Milwaukee Brewers reliever Josh Hader expects to remain more of a traditional ninth-inning closer this season after occasionally working multiple innings earlier in his career.
“The closer rule is a good fit, especially with the bullpen arms we have,” the two-time All-Star said Tuesday from the Brewers’ spring-training site in Phoenix.
Brewers manager Craig Counsell said Hader will fill largely the same role as last season. Hader acknowledged that working multiple innings can be a grind and said he appreciated the more defined ninth-inning assignment last season.
“The ups and downs are what’s more taxing than anything, especially the amount of pitches,” Hader said. “That’s something that wears and tears on you over the course of the season.”
Hader, who turns 27 on April 7, pitched just 19 innings in 21 games last season. The left-hander had worked 81 1/3 innings in 55 games in 2018 and 75 2/3 innings over 61 games in 2019.
Milwaukee’s bullpen depth should afford the Brewers the opportunity to enable Hader to stick to the ninth inning.
Devin Williams returns after allowing just one earned run and striking out 53 batters in 27 innings last season to earn NL Rookie of the Year honors. The Brewers also have Eric Yardley (2-0, 1.54 ERA last season), Brent Suter (2-0, 3.13), Drew Rasmussen (21 strikeouts in 15 1/3 innings), Justin Topa (0-1, 2.35) and Brad Boxberger (1-0, 3.00 with Miami) among others.
“The closer rule is a good fit, especially with the bullpen arms we have,” Hader said. “Having Devin being able to fill the gap in the seventh and eighth, and the other guys as well. There’s a lot of options out there to bridge the gap.”
Hader went 1-2 with an NL-leading 13 saves and a career-high 3.79 ERA that was impacted by two bad outings in a pandemic-shortened season. He walked five and gave up two runs in one-third of an inning Aug. 29 against Pittsburgh, and he allowed four runs in one inning Sept. 12 against the Chicago Cubs. He yielded just two earned runs in his other 17 2/3 innings of work.
He did that while starting to diversify his approach, something Hader is continuing this year. Hader has been willing to add new pitches to complement his fastball, and Counsell believes that decision should enable the left-hander to remain effective for a longer period.
“This is a real credit to Josh and seeing the big picture, long-term, and really understanding himself very well, understanding matchups in the game and giving himself options,” Counsell said. “That’s really what he’s trying to do.”
According to Baseball Savant, Hader threw his slider on 32.3% of his pitches last year, up from 15.5% in 2019 and 20.6% in 2018.
Hader wants to start utilizing a changeup, a pitch he has rarely thrown thus far in the majors.
“That’s a pitch I always had, but it’s never been consistent,” Hader said. “Same with the slider. The slider was more of a priority once I made it to the big leagues, to get that tuned-up and consistent. And I feel like I was in a good spot last year with that slider, so I was able to put more focus on that changeup. This year I was able to use it in games and see how it plays out with lefty and righty hitters. I’m excited about it. Hitters can’t just sit on one pitch now.”
Follow Steve Megargee at https://twitter.com/stevemegargee