Hader, in his second season as a relief pitcher for the Milwaukee Brewers, notched eight strikeouts in just 2 2/3 innings of work against the Cincinnati Reds. The hard-throwing left-hander only needed 37 pitches to dispense with eight of the nine hitters he faced to earn the save as the Brewers beat the Reds, 6-5, at Great American Ball Park.
Afterward, both managers expressed awe in what Hader had just accomplished.
“I don’t know what to say about Josh,” normally even-keeled Milwaukee manager Craig Counsell told reporters during the postgame press conference. “Literally, your mouth is kind of wide-open while watching it. It was absolutely incredible.”Hader relieved Brandon Woodruff Monday with one out in the seventh inning and the Brewers clinging to the one-run lead. The Millersville native simply embarrassed the home-standing Reds the rest of the way.
Hader began the eighth by striking out Eugenio Suarez on just four offerings. Tucker Barnhart then drew a five-pitch walk, the only loss of control the 24-year-old showed during the outing. He recovered nicely, blowing away Alex Blandino on four pitches and pinch-hitter Adam Duvall on just three.
“I don’t think anybody could have hit (Hader) tonight,” Cincinnati interim manager Jim Riggleman said during his clubhouse session with the media.
Hader had not pitched since last Wednesday so therefore was extremely fresh. Having mowed down the Cincinnati lineup thus far, the youngster was eager to remain in the game for the ninth, a request Counsell eagerly obliged.
“I definitely felt good. Body was feeling good on that rest,” Hader told reporters. “It was nice to be able to stretch it out, get a couple innings in and let the fastball eat a little bit.”
Hader showed no signs of tiring in the ninth, getting speedster Billy Hamilton when he fouled off a bunt attempt with two strikes. The overpowering lefty actually had to throw six pitches to strike out Jesse Winkler, who looked silly swinging at an 83 MPH slider.
With Votto on deck hoping for another shot at Hader, the sophomore sensation sat down Jose Peraza with a blazing 95 MPH fastball to earn his fourth save of the season on four chances. Along the way, Hader thus became the first pitcher since saves became official in 1969 to strike out at least eight batters in a save of less than three innings.
“I think when you bring (Hader) in for the seventh, I didn’t know that he was going to get through the ninth,” Counsell said. “But he was so efficient, really, in attacking hitters and getting quick strikeouts.”
Hader, who was a starter in the minor leagues, pitched three innings on three different occasions in 2017. Monday’s outing was the longest of this season for Hader, who did not blink about being asked to work longer than usual.
“Just attack the hitters and whenever (Counsell) comes up to me and says I’m out, that’s my mindset,” he said. “I don’t limit myself on how many I go. Whenver I hear, ‘You’re done,” that’s when I’m done.”
Hader has been asked to serve in the closer role more often recently because Cory Knebel has been on the disabled list with a hamstring strain since April 6. Knebel posted 39 saves and was an All-Star selection last season.
Following Monday’s appearance, Hader has a miniscule earned run average of 1.00 to go along with 39 strikeouts in 18 innings. His four saves of two or more innings before May 1 are the most since Derek Lowe accomplished the feat in 2000.
Hader was asked after Monday’s game if he understands how impressive those statistics are.
“Not really. I try and stay away from that stuff. Every day is a new day and I look forward to the next day,” he said. “As long as I can help the team win, that’s my job. You’re going to have good days and you’re going to have bad days. Being able to forget those good days and bad days and stay even-keel is the biggest thing.”
Counsell was asked if Hader has suddenly developed into the most dominant reliever in baseball.
“You can call him whatever you want,” Counsell responded. “I don’t know about that, what you just saw was the most dominant relief appearance in baseball this year.”
Hader is a 2012 graduate of Old Mill High and was selected by the Baltimore Orioles in the 19th round of that year’s MLB First-Year Player Draft. Baltimore traded Hader to the Houston Astros as part of the deadline deal that landed major league starter Bud Norris. Houston subsequently traded Hader in 2014 in a deal to acquire pitcher Carlos Gomez and Mike Fiers from Milwaukee.
The 2012 Capital Gazette Newspapers Player of the Year saw his stock rise dramatically upon joining the Brewers organization. Hader represented Milwaukee in the 2016 Futures All-Star Game and was placed on the organization’s 40-man roster. The left-hander with the 96 MPH fastball made his major league debut last June and wound up appearing in 35 games. He recorded 68 strikeouts in 47.2 innings while posting a 2.08 ERA.