Brewers reliever Devin Williams and his ‘Airbender’ out for series against Dodgers
The Milwaukee Brewers absorbed a body blow before the first-round series against the Dodgers began when right-hander Devin Williams was left off the playoff roster because of a sore right shoulder, which flared up after he threw two hitless innings against St. Louis on Friday night.
Williams might have been baseball’s best reliever this season, going 4-1 with an 0.33 ERA in 22 games, striking out 53 and walking nine in 27 innings. His 17.67 strikeouts-per-nine innings rate in a 60-game season tied Aroldis Chapman (2014 Reds) for the best single-season mark in baseball history.
“To finally contribute and help us get to this point, to not be able to help at all now, and to be stuck on the bench, is really crushing, honestly,” said Williams, a 26-year-old rookie. “But there’s no sense in dwelling on it. There’s nothing I can do now. The decision has been made. I’m out for this series.”
Williams features a 97-mph fastball and an 84-mph changeup — known as the “Airbender” — that fades down and away from left-handed batters. He allowed one run all season and held opponents to an .090 average and .339 on-base-plus-slugging percentage.
“It’s unfortunate, for sure,” fellow reliever Eric Yardley said. “It’s hard to replace, what, 25 scoreless innings? It wasn’t even video-game numbers, it was just completely stupid all year.”
Dodgers pared back to 13 pitchers on the 28-man roster for the wild card round against the Milwaukee Brewers. Alex Wood and Dylan Floro were left off.
With ace Corbin Burnes (4-1, 2.11 ERA) out because of an oblique strain and left-hander Brett Anderson out because of a blister on his pitching hand, the eighth-seeded Brewers were counting on Williams, left-hander Josh Hader and the rest of their relievers to cover the bulk of the innings against the Dodgers.
Yardley (2-0, 1.54 ERA in 24 games) and hard-throwing right-handers Justin Topa (0-1, 2.35 ERA in six games) and Drew Rasmussen (1-0, 5.87 ERA in 12 games) will assume bigger roles.
The Brewers hope Williams, who had three two-inning appearances in a seven-day span in the last week of the season, will be available if they can upset the Dodgers.
“Other guys will have a great opportunity in this series, it’s their chance to shine,” Milwaukee manager Craig Counsell said before the game. “They’re ready for it.”
Counsell shook up his lineup for Game 1, moving Christian Yelich, who has batted second or third all season, to the leadoff spot, dropping leadoff man Avisail Garcia to fifth and Keston Hiura, who has batted second or third for most of the season, to eighth. “We’re not scoring enough runs,” Counsell said. “Just giving ourselves a different look.”
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