October 5: The Brewers announced Williams underwent successful hand surgery today (as reported by Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s Tom Haudricourt). The star reliever is currently in a splint and will rehab in the Brewers’ Arizona facility. Provided rehab goes as expected and the Brewers advance past their NL competition it’s possible Williams will be an option for the team during the World Series.
September 29: Brewers reliever Devin Williams is going on the 10-day injured list with a right hand fracture, the team informed reporters (including Adam McCalvy of MLB.com and Will Sammon of the Athletic). The injury is expected to require surgery and is likely to end his season, although Milwaukee isn’t completely ruling out the possibility he could return for the World Series if the club were to win the National League pennant.
It’s an incredible blow to the Brewers’ postseason plans, as few relievers in baseball have been better than Williams over the last two years. The right-hander broke into the majors late in 2019, but he logged few enough innings to retain rookie eligibility in 2020. Last season, Williams absurdly allowed just one earned run (four runs total) over 27 innings while striking out a laughable 53% of opposing hitters. That showing earned him the National League’s Rookie of the Year and Reliever of the Year awards.
It’d have never been reasonable to expect Williams to continue to dominate at quite that level again, but he’s posted another phenomenal season for the Brew Crew. Over 54 innings, he’s worked to a 2.50 ERA with a 38.5% strikeout rate that checks in seventh among the 249 relievers with 30+ frames. Williams had been expected to pair with Josh Hader to log the club’s highest-leverage postseason innings, but they’ll now have to navigate the playoff field (at least the first couple series) without one of their top bullpen weapons.
That’d be a crushing enough blow on its own, and the manner in which Williams got hurt only adds to the shock. He told reporters he suffered the injury after punching a wall on Sunday (video via Todd Rosiak of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel). He learned about its severity when he was unable to warm up before last night’s game. Williams’ dejection and disappointment in himself is obvious in that clip, and his potential season-ending absence was certainly similarly deflating news for the rest of the clubhouse.
The Brewers have already clinched the NL Central title, where they’ll meet up with the NL East winner (the Braves, in all likelihood) in the first round. In addition to Hader, manager Craig Counsell will have Hunter Strickland, Jake Cousins and Brent Suter as key end-of-game options. It’s also likely a productive member or two of the Brewers’ vaunted starting rotation (Adrian Houser, Brett Anderson and/or Eric Lauer) will work out of the pen as Milwaukee shortens the rotation to maximize the number of innings logged by Corbin Burnes, Freddy Peralta and Brandon Woodruff. It’s still a very strong group of arms, but there’s no sugarcoating that losing Williams deals a significant blow that’ll force most of the rest of the staff up a peg in the pecking order.
To replace Williams on the active roster, Milwaukee selected veteran righty Colin Rea from Triple-A Nashville, designating utilityman Tim Lopes to clear a 40-man roster spot. Rea signed a minors deal last month and has performed well over seven starts. Through 35 2/3 frames with the Sounds, the 31-year-old has a 2.27 ERA with a solid 24.6% strikeout percentage and a minuscule 2.8% walk rate.
That earns Rea his first big league look of the season. The former Padres and Marlins hurler didn’t appear in the majors at all from 2017-19, but he made it back for a brief look with the Cubs last season. He tossed fourteen innings of nine-run ball with Chicago, striking out ten while issuing just a pair of walks.
Rea was in the organization by August 31, so he would be eligible for the Brewers’ postseason roster. Players in the system but not on the 40-man roster at the start of September can still be added to the playoff roster via petition to the Commissioner’s Office for teams with players unavailable due to injury. Considering Rea is coming up as a direct replacement for Williams, the Brewers should have no problem getting him onto the postseason roster if they’re impressed enough with his current form to want to do so.