By Nathan Petrashek
The Brewers are currently on an 8-game win streak, and everyone has rightfully mentioned what a critical part the bullpen has played in that streak. Will Smith, Brandon Kintzler, Francisco Rodriguez, and Jim Henderson are unscored upon, and Tyler Thornburg, who leads the ‘pen with 7.2 inning pitched, has allowed just one earned run (1.17 ERA). Opposing hitters are batting just .155 and have struck out 42 times against the Brewers’ relief corps, with just 8 walks. The bullpen bears a sparkling 0.83 ERA, easily the best in baseball.*
But have they been overused, as some seem to think? Probably not. The Brewers ‘pen has tallied 32.2 innings, the 10th most-used bullpen in the National League and 18th in all of baseball. Relievers for five teams have pitched over 40 innings, and another five are pretty close. The Brewers seem to be pretty middle-of-the-pack as far as bullpen usage goes, and they’ve certainly been much more effective than even many less-used bullpens.
What about individual players? Not much to worry about here either. Tyler Thornburg is on pace to throw 100 innings; Thornburg tossed 130 last year between Nashville and Milwaukee (and was great in his final starts for the Brewers). Will Smith (6 IP) is on pace for 88 innings. Smith pitched 89 minor-league innings and 89 major-league innings in as a starter 2012, and a total of 122 innings between levels last year. Henderson (4.1 IP) is on pace for 60 innings and pitched 60 in 2013. The one guy who is even remotely worrisome is the closer, K-Rod (6 IP), and he’s simply had more work lately because, well, the Brewers are winning lots of games. That’ll even out over time. In essence, this is a bullpen that can handle a bigger workload.
It’s not like there’s a shortage of arms, either. The Brewers haven’t even used Wei-Chung Wang, a lefthanded Rule 5 pick from the Pirates. And *here’s the news* Brandon Kinzler has landed on the DL with a rotator cuff strain, and Rob Wooten has taken his place. It sounds like Kintzler’s injury is relatively minor but lingering since spring training. At least we won’t have to worry about him racking up more innings, I guess.
Although people complain about the starting rotation’s failure to pitch deep into games, it seems to me they’re doing exactly what they need to be at this stage of the season. Here’s the number of innings each starter has pitched in every game during the win steak: 5.2, 5, 6.2, 5, 6, 6, 7, 6. I can’t see much wrong with that in early April.