Almost as eye-opening as Ryan Braun‘s second two-homer game in less than a week on Friday night was another tough outing turned in by Josh Hader.
The left-hander, who has dominated hitters this season at a level rarely seen in the major leagues, surrendered his third homer in three outings. Adding to the craziness was the fact it was hit by a rookie — Dawel Lugo — who’d never before gone deep and was hitting .209 entering the game.
Hader recorded only one out in one-third of an inning and left with the Milwaukee Brewers tied with the Detroit Tigers before Braun’s homer in the bottom of the eighth decided it.
Hader came into the week on an incredible run, recording 16 consecutive outs via strikeout — a record in the expansion era — while also breaking the all-time record for strikeouts recorded by a left-handed reliever.
Then came the crazy sixth inning in St. Louis on Monday. Hader entered the game with the Brewers leading, 3-1, only to have José Martinez greet him with a homer and two batters later have Marcell Ozuna line a two-run shot out to left-center that put the Cardinals ahead, 4-3.
Milwaukee rallied to win and sweep St. Louis in the three-game series, with Hader pitching a scoreless inning two nights later.
Giving up homers to Martinez and Ozuna — a pair of established major-leaguers — is one thing. But to see Hader hit Jeimer Candelario with a pitch and then have Lugo homer after that was eye-opening to say the least.
Manager Craig Counsell is far from pushing the panic button, however.
“Let’s not just grasp at every different scenario and try to figure out an answer,” he said. “There’s a major-league hitter up there and he’s trying to get Josh. The guy got him last night.”
Counsell is using Hader a little differently than he had earlier in the season, which isn’t a huge surprise considering how big every game has been down the stretch for the Brewers.
Whereas Hader was routinely making appearances of two or more innings and getting three to four days of rest in between, his last six outings have been 1 1/3 innings or shorter and he’s pitched with just one day of rest three times.
His earned run average stands at a season-high 2.50 and is extremely misleading considering how dominant he’s been overall. Hader’s WHIP is still an incredible 0.82, and he’s 6-1 with 11 saves and 140 strikeouts in 54 appearances overall (79 1/3 innings).
So, bottom line, don’t expect anything to change regarding Hader’s role moving forward despite the recent blips.
“Josh is going to get huge outs for us,” Counsell said. “He’s going to be an important part for us and we’re going to need his contribution. Nothing has changed there. They got him last night, that’s how it works. You’ve got to come back the next time you pitch and make pitches.
“He’s going to give up runs. He’s had a great season for us and he’s gotten us to this point. We’ve got to get him rest. That’s important. That’s part of what makes him very effective. So we’ll continue to think about that as we use him.”
Woodruff makes impression: There have been many contributors to the Brewers’ playoff push, especially out of the bullpen.
One of the pleasant surprises has been right-hander Brandon Woodruff, who earned prospect status as a starting pitcher but has shown he can adapt to relief duty.
Since being summoned as a September call-up, Woodruff, 25, has made seven appearances, allowing just one run in 12 1/3 innings (0.73) while logging 16 strikeouts (11.7 per nine innings). Woodruff also has been throwing his fastball regularly in the high 90s (mph), a few clicks above his range when starting.
“Woody is a guy that’s opened our eyes, for sure,” Counsell said. “The way he’s thrown the ball has been impactful and it’s hard not to take notice. He’s put himself into being a candidate for getting some big innings going forward.”
Sounds as if Woodruff is being considered for the postseason roster, doesn’t it? It’s a big change from last September, when he was taking turns in an injury-thinned rotation and went 1-2 with a 6.84 ERA over five games.
“The best thing is that we’ve asked Woody to do a number of different things this year and last year and I think he’s in a place now where he’s comfortable in it,” Counsell said. “I think that’s a big part of it for him.
“He knows that there’s a role for him doing this job and it’s a big job and it’s an important job and it’s been valuable. His September is pretty darn good and they’ve been big innings.”
Woodruff’s future with the Brewers is still considered to be as a starter, but he has no complaints about pitching out of the bullpen with so much at stake, especially after going up and down from Class AAA Colorado five times after making the opening-day rotation.
“It’s a ton of fun,” he said. “Anytime you can help the team get back to the playoffs for the first time in a while, it’s a blast. You want to be a part of it.
“For me, it’s just pitch as hard as I can until they take me out. It seems like a long time ago that I started the season in the rotation. You’re just trying to help the team any way you can. I think those earlier experiences helped me be ready for this.
“I’m not even thinking about next year. I’ve been taking it day by day.”