Coming off a strong 2017 All-Star season where Corey Knebel recorded 39 saves and allowed just 15 runs in 76.0 innings pitched, he was expecting to build off of that performance with a great 2018 for the Milwaukee Brewers.
Knebel had cemented himself as the Milwaukee Brewers closer, relying on a fastball that reached the upper 90s and a curveball that has a ton of bite. It makes a tough couple of pitches to make contact with when Knebel is pitching well.
However, 2018 was off to an inconsistent start for Knebel on the mound and also included some time on the DL with an injury. In 25.1 innings pitched at the All-Star break, Knebel had recorded 36 strikeouts, 12 walks, and opponents were batting .202 against him. However, there were also some blown saves mixed in as well. Knebel was serviceable as a reliever but wasn’t pitching at the same level as he had in 2017 and couldn’t be trusted in the closer role.
As the calendar flipped to August, Knebel began to unravel. In his 8.1 innings pitched, Knebel had given up 9 runs on 9 hits with 6 walks, and had a WHIP of 1.800. He had lost all of his command. He was either missing the strike zone altogether or his fastball was being left over the plate and his curveball lacked its usual movement, making it an easy pitch to hit.
Manager Craig Counsell tried everything to help Knebel find his rhythm. Counsell took away his late inning responsibilities and had him pitch as early as the fifth inning or in blow outs as an attempt to help Knebel build his confidence in low pressure situations.
Unfortunately, nothing appeared to be working and many were left to wonder how effective Knebel would be moving forward.
Knebel gets sent to Triple-A
A few weeks into August, Counsell and management made the decision to send Knebel down to Triple-A Colorado Springs. Everyone had the hope that he would get his mechanics figured out and could be brought back up in September with the expanded roster.
Knebel wasn’t sent directly to Colorado Springs to begin throwing as many innings as he could to work the kinks out, he spent the first week in Milwaukee. During that time he worked with pitching coach Derek Johnson on his fundamentals and his throwing motion, trying to find his previous form that had left him so quickly.
After that week in Milwaukee, Knebel made one relief appearance for the Sky Sox where he was able to get through the inning clean. As September 1st came around, Knebel was called back up to be apart of the Brewers postseason push.
Since his return, Knebel has been wonderful on the mound and appears to be back in his 2017 All-Star form. His command has returned as he is able to locate his pitches much better and the snap of his curveball is back.
Over his 12.1 innings in September, Knebel has struck out 24 of the 41 batters he has faced, given up just two hits and hasn’t allowed any runs. His opponents are batting just 0.59 against him, he has only walked two batters and has a WHIP of .353. Knebel has been almost unhittable this month.
With the emergence of Jeremy Jeffress and Josh Hader, Knebel is no longer pitching as a closer. Instead he has found a role in the sixth or seventh inning, as the bridge to get the Brewers bullpen to Jeffress and Hader in the later innings. But in game one against the St. Louis Cardinals, Knebel had shown us that he can still be the go-to guy in high leverage situations. He came on in the ninth inning and struck out three of the four batters he faced to get the save in a crucial win for the Milwaukee Brewers.
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Corey Knebel is one of those players that the Milwaukee Brewers need to be playing well in order to make a run into the postseason. Although he’s had his struggles in 2018, Knebel is playing some of his best baseball at the time of the year when it matters most.