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Brewers reliever Devin Williams likely out for playoffs after breaking his right hand punching a wall

Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel logo Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel 9/30/2021 Todd Rosiak, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

ST. LOUIS -- The Milwaukee Brewers' postseason chances took a huge hit Wednesday when it was learned that setup man Devin Williams will have to undergo surgery on his fractured right throwing hand.

President of baseball operations David Stearns said Williams likely will need a plate inserted into his hand to help repair the break, and that the injury "is likely to keep him out for the remainder of the season."

Williams told reporters before the Brewers' 4-0 shutout of the St. Louis Cardinals at Busch Stadium that the injury was self-inflicted — he punched a wall out of anger after having "a few drinks" following Sunday's celebration of the team clinching the National League Central.

a man in a baseball uniform throwing a ball: Brewers pitcher Devin Williams reacts after a strikeout to retire the side in the eighth inning against the Diamondbacks. © Benny Sieu, Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports Brewers pitcher Devin Williams reacts after a strikeout to retire the side in the eighth inning against the Diamondbacks.

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"After our celebration, I went out to have a few drinks and on my way home I was a little frustrated, upset, and I punched a wall," Williams said. "That's how it happened. 

"I'm pretty upset with myself. There's no one to blame but me. I feel like I've let the team down, the coaching staff, the fans, everyone. I know how big a role that I play on this team and there's a lot of people counting on me.

"I guess all I can do now is cheer my team on and learn from it and don't make that same mistake in the future."

The Brewers selected right-hander Colin Rea from Class AAA Nashville to fill the spot vacated by Williams in the bullpen while designating utility man Tim Lopes for assignment to clear a spot on the 40-man roster for Rea.

Williams actually suited up in advance of Tuesday's 6-2 loss to the St. Louis Cardinals at Busch Stadium, unaware of the severity of the injury.

"Devin actually tried to throw with this yesterday," Stearns said. "We were not aware of this. He went out, tried to throw and at that point had recognized that he had hurt himself.

"He came in, told our medical staff. We got him X-rayed during the game yesterday, got the results during the game yesterday, consulted with our doctors today and we understand that surgery is going to be required."

Williams said he was surprised by the severity of the injury.

"I didn't initially think it was going to be that serious," Williams said. "I tried to throw through it, but I wasn't able to."

Williams apologized to his teammates in a meeting Wednesday afternoon.

"I expressed my apologies and they said they've got my back," he said.

Brandon Woodruff was one of those players.

“Man, I feel for him because that is tough,” he said. “I know he feels so bad, right? It’s not that he’s put the team in a bad position, because I think we have a ton of quality guys who can step up and that’s the cool part of it.

"But I know personally he feels terrible, and you have to feel for him because he’s had a phenomenal year and he’s been our setup guy. It just happened at a sucky time. That’s the bad part about it.”

Brewers manager Craig Counsell said he learned of the news just prior to the start of the game Tuesday.

"You could tell it wasn't going to be a good result before the X-ray," he said. "It's tough news. It's bad news, for sure. It's not the news you want to get, but it's happened so we have to move forward from it.

"The way we look at it now is it's an opportunity for someone else. Somebody else is going to get a big job in the postseason and an opportunity to help us win." 

While right-hander Brad Boxberger has been one of Milwaukee's unsung heroes this season, rising from minor-league invitee to spring training to a 5-4 record, 3.69 ERA and four saves in a career-high-tying 69 appearances, Counsell will be reverting back to a true "out-getter" approach in the postseason to account for the absence of Williams.

"When things like this happen to any player, everybody contributes to kind of closing the circle there. That's how I see these things," he said. "I don't think it's going to be one player who fills that role, I think it's going to be multiple players that fill that role.

"And when you say the role, don't think about the regular season is what I guess I would say. It's going to be a pitcher, it's not necessarily going to be a reliever. We have to get 27 outs to win a playoff game.

"That's truly how we see it."

Williams, who turned 27 recently, had just recovered from a slight calf strain suffered during a pregame running drill last Tuesday at American Family Field. He was held out of action for a few days but returned to throw a 1-2-3 eighth inning Sunday in the 8-4 victory over the New York Mets that clinched the NL Central crown. 

With one of the best changeups in the game – so remarkable it earned the nickname “Airbender” – Williams burst on the scene during the pandemic-shortened 2020 season to earn both National League rookie of the year and reliever of the year honors.

In 22 appearances, he went 4-1 with a 0.33 earned run average, with only eight hits allowed in 27 innings while recording a remarkable 53 strikeouts. 

Opponents batted a mere .090 against Williams, who fashioned a 0.63 WHIP. His ERA was best among major league relievers and he tied for first with a rate of 17.67 strikeouts per nine innings.

He surrendered just one earned run all season, coming July 27 in his second appearance of the year in Pittsburgh. 

Williams became the only pitcher in MLB history to win rookie of the year without making at least one start or recording at least one save. He was named to the All-MLB second team and was voted the Brewers’ most valuable pitcher by the Milwaukee chapter of the Baseball Writers Association of America. 

Before the season was done, Williams firmly established himself as the primary setup man to closer Josh Hader, forming a 1-2 punch out of the bullpen that regularly locked down victories.

This year, the veteran Boxberger was installed as the seventh inning pitcher, giving the Brewers three dependable relievers to take care of the final three innings. When leading after seven innings, they are 70-4. 

Williams finished the 2020 season with a rotator cuff strain that forced him to miss much of spring training, also putting him behind at the start of this season. But he eventually got his feet back on the ground and began dominating hitters again, going 22 consecutive appearances over one stretch without allowing an earned run.  

He was on the injured list with right elbow inflammation coming out of the all-star break but recovered from that nicely as well.

Stearns said there is "an outside chance" that Williams could be ready to go for the World Series if the Brewers advance that far.

"I think Devin is motivated and certainly we are motivated to do everything we can to accelerate this as much as possible," he said. "We also understand we've got a finite time frame here.

"The most likely outcome is this will end Devin's season, but I think everyone is invested in doing everything possible so that if we move this along, perhaps there's a chance he'll be available for the World Series."

Rea, 31, was signed to a minor-league contract Aug. 14 and assigned to Class AAA Nashville. In seven starts there, he was 4-2 with a 2.27 ERA with 35 strikeouts in 35 2/3 innings and a 1.04 WHIP.

Colin Rea pitches for the Cubs against the Indians on Aug 11, 2020. © Ken Blaze, Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports Colin Rea pitches for the Cubs against the Indians on Aug 11, 2020.

Rea began the year pitching in Japan for Fukuoka Softbank Hawks, compiling a 2.03 ERA over 40 innings. He left that club and returned to the United States following the premature birth of a son. 

Rea was a 12th-round draft pick of San Diego in 2011 and broke into the majors with the Padres in 2015. In 35 games (27 starts) in the majors with the Padres, Marlins and Cubs, he is 8-8 with a 4.79 ERA.

Tom Haudricourt of the Journal Sentinel staff contributed to this report.

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This article originally appeared on Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Brewers reliever Devin Williams likely out for playoffs after breaking his right hand punching a wall

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