Corey Knebel hopes to make good on Dodgers’ gamble, recapture 2017 form – Daily Bulletin

GLENDALE, Ariz. — Corey Knebel was one of the best relievers in baseball during the 2017 season.

He made the All-Star team, converted 39 of 45 save opportunities for the Milwaukee Brewers with a 1.78 ERA and 126 strikeouts in 76 innings. He set the MLB record for consecutive relief appearances with at least one strikeout (45).

But 2017 is a long time ago now. Knebel has pitched a total of only 68-2/3 innings in the three seasons since his career-best year. And they haven’t been very good innings.

A hamstring injury limited him early in 2018 but he made 57 appearances for the Brewers (88 strikeouts in 55-1/3 innings). He never took the mound in 2019, undergoing Tommy John surgery and returning with diminished velocity and effectiveness in the shortened 2020 season.

The Brewers grew tired of waiting to see the 2017 version of Knebel again and were set to non-tender him in early December, cutting ties and making Knebel a free agent at age 29. Before they could, the Dodgers swooped in, trading for Knebel and rolling the dice on a low-cost addition that could pay off with a dynamic, high-leverage relief option.

“I mean, it shocked me,” Knebel said of the December moves. “I was very excited to hear I wasn’t getting DFAed or non-tendered, especially going to a World Series team. … But it was a shock.”

But Knebel quickly recognized the positives in it.

“Of course. Look, if they’re going to go out of their way and trade for me right there, of course, they see something that maybe I didn’t last year,” Knebel said. “I couldn’t get any of what I wanted last year, throwing strikes, getting the velo up, getting outs and doing things. They know it’s there and, yeah, it gives you a little bit of confidence.”

Knebel attributes last year’s struggles – including an average velocity of 94.4 mph on his fastball, a full 3 mph down from 2017 – to “learning how to pitch” again following Tommy John surgery. On the advice of his surgeon, Dr. Neal ElAttrache, Knebel started studying video of his throwing motion for the first time. He found his arm slot had changed since the surgery and he wasn’t using the lower half of his body effectively.

“I’m feeling like I’m … a lot closer (to 2017) than I was last year,” Knebel said.

“One of the main things I’ve been trying to work on is lower body position, I guess. Once I get everything synced, then it starts clicking a little more. I had a couple times last year where there was some velo and I changed things about my mechanics so I know the velo is there. I know the arm is healthy so that’s everything. All I know is I have to get my legs in the right position, be able to explode in my lower half. Everything will kind of click there.”

The Dodgers are very familiar with what Knebel looks like at his best. He pitched in six of the seven games between the Dodgers and Brewers in the 2018 NLCS, allowed just two hits while striking out 10 of the 24 batters he faced.

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