Topa to miss part of '21 with right flexor strain
Rasmussen makes the Opening Day roster; No defined SS/3B roles
Brewers reliever Justin Topa has been diagnosed with a flexor tendon strain in his right elbow, and the club believes he could miss at least half of the 2021 season. Considering Topa’s history, however, the news could have been worse.
Topa has already endured two Tommy John surgeries in his career, one in 2010 while he was in college and another in 2015 when he was a Pirates Minor Leaguer. Given that backdrop, it was disheartening for club officials and teammates to see Topa exit a simulated game on Saturday after just three pitches complaining of elbow pain, then be sent immediately for an MRI scan.
The Brewers are recommending non-surgical rehab and Topa is exercising his right to a second opinion to confirm the diagnosis, manager Craig Counsell told reporters on Monday.
“It’s a significant injury and that’s unfortunate,” Counsell said. “It’s not the really bad one, though.”
The really bad one would be Tommy John surgery, which requires at least a year of rehab, and often more for a player who requires multiple repairs. The list of pitchers who have had three Tommy John surgeries is incredibly short, as Jay Jaffe wrote for FanGraphs in 2018 after Jonny Venters made an inspiring return with the Rays. Onetime Brewers closer Chad Fox is sometimes listed as undergoing a trio of elbow reconstructions, but the third surgery was actually for a fracture, not a torn ligament.
Topa, who turned 30 earlier this month, is coming off a breakthrough 2020 season in which he refined his slider into a weapon and made it to the Major Leagues for the first time. He worked his way into a high-leverage role by year’s end and threw the Brewers’ single-hardest pitch -- a 99.9 mph sinker against the Cardinals on Sept. 24.
If the Brewers’ diagnosis of a flexor injury is confirmed, Topa will begin rehab with the hope of pitching during the second half of the season.
Rasmussen makes Opening Day roster
Another Brewers reliever, who has undergone two Tommy John surgeries, right-hander Drew Rasmussen, has been informed he made the cut for Opening Day.
Rasmussen was still rehabbing from his second Tommy John surgery when the Brewers drafted him in the sixth round of the '18 MLB Draft and he shot through Milwaukee’s farm system. He struck out 21 batters in 15 1/3 innings in '20, but also posted a 1.70 WHIP and a 5.87 ERA.
He’ll be part of an opening bullpen expected to include Josh Hader, Devin Williams, Brent Suter, Eric Yardley, Josh Lindblom and, perhaps, more, depending how the Brewers configure their roster.
“He's one of those guys who are just so diligent in his preparation and his work,” Counsell said. “You never want to be a ‘great patient,’ but he was such a good patient I think this is what's got him to this point, really. He's done his rehab so well and so diligently. He just feels like a strong player right now, like he's ready to handle whatever the season brings him because he's put himself in such a prepared place. So, I'm excited for Drew. I think he's a really important piece of this.”
No defined roles at shortstop, third base
Expect a lot of moving parts on the left side of the Brewers infield. Counsell resisted saying for sure who would start at shortstop on Opening Day against the Twins, and here’s how he described his thinking for Luis Urías, Orlando Arcia and Travis Shaw:
“Luis is going to play shortstop. Orlando is going to play shortstop and third base. Travis Shaw is going to play third base,” the manager said. “I don't think we should categorize any of them as starters. That's what I would tell you. … Often, I resist you guys putting a label on things that don’t need to be labeled. That’s what I would say. I will continue that resistance.
“I think by nature of Orlando playing both positions, Urías will play shortstop the most. That’s not set in stone. That’s how we’ll start. I see their playing time as generally equal, all of them playing a similar amount. We’ll see how it goes.”
Said Brewers president of baseball operations David Stearns in a Monday interview on Milwaukee’s 105.7 FM The Fan: “Look, this is probably going to be a fluid situation over the course of the year. We’ve got depth. We’ve got guys who can play both [positions] on the left side. I think Luis is swinging the bat really well right now and had a really positive spring. Orlando has taken on the challenge of learning third base and that’s gone well, we think. And then Travis looks like Travis Shaw. Between the three of those guys we feel pretty covered on the left side.”
Daniel Robertson will also see action at those positions, Stearns noted.
Brewers to keep vaccine plans private
While some clubs have announced plans to arrange COVID-19 vaccines for their entire team -- the Astros even changed their travel plans to briefly stop home in Texas, where all adults are eligible -- the Brewers plan to keep that information private when and if it happens, according to Counsell.
“The players have talked; we’ve educated the group and we’re still in that process,” Counsell said. “We will continue to do so. When vaccinations become available, there’s going to be a good group that chooses to do so. That’s how we’ll proceed.”
Brewers first baseman Keston Hiura said there has been “constant conversation” in the clubhouse about vaccines.
“We want [every player] to feel comfortable with their decision, you don't want to force anyone to make a decision,” Hiura said. “It's all up to us at the end of the day, we've got to respect that. Some protocols came out today, I think, what, if 85 percent of the team were to get it, some of the rules and protocols would kind of be lifted a little bit? It's still another conversation that we need to have as a group. With the season coming up it's definitely something to discuss and, hopefully, we get a better idea over the next couple of days.”
• Utility man Mark Mathias remained in Phoenix and has opted for a non-surgical approach for rehabbing a torn labrum in the back of his right shoulder. A couple of weeks ago, Mathias said he expected a rehabilitation of three to four months “at the least” if he took that route.
• Counsell said outfielder Tyrone Taylor was recovering well from a thigh bruise suffered in a foul-ground collision during Saturday’s game against the Royals. Taylor is not expected to play in either of the Brewers’ two final exhibition games against the Rangers.
• Adrian Houser, Angel Perdomo, Josh Hader, Devin Williams and Brad Boxberger combined to retire 23 of the final 24 Rangers batters in the Brewers’ 4-0 win at Globe Life Field on Monday, with Perdomo, Hader, Williams and Boxberger striking out 10 in a row to end the night in front of 12,911 fans, plus several thousand first responders who attended as guests of the Rangers.
“Just hearing the noise, hearing the crowd buzz before the game, it was so much better than hearing crowd noise pumped in,” said Houser, who retired the final 13 hitters he faced and threw 77 pitches in his finest start of the spring. “It was really nice to hear and I can’t wait to hear more of it throughout the season. Omar [Narváez] and I were walking in from the bullpen and he was like, ‘Man, this feels like baseball.’”