Brewers’ Josh Hader happy with more defined ninth-inning role

Josh Hader
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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.”

Swanson, Olson go deep vs Scherzer, Braves take NL East lead

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ATLANTA — Dansby Swanson and Matt Olson homered off Max Scherzer, lifting the Atlanta Braves to a crucial 4-2 victory Saturday night over the New York Mets and a one-game lead in the NL East.

The defending World Series champions beat aces Jacob deGrom and Scherzer on consecutive nights to take their biggest lead of the season in the division. New York, which held a 10 1/2-game cushion on June 1, faces its biggest deficit of the year with four games remaining.

Atlanta will try for a three-game sweep Sunday night, with the winner earning the season-series tiebreaker between the teams. Even though both teams are headed to the postseason, that’s important because the NL East champion gets a first-round bye in the playoffs.

Swanson’s 24th homer, a go-ahead, two-run shot in the fifth inning, touched off a frenzy among the sold-out crowd at Truist Park, the ball sailing a few rows up into the seats in left-center to make it 3-2. Olson hit his 32nd homer in the sixth, a solo shot into Chop House seats in right to put Atlanta up 4-2.

Austin Riley led off the fourth with a double and scored on Olson’s single to make it 1-all.

Kyle Wright (21-5) gave up two runs and seven hits with one walk and three strikeouts in five innings as he won his eighth straight decision. The Braves have won 16 of his last 17 starts.

New York went up 2-1 in the fifth when Pete Alonso, Francisco Lindor and Jeff McNeil hit consecutive two-out singles.

The Mets led 1-0 in the first when Brandon Nimmo singled, advanced on a walk and a single and scored on Eduardo Escobar‘s groundout. Wright, who threw 30 pitches in the first, stranded two runners in scoring position to prevent further damage.

Scherzer (11-5) allowed a first-inning single to Riley and a third-inning infield single to Ronald Acuna Jr., who advanced to third on a fielding error by Lindor at shortstop but was stranded when Michael Harris II lined out to center. Scherzer patted his glove and pumped his fist as he walked off the mound.

Scherzer was charged with nine hits and four runs with no walks and four strikeouts in 5 2/3 innings as the Mets were knocked out of first place for only the third day all season.

The Braves have won five of the last six against New York to tie the season series 9-all, outscoring the Mets 37-16 over that stretch.

Atlanta’s bullpen, which posted a 1.70 ERA in September, got a perfect inning from Dylan Lee in the sixth. Jesse Chavez faced four batters in the seventh, Raisel Iglesias faced the minimum in the eighth and closer Kenley Jansen pitched a perfect ninth for his NL-leading 39th save in 46 chances.

Since the Braves were a season low-tying four games under .500 at 23-27 after play on May 31, they have gone 76-32, tying the Los Angeles Dodgers for the best record in the majors over that span. They were a season-worst 10 1/2 games behind the first-place Mets on June 1.

Wright, the only 20-game winner in baseball this season, hasn’t officially become the first Braves pitcher to lead the league in wins outright since Russ Ortiz had 21 in 2003, but the Dodgers’ Julio Urias has 17 and can’t reach 20 before the regular season ends.

Wright will become the first Braves pitcher since Hall of Famer Tom Glavine in 2000 to lead the majors in wins. Houston ace Justin Verlander also has 17.

Wright began the game 1-4 with a 6.75 ERA in six career starts and one relief appearance against the Mets.

The Braves, who got homers from Riley, Olson and Swanson off deGrom on Friday, lead the NL with 240 homers.

TRAINER’S ROOM

Mets: All-Star RF Starling Marte (right middle finger fracture) has yet to begin swinging or throwing. Manager Buck Showalter said Marte is experiencing less pain but not enough to take the next step in his recovery. Marte has been sidelined since Sept. 7.

Braves: RHP Spencer Strider still has not thrown as he gets treatment on a sore left oblique. Manager Brian Snitker said there is no timetable for the rookie’s return. Strider has been sidelined since Sept. 21.

NICE GLOVE

Harris ran back and jumped to catch Nimmo’s fly against the wall in center field for the first out of the third.

UP NEXT

Mets RHP Chris Bassitt (15-8, 3.27 ERA) will face RHP Charlie Morton (9-6, 4.29) as the teams conclude a three-game series.