Two games into the 2019 MLB regular season and baseball already has its first season-ending injury.
Corey Knebel has pitched for five years in the Majors with a partial tear in the ulnar collateral ligament, or UCL, of his right elbow. Over that time, the reliever accumulated 321 strikeouts and 57 saves, including a career year with the Brewers as the team’s primary closer in 2015. Now, Knebel is reluctantly opting to go under the knife to fix the issue that has bugged him for nearly half a decade.
“I’ve had the information now for a week,” Knebel told reporters earlier today in the visitor’s dugout of Busch Stadium before Milwaukee’s matchup against the St. Louis Cardinals on Firday. “I couldn’t just decide right away. It sucked that it was my decision. I hated that. I really wish the doctor would have just said, ‘here is what we’re doing.’ The fact is, everyone was saying the same thing. It was my decision, up to me. That’s what made it tough.”
Knebel, 27, has elected to undergo Tommy John surgery to reconstruct his injured right elbow. The recovery period for the procedure is lengthy, and he will most certainly miss the entirety of the 2019 season. Los Angeles surgeon Neal ElAttrache, a well-known doctor that has performed numerous Tommy John surgeries on notable MLB players, will supervise Knebel’s operation next Wednesday. Some of ElAttrache’s recent clients include Royals All-Star catcher Salvador Perez, Angels two-way star Shohei Ohtani, Astros right-hander Lance McCullers, and Giants veteran Johnny Cueto.
By deciding to have the surgery now, Knebel will be on track to rejoin the Brewers’ rotation around the same time next year, possibly even before the start of the 2020 season. Making the call early maximizes the reliever’s rehab window, a grueling process the reliever will have to suffer through over the next 12-15 months in order to return to his All-Star pitching status.
Astros manager Craig Counsell understood the reasoning behind Knebel’s decision to invest in his long-term health.
“It’s disappointing,” Counsell said later. “This is a tough injury for pitchers, a lengthy injury for pitchers. He’s taking this season to get it fixed, and we fully support him making that decision.”
As for the current bullpen situation, the Brewers are also missing Jeremy Jeffress to weakness in his right shoulder. That opens the door for Josh Hader to lock down the closing role for good with Jeffress and Knebel out for considerable time. However, the Brewers have also expressed interest in adding Craig Kimbrel this offseason. Knebel’s devastating injury news may just be the big-money opportunity Kimbrel has been waiting for since the start of free agency.
Hopes of a championship are still very much alive in Milwaukee. But for now, the Brewers are forced to face adversity immediately and begin their season on a sad note with one of their top pitching assets sidelined until the next calendar year.
Cole Topham is the lead editor for snacktimefantasy.com and covers the MLB and NFL. He enjoys watching his opponents suffer as he defeats them week after week in his fantasy football/baseball leagues.