MILWAUKEE — Having salvaged a frustrating road trip with a three-game sweep in Pittsburgh, the Milwaukee Brewers returned home late Wednesday night and woke up Thursday morning in their own beds, ready to enjoy their third day off in the past two weeks.
It also marked the first of four consecutive weeks that the Brewers will get Thursday off and the first of five straight weeks with at least one day off.
The favorable schedule couldn’t come at a more opportune time. Since the All-Star break, Milwaukee has battled through a rash of injuries that put all but two members of its starting rotation on the injured list.
The Brewers also lost reigning NL MVP Christian Yelich for the last two games of the Pirates series because of a back injury, while outfielder Lorenzo Cain missed the second game of the series after fouling a pitch off his foot and was limited to pinch-hitting duties Wednesday.
Yelich’s issue is most concerning. The major league’s leader with 39 home runs and a .336 batting average entering Thursday has been battling back issues at times throughout the season and had to withdraw from the All-Star Home Run Derby because of them.
Brewers manager Craig Counsell had hoped to have Yelich back in the lineup Wednesday. But Yelich wasn’t feeling 100 percent when he arrived at PNC Park so Counsell decided to err on the side of caution, and give Yelich another day with the hope he’ll be fully recovered when the Brewers open a series against the Texas Rangers on Friday night at Miller Park.
“You’ve got to listen to your body, and that’s what he’s trying to do,” Counsell said of Yelich. “If these things pop up, one or two days is what we’re trying to keep it to and not have it be injured list situations. So that’s how we’ve got to do it, and that’s where we’re at with it.’’
In some ways, the upcoming schedule is similar to Milwaukee’s schedule last September, when the Brewers surged to force a tie-breaking Game 163 with the Chicago Cubs that secured the NL Central Division title.
Circumstances are slightly different this time around. Most notably, the Brewers benefited from expanded rosters that further enabled Counsell to deploy his “out-getters” in a non-conventional manner, but the Brewers are confident they have the weapons in all aspects of the game — offense, rotation and bullpen — to mount a similar run.
That’s part of the reason president of baseball operations David Stearns chose to bolster Milwaukee’s relief corps when the price for quality starting pitching was too high for his liking.
“We’ve demonstrated that we can fill innings creatively,” Stearns said.
That was what happened Wednesday night when Counsell turned to his bullpen after starter Zach Davies joined Brandon Woodruff (strained oblique) and Jhoulys Chacin (strained lat) on the injured list because of back spasms.
Drew Pomeranz, one of Stearns’ deadline acquisitions, kicked off Milwaukee’s “bullpen day” with three innings of one-run ball. Junior Guerra, Devin Williams, Jeremy Jeffress and Freddy Peralta allowed just two runs the rest of the way while Milwaukee’s offense, which had struggled for much of the trip, snapped out of its funk with an eight-run outburst.
Milwaukee will need plenty more of that kind of effort down the stretch.
“We’re still right in the middle of this thing and right in the thick of it,” Counsell said.