Lights out anytime, Brewers' Josh Hader brings the heat
MILWAUKEE (AP) — Reliever Josh Hader's most important role with the Milwaukee Brewers might be that he doesn't really have a defined role at all.
Come in with one out in the eighth with two runners on to preserve a four-run lead? No problem.
Go 2 2/3 innings to save a one-run game on the road? Done.
Hader makes quick work of high-pressure situations, no matter when they occur. A humble, team-first attitude helps. So does a 95-mph fastball and filthy slider.
"Just mentality-wise, just wanting the ball whenever. Just getting outs whenever you can, whenever they need," Hader said. "Really, just keeping relaxed, not trying to overdo it."
Tell that to the hitters who have to face the hard-throwing left-hander with the name "Josh Haderade" on Twitter .
Hader was 1-0 with a 1.64 ERA with five saves in 12 games entering Thursday night's game at Colorado. With 46 strikeouts in 22 innings, Hader is averaging an eye-popping 18.8 strikeouts per nine innings.
On April 30 against Cincinnati, Hader struck out eight of the nine batters he faced in 2 2/3 innings to become the first modern-era reliever to fan eight in less than three innings. The stellar April earned NL Reliever of the Month honors for Hader.
"Their closer there, Hader, that's quite the performance," Reds manager Jim Riggleman said then. "I don't think anyone was going to hit him tonight."
The scariest part for the rest of the league is that Hader is just 24. Someday, he might be a starter.
For now, he's making relief work look easy.
"We always kind of joke, sometimes he goes out there and makes it look kind of easy," Brewers reliever Taylor Williams said in recalling Hader's historic outing against the Reds.
"You watch the first inning go by and you're like, 'Oh, he struck out three batters ... typical Josh Hader,'" Williams said. "Then you get to that third inning and you realize that he had struck out (eight) batters in a row, and you're like, 'Holy cow!'"
Hader was part of the first wave of reinforcements to enter the organization after the Brewers shifted to rebuilding mode at the 2015 trade deadline. He was acquired from Houston along outfielders Brett Phillips and Domingo Santana, along with pitcher Adrian Houser, for outfielder Carlos Gomez and starter Mike Fiers.
He was a primarily a starter at the time. Still, 32 of his 127 appearances in the minors did come in relief, so he wasn't entirely unfamiliar with coming out of the bullpen.
Hader arrived in the majors as a reliever, making his debut last season on June 10 against Arizona. He had to get used to coming into game with runners on base, where one mistake might prove costly.
"That's the thing with me, I want to help the team in any way I can," Hader said. "If that's me going long or getting one guy out, that's what job is to do."
Hader, like the rest of the Brewers' bullpen, has bought into manager Craig Counsell's plan of not having setting exclusive roles for most of his relievers.
Milwaukee has had one of the top three teams in the league in bullpen ERA of late, even with All-Star closer Corey Knebel sidelined for much of the year with a hamstring injury.
"They've all done such a nice job that I think we've been able to push some guys and get them rest and go with different guys on the next day," Counsell said, "and not have to think you have to have that guy available every single day."
Knebel returned this week. But the late innings were still in good hands with Hader, who has gone at least two innings in his each of his five saves.
"We're a family," Hader said. "I really think when you attack the zone and have each other's backs, there's no better feeling right there."