backgrounds.

The latest example was 29-year-old right-hander Jason Alexander, an undrafted free agent after having Tommy John surgery in college who put up average numbers over a couple of years in the Angels system, lost all of 2020 to the pandemic and was limited to fewer than 20 innings in the Marlins’ system last year because of a finger injury.

On Wednesday, Alexander was called up to make his Major League debut against the Cubs and scattered seven mostly well-placed hits over seven innings while allowing three runs (two earned). He simultaneously rested a hard-worked bullpen and kept the Brewers in the game all the way to Christopher Morel’s walk-off sacrifice fly for the Cubs in the bottom of the 10th.

Alexander overcame a 28-pitch first inning to become the 10th starter in Brewers history to pitch seven or more innings in his MLB debut, and the first Brewer to throw a quality start in his debut since Brandon Woodruff in 2017.

“He pitched as good as we’ve had this year past the first inning,” Brewers manager Craig Counsell said. “To deliver seven innings on a night we really needed it -- the game didn’t end the way we wanted it, but it helped a bunch of guys out.”

The situation didn’t go unnoticed by Cam Castro, the Brewers’ director of pitching development, who took to Twitter to recognize the unique series of roster moves undertaken by the team in the past 72 hours.

The first-round pick on Castro’s list was left-hander Ethan Small, the 28th overall selection in the 2019 Draft and Milwaukee’s top-ranked pitching prospect per MLB Pipeline, who made his own Major League debut in a start against the Cubs on Monday. That same day, the Brewers placed Woodruff on the injured list and called up right-handed reliever Peter Strzelecki, who signed with the Brewers as an undrafted free agent from the University of South Florida in 2018. On Tuesday, the Brewers called up Luke Barker, who went undrafted out of Cal State-Chico and was pitching for the Traverse City Beach Bums of the Independent Frontier League in 2016 when he caught the eye of a Brewers scout.

Barker was optioned back to the Minors to free a spot for Alexander’s start on Wednesday night. Still, they all can say they made it to the Majors.

“It’s a tough journey and there’s tons of different roads you can go down to make it to the big leagues,” Alexander said. “I think it just shows that anything is possible if you work hard, stick to it, keep trying, keep learning, keep getting better. There’s opportunities there. For Strzelecki and Barker, they’re going to have opportunities.”

Barker, who has turned into a solid late-inning reliever in the Brewers’ Minor League system, was in Toledo with the rest of the Triple-A Sounds when he got the news he was coming up to the Majors. He didn’t see it coming at all.

“I was speechless when they told me,” he said. “I was trying to push myself every day to prove to these guys I belong.”

Strzelecki was similarly surprised. When asked to describe his pitching arsenal, he smiled and said, “I would say a good word is weird. Different. I like to throw a lot of funk.”

It got him to the Majors.

“It’s been a grind,” Strzelecki said. “It all paid off.”

Alexander’s next assignment is to be determined. The Brewers won’t need a starter in Woodruff’s spot the next time through the rotation, but they will need someone early on the next road trip during a three-game series at Washington. He could be a candidate. So could Small.

“We’ll see,” Counsell said.

The Brewers stayed away from closer Josh Hader for a second straight day following his saves in both ends of Monday’s doubleheader while finishing 6-5 in their longest road trip of the season. But they aren’t finished with this grueling stretch just yet. After placing All-Star starters Woodruff and Freddy Peralta, right fielder Hunter Renfroe and reliever Luis Perdomo on the injured list during the long trip, they return home Thursday night to open a four-game series with the Padres at American Family Field before finally reaching an off-day on Monday.

“We’re not reset,” Counsell said. “We’ve played 14 [games] in 13 days. We played four very tight games here in Chicago. We had a start with 2 2/3 innings [from Small]. We have four days to cover and these are ‘grindy’ days for the bullpen. We have to exercise caution.”