For the first time in a long time, the Milwaukee Brewers are opening spring training with very few questions about their starting rotation.
"We're in a pretty good spot right now," Brewers manager Craig Counsell said Thursday during his first media session of the spring. "Overall, our pitching depth is in a good place."
Depth, of course, is the key word. Having five legitimate starters to begin a season is great, but rarely if ever does a team make it through an entire season needing only five starters. To that point, Counsell and his staff will be keeping a close eye on the rest of his staff during camp.
For now, the alternative options are encouraging. Right-hander Freddy Peralta and left-hander Eric Lauer will get stretched out during spring to provide insurance down the road, as will left-hander Brent Suter, who transitioned into a multi-inning relief role after returning from Tommy John surgery while also making four spot starts for Milwaukee last season.
Depth would be important in a normal season, but it will be even more so this year as pitchers readjust to a normal workload after the abbreviated 60-game schedule in place last season.
Barring injuries and other issues, starting pitchers usually make around 30 starts during the course of a normal, 162-game season. Last year, however, teams played only 60 games so most starters made around 10-12 starts with Woodruff one of four big-league pitchers to take the ball 13 times.
Reverting back to a regular workload will require some careful monitoring, especially come summer when pitchers start to surpass their numbers from a year ago.
"It's going to be an issue for all 30 teams," Counsell said. "I think we'll make it pretty individual but we'll definitely be cognizant of it every day."
Woodruff says its going to require pitchers to be honest and open about their situations and erring on the side of caution, especially when faced with situations they might otherwise try to work their way through.
"The biggest thing for a player is just to be transparent (and) communicate," Woodruff said. "We want to be out there for 30 starts if at all possible, but we also realize the season we had last year, with everything that was going on, the ramp-up, then shutting down and then coming back. It’s all about being smart."
To help pitchers ease back into their routine and to help control their ramp-up toward a full slate, MLB has given teams the option to shorten spring training games to 5 or 7 innings during the first few weeks of exhibition play.
And during the season, some teams are considering using six-man rotations or other non-traditional solutions to help ease the process for their starters. Under Counsell, the Brewers have made non-traditional pitching management traditional, which should provide some additional options.
"I don't think there's going to be any surprises for our guys with how we're using guys or giving guys rest," Counsell said.