Corbin Burnes had finally run out of gas and into trouble Monday night, putting two on with nobody out while the Milwaukee Brewers clung to a 2-0 lead in the seventh inning of their series opener against the Giants.
It was the kind of moment that can turn a nail-biter in to a blowout but Brewers manager Craig Counsell wasn’t the least bit worried as he summoned right-hander Brad Boxberger from the bullpen.
And while one run did score, Boxberger did exactly what he was asked to do: limit the damage, stop the rally and turn the ball over to set-up man Devin Williams and closer Josh Hader to lock down yet another Milwaukee victory.
“Brad’s the guy who’s been in a ton of leverage situations in key moments of the game,” Counsell said Tuesday before Game 2 of the series between the two NL heavyweights. “His consistency has been extremely important to us.”
Much of the attention on the Brewers’ stellar pitching staff this season has focused on their trio of Cy Young-caliber starters and the back-end duo of Devin Williams and Josh Hader. But Boxberger has been Milwaukee’s fireman, more often than not taking over when one of the starters has reached the end of his rope for the night.
And time and time again, Boxberger has delivered. He went into Tuesday’s game owning a 5-3 record and 2.25 ERA with 69 strikeouts over 56 innings of work. Opposing batters are hitting just .180 against him and only five of his 22 inherited runners have scored.
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Over his last 24 outings, Boxberger has allowed just two earned runs with none in each of his last nine appearances.
It’s a pretty impressive run for a player who was signed to a minor league contract in spring training and wasn’t even on the Opening Day roster.
“He’s been a stabilizing influence in our bullpen,” Counsell said. “He has been a closer with other teams, so he has that low heartbeat in those situations. And he has been locked in with his stuff, locating pitches exceptionally well. He’s definitely been a big plus for us.”
Boxberger is one of many unsung heroes who has helped Milwaukee take a commanding lead in the NL Central and seemingly a lock for a franchise-record fourth consecutive postseason appearance.
Here’s a look at some of the other’s who’ve played big roles for the Brewers this season:
INF Jace Peterson
Like Boxberger, Peterson also had a big night in the series opener going 3-for-3 with a double, a walk and a run scored against the Giants.
It was a type of performance the Brewers have become used to this season as Peterson compiled a .278 average, .400 on-base percentage and an .828 OPS in 71 games.
Defensively, he’s been a variable jack-of-all-trades for Milwaukee, making appearances at seven different positions — including a scoreless inning on the mound.
“He’s the kind of player teams have when they’re having a good season,” Counsell said. “Jace has been able to fill in, he’s been able to produce. He’s a true utility player, contributing offensively and defensively as well as base-running at a really high level, at the levels of a regular player”
RHP Hunter Strickland
Another veteran reliever, Strickland had struggled to a 9.95 ERA in nine appearances for the Anglels before he came to the Brewers in exchange for cash considerations on June 12.
Since then, he’s been among the most reliable options out of Counsell’s bullpen as well as one of the better relievers in baseball. In 24 appearances, Strickland has a 1.40 ERA and 0.818 WHIP with 27 strikeouts in 24 2/3 innings of work.
“Hunter kind of came into this league as someone with a huge fastball and you kind of get labeled as having a big fastball and blowing by people,” Counsell said. “It worked because he threw as hard as anybody in the game for a while. Eventually the game tells you that you need to do something different.
“There’s generally a transition for a player, and Hunter’s been in that transition for the last couple of years, really. I think he’s gotten himself to a place where he understands it. He’s also got experience. I think Hunter’s got great perspective and that has helped him really understand himself and how he can get people out.”