Inside the Milwaukee Brewers’ bullpen: ‘You can ask any guy — their heart races any time that phone rings’

MILWAUKEE — Some of the most valuable members of this year’s Milwaukee Brewers’ team spend their time apart from the rest of the team, but that’s where the bullpen bond develops.

Statistically, the Brewers’ bullpen is getting the job done this season. Anecdotally, the Brewers’ bullpen is making the job fun this season.

“You’re down there, basically locked in a cage with each other for three hours a night,” said Dan Jennings, Brewers’ pitcher.

The crew of relievers is quite unified, so all that time together is actually a positive. When it’s appropriate to be loose, these guys all figure to be loose, just as they will all change as the game situations change. Of course, the reason these guys sit removed from their teammates is so that they can prepare to fulfill their unique role on a roster.

“Getting loose is the first step, because you have to be able to throw a strike, and then secondly, once you get loose, you have to be able to focus on that first batter you are going to face, because at the end of the day, you need to get the guy out,” said Jacob Barnes, Brewers’ pitcher.

“There’s guys who can throw like five pitches and be ready to go, and then there’s guys that need a little bit more time to get ready, and there’s guys who have morphed. It used to take them a long time, but now that they are in the bullpen, they learned how to prepare themselves in a shorter time,” said Marcus Hanel, Brewers’ pitcher.

When Brewers’ manager Craig Counsell goes to the bullpen phone in the dugout, he begins a casual relationship. The dynamic changes 500 feet away.

“Phone rings and you can ask any guy — their heart races any time that phone rings,” said Hanel.

“No matter what inning it is, that first time that phone rings down there, it’s whatever conversations are going on kind of shut down immediately,” said Jennings.

“‘Boom’ — that phone rings, it’s like ‘oh man,’ straight heart attack almost,” said Hanel.

“At first, it’s kind of like ‘oh God, I’ve got to get ready.’ You’re kind of nervous. You want to get ready, but as soon as you get out there and start throwing, then the nerves go away because you’re back to what you’re used to doing, but that adrenaline never goes away,” said Barnes.

In baseball today, getting ready to enter a game doesn’t just mean loosening the arm and controlling that adrenaline. It means listening to Lee Tunnell, bullpen coach.

“Who’sever [sic] warming up on the mound, he’s like ‘alright, these are the three hitters you have coming up.’ This is what we want you to do with these guys. Not overbearing information, but just kind of like, when they go out there, it will be simplified for them. These are their hot zones and these are their cold zones. This is where I need to go. It’s not like some guy is just down there throwing and getting hot. There’s another end of it,” said Hanel.

A bullpen is like a school. You learn, you prepare and ultimately you graduate and move on to the real world.

“You’ve got anxiety. Then you’ve got the exhilaration, the excitement of the moment. You’re pitching in a big league game. I don’t think that really ever goes away — and then you’ve got the competitive nature. You’re competing. That’s what it’s all about. These guys are competing,” said Hanel.