MILWAUKEE — After working through a COVID scare on the eve of Opening Day, the Brewers set an initial 26-man roster on Thursday with no last-minute surprises.
Infielder Luis Urías and reliever Drew Rasmussen each made the cut on Opening Day for the first time in their careers. They are part of a 14-positon-player, 12-pitcher alignment that is likely to change in the first couple of weeks of the regular season. For now, the Brewers can get by with a smaller pitching staff because they have an off-day in each of the first four weeks of the season, beginning Friday.
Here’s the team the Brewers sent to work against the Twins on Thursday at American Family Field:
Catcher (2): Omar Narváez, Manny Piña
Both of the Brewers’ catchers had great springs, which is promising considering Narváez’s down year in 2020 and Piña’s comeback from knee surgery. Luke Maile begins the season as the primary No. 3 option, while Jacob Nottingham continues his slow comeback from offseason thumb surgery. He’s on the IL to start the year.
“It’s the bat,” manager Craig Counsell said. “We’re going to try and take advantage of this as a big bat off the bench. The extra bat really helps here. I’m not sure we could do this with a 25-man roster, but having the extra spot really helps us.
“It’s a little bit of a role that he hasn’t been used much in games, but he’s going to be a pinch-hitter. That’s what his main job is going to be. There’s going to be some first base in there, but Keston is our first baseman. It’s going to be trying to get [Vogelbach] a big at-bat every night.”
Third base (1): Travis Shaw
Shaw batted .190 in 42 at-bats during Spring Training but reached base at a .320 clip and showed enough pop for the Brewers to give him a roster spot, hoping to get the player who delivered back-to-back seasons of 30-plus homers for Milwaukee in 2017 and ‘18. Orlando Arcia and/or Luis Urías and Daniel Robertson are his challengers for playing time.
Shortstop (2): Luis Urías, Orlando Arcia
The Brewers didn’t get to see as much of Urías this spring as they would have liked because he had a hamstring injury, but he’s healthy now, whereas Arcia had a poor spring at the plate. Both will see time at shortstop this season, but Urías looks to be atop the depth chart. Robertson also can play shortstop.
Outfield (5): Jackie Bradley Jr., Christian Yelich, Lorenzo Cain, Avisaíl García, Billy McKinney
It was a close call at the end, but Bradley and Cain got healthy in time for Opening Day, combining to reach safely six times and score five runs in Saturday’s tie with the Royals — a glimpse of what the Brewers hope becomes a regular occurrence during the season. The Brewers will continue a careful approach with Cain, who logged only 15 at-bats in Arizona because of a quad injury, after sitting out most of the shortened 2020 season. Eventually, Cain could become the primary center fielder, with Bradley picking up starts in center and in a platoon with García in right. McKinney, a left-handed hitter who tied for the team lead with four home runs in Arizona, can also play first base if needed. He won the final roster spot for a hitter.
Utility (1): Daniel Robertson
Injuries to versatile players like Tim Lopes and Mark Mathias make Robertson a pretty important player to the Brewers going into the season. He can play all over and, like McKinney, is out of options.
Brent Suter made some spot starts last year and could again, as could Drew Rasmussen. But as far as Triple-A rotation depth, some of the Brewers’ top options (Zack Brown, Alec Bettinger, Dylan File, Thomas Jankins) suffered various injuries in spring and didn’t get to pitch. The Brewers recently signed veteran Zack Godley, who will be stretched out as a starter. So will Jordan Zimmermann, who re-signed with Milwaukee on another Minor League deal after briefly being released.
Relievers (7): Josh Hader, Devin Williams, Eric Yardley, Brent Suter, Josh Lindblom, Drew Rasmussen, J.P Feyereisen
This group is coming into focus with Lindblom’s assignment to the Opening Day bullpen, Black’s return from a sore elbow (he touched 99 mph against the Giants on Saturday night), the releases and re-signings of Boxberger and Zimmermann with agreements to report to the alternate training site if asked, and with Topa’s unfortunate injury. Perhaps the question mark is Rasmussen, not because of ability — the Brewers love his arm and plan to use him in multi-inning stints — but because he and J.P. Feyereisen both have Minor League options. It looks like Rasmussen, Feyereisen or Boxberger at this point, and we’ll go with Rasmussen with the understanding that all of them will see Major League time in 2021. Phil Bickford and Angel Perdomo are also in that mix.
“Obviously Justin had a possibility of pitching some big innings for us, so it’s a loss,” Counsell said. “Guys fill in around losses always, but these are losses that start to chip away at your depth, for sure. Justin pitched some big innings for us at the end of the year last year and I think he was capable of doing that [again]. Hopefully we get decent news and he can get back to that.”
Injured list (6): Derek Fisher, Tim Lopes, Mark Mathias, Jacob Nottingham, Justin Topa, Bobby Wahl
Fisher is down with a left hamstring strain and Lopes (oblique) and Mathias (shoulder) are already on the 60-day IL. Nottingham has been hitting and catching during bullpen sessions, but he’s had occasional setbacks, so the Brewers have been careful about him catching in games. Topa’s status was TBD as of Sunday, but he’s IL-bound. Wahl is down with a right oblique strain. Keep an eye on the status of Taylor’s bruised thigh, too.