Brewers lefty Aaron Ashby will be behind schedule this spring as he’s dealing with shoulder fatigue, general manager Matt Arnold announced today (Twitter link via Adam McCalvy of MLB.com). The team didn’t provide a timetable for when Ashby might be ready, but it’s a suboptimal start to the talented southpaw’s 2023 season.
Ashby, 24, opened the 2022 season in the Milwaukee bullpen, made a pair of spot starts in April and had forced his way into the rotation by late May. Through the season’s first two months, the 2018 fourth-rounder had pitched 40 innings of 2.70 ERA ball with a 29.8% strikeout rate.
After a shaky three-start showing in June, however, Ashby hit the injured list due to inflammation in his left forearm. He returned after a minimal two-week absence but was placed back on the 15-day IL in late August, this time due to inflammation in the same left shoulder where he’s now experiencing fatigue. Ashby did make it back to the mound in late September, when he tossed 11 innings with a 3.27 ERA and a 10-to-4 K/BB ratio in his final four appearances.
On the whole, Ashby’s first full big league season resulted in 107 1/3 innings of 4.44 ERA ball with a strong 26.5% strikeout rate, an elevated 9.9% walk rate that he’d surely like to pare back, and a massive 56.9% ground-ball rate. The Brewers, undeterred by Ashby’s June injury, signed the lefty to a five-year, $20.5MM contract extension in late July. The deal contains a pair of club options that can push the former top prospect’s guarantee to $40.5MM, plus a series of incentives and escalators that can bring the deal to a maximum of $53MM over a seven-year term.
Based on that investment, the Brewers clearly feel that Ashby can be a part of the team’s rotation over the long haul, but his current injury status clouds that outlook in the immediate future. Milwaukee already had a crowded rotation that might’ve left Ashby on the outside looking in, as Corbin Burnes, Brandon Woodruff, Freddy Peralta, Eric Lauer and veteran Wade Miley give the club a solid quintet on which to lean this year. Right-hander Adrian Houser gives them a sixth strong option, too, even with Ashby sidelined to begin camp.
Uncertainty surrounding Ashby makes the Brewers’ rotation depth all the more critical. After the club signed Miley, it seemed safe to wonder whether the out-of-options Houser might emerge as a trade candidate, given both his $3.6MM salary and his ostensible drop to seventh on the rotation depth chart. Such a scenario seems less likely now, although Milwaukee still has further depth options on the 40-man roster, including Bryse Wilson (also out of minor league options), Jason Alexander, Janson Junk, Ethan Small, Gus Varland and Tyson Miller. Non-roster pitchers in spring training include righty Colin Rea and prospect Robert Gasser, acquired from the Padres last July.
It’s also fair to wonder whether any questions surrounding Ashby’s shoulder will prompt the Brewers to look for some further left-handed help. If the plan was to begin the season with Ashby in the bullpen, thanks to the veteran quintet ahead of him on the rotation depth chart, then a potential trip to the injured list for Ashby leaves Hoby Milner as the Brewers’ only lefty in the bullpen. There are several notable lefty relievers available in free agency, however; Andrew Chafin, Matt Moore, Brad Hand, Will Smith and Zack Britton are among the many yet-unsigned relievers with considerable big league experience.