WASHINGTON -- Zach Davies isn't worried about nerves getting in the way when he returns from months of injury frustrations to start for the Brewers against the Cubs on Monday in the opener of what could prove a make-or-break series in the race for the National League Central.
To the contrary, he's expecting the opposite.
"You know, I think it will be refreshing to be back on the mound," said Davies, who has been limited to nine Major League innings since April 29, and none since May 29, before a nagging rotator cuff injury turned into back tightness and derailed his third full season with the Brewers.
Davies said it would be a "relief" to get back on the Miller Park mound.
"I think with a good series here, it could change the shake-up of this division a little bit," Davies said. "I don't think any game is bigger than just the next day's game, but it definitely could change some things."
The Brewers won't be able to catch the first-place Cubs in the next three days, but they could put a dent in Chicago's division lead, which stood at 4 1/2 games over the Cardinals and five games over the Brewers entering Sunday. And three more games between the teams loom next week at Wrigley Field.
Davies allowed three earned runs in 11 2/3 innings in a pair of starts against the Cubs in April, both Brewers losses. For his career, he has a 3.64 ERA against the Cubs in 12 career starts. He's fully stretched out after throwing 85 pitches in a nine-inning shutout for Class A Wisconsin in his most recent Minor League outing.
The Brewers' two best starters of late, Wade Miley and Jhoulys Chacin, will follow Davies in the series. The Cubs have three left-handers scheduled: Cole Hamels, Mike Montgomery and Jose Quintana.
"I'm actually glad we're putting [Davies] in that spot," Brewers manager Craig Counsell said. "It's added motivation for him. He's very familiar with this setting and this team. There are no surprises here."
The Brewers' active roster grew to 34 players on Sunday when Davies and former closer Corey Knebel were called up from the Minor Leagues. More players are coming, Counsell said, likely a reference to the Brewers' plan to bring back pitchers Freddy Peralta and Taylor Williams when their mandatory 10-day optional assignments to the Minors expire next weekend.
Knebel was a key addition -- if he can reverse the recent struggles that prompted the Brewers to demote the 2017 All-Star to give him a breather. He was charged with seven earned runs in his last 3 1/3 innings before the move. He worked with pitching coach Derek Johnson during the layoff and threw one scoreless appearance for Triple-A Colorado Springs.
"I got some time off to clear the head and get ready to go," Knebel said. "I wasn't trying to work on anything, just get in there and be yourself. Do what I've always done. That was it -- throw strikes."
Said Counsell of Knebel's break: "We've given ourselves 10 days. So, there's not going to be a major overhaul in 10 days. I think the break is the more beneficial part of this. There is probably something very little there and will get ironed out as he's doing it at this point in the season. Now, it's time to come back, and we'll get him out there."
Nottingham recovered quickly
Like Davies, rookie catcher Jacob Nottingham was in the "happy to be back" category after the Brewers made him a September callup on Saturday. Nottingham had been sidelined since late July by a fractured right wrist and didn't anticipate being ready for game action until at least Thursday.
When he healed more quickly than anticipated, the Brewers were able to make him their third catcher instead of Colorado Springs' Christian Bethancourt or Jett Bandy, each of whom would have required freeing a 40-man roster spot.
Nottingham arrived at Nationals Park in the sixth inning of Saturday's loss and appeared in the ninth inning as a pinch-runner.