MILWAUKEE -- Omar Narváez grabbed his left leg and limped the final steps to first base before leaving the game. On an otherwise uplifting Friday for the Brewers, who beat the Dodgers by a 3-1 margin at American Family Field in a near-copy of the series opener the night before, it was a painfully fitting finish to Milwaukee’s exasperating opening month.
The Brewers ended the month of April in first place in the National League Central at 16-10 despite a Major League-leading 14 players currently on the injured list. That includes star outfielders Christian Yelich and Lorenzo Cain and co-ace Corbin Burnes. Yet the Brewers keep winning with contributions from all corners of the roster -- like Jackie Bradley Jr.’s 100th career home run on Friday for two Brewers runs, and Freddy Peralta’s six-inning, one-hit, one-run start, and Narváez’s emergency replacement, Luke Maile, delivering a run-scoring groundout in the eighth inning in his first Brewers at-bat for a critical insurance run.
First Brewers at-bat? Heck, it was Maile’s first competitive at-bat in more than a month, since Spring Training, and his first regular-season at-bat of any kind since 2019, since he missed all of 2020 with a finger injury. It’s been that kind of stretch for the banged-up Brewers.
“It's times like this when you get tested a little bit, for sure,” Brewers manager Craig Counsell said Friday afternoon. “Winning helps, there's no question about it.”
He added, “It’s been a strange month. It’s been a good month.”
But the Brewers would hate to see the injured list grow to 15 with the addition of Narváez, a bright spot at the plate so far who also gets credit for his work with the pitchers who have carried the Brewers to this point. He has hit safely in 17 of his 19 starts including Friday, when he roped a single through the Dodgers’ defensive shift in the sixth inning but pulled up right before he reached first base. The Brewers’ other catcher, Manny Piña, went on the IL earlier this week with a fractured toe, so it was a callup, Maile, who took over behind the plate and ushered the three relievers who followed Peralta to the mound through the final three innings.
Counsell said the Brewers were sending Narváez for more tests, which is not particularly great for the prospect of returning to the lineup to catch Brandon Woodruff on Saturday. Piña isn’t expected to need much time to recover from a fractured toe, but he’s not even eligible for another full week. With out-of-options Jacob Nottingham having just been claimed off the waiver wire from the Mariners on Wednesday, the only other catcher on the 40-man roster is a top prospect, Mario Feliciano, who is 22 years old and has 14 career plate appearances this side of A-ball.
After Narváez left Friday’s game, Counsell joked that he polled the dugout looking for an emergency catcher.
“Some guys were unwilling to raise their hand, but Pablo Reyes reluctantly raised his hand,” Counsell said. “So it would have been Pablo Reyes.”
He was kidding about the manner in which that decision was reached, of course. A sense of humor comes in handy in trying times.
So does a good win-loss record, and the Brewers have that thanks to their 5-0 mark so far against the Dodgers and Padres. The Brewers have held those powerhouse teams to five total runs in five games, and finished the opening month of the regular season with a better record than either.
The answer to “how” is not what you’d expect from a franchise known more for Robin Yount and Paul Molitor, Prince Fielder and Ryan Braun, than for pitching. But it’s the pitching. Brewers hitters finished the opening month third from the bottom in the Majors in wRC+ (85) and Brewers pitchers finished third from the top in starters’ ERA (2.55).
“I don't look at it as a surprise, because we have a lot of talented guys on this team,” Bradley said. “We have guys who are able to step in and get the job done. We're all accepting our roles, and doing it quite nicely so early in the season. We have a long ways to go. Hopefully, we get everybody back healthy so we feel like we can improve.”
Better health would help. Until then, Milwaukee is a land of opportunity for the Luke Mailes of the organizational chart.
“Every time you lose a player, it hurts you and it cuts you a little bit, no question,” Counsell said. “[Narváez] is off to a great start. He really is. He is catching wonderfully. He's doing a great job with our pitching staff. Every pitch, he's really dialed in. So, as well as he's hitting, I think defensively and calling the game, he's probably been even better.
“I think Luke's capable of that, for sure. Manny's injury is not long term. He's on track to be pretty good if we get some bad news with Omar. But that'd be a loss, for sure."