Hader's blown save part of concerning home run trend for closer

July 7th, 2024

MINNEAPOLIS -- The increased rate at which closer has been allowing home runs has been a concerning development this season for the Astros, considering that he allowed three homers last year in 56 1/3 innings with the Padres. That’s only 0.48 home runs per nine innings pitched.

Hader, called upon to pitch a tie game in the ninth inning Sunday afternoon, surrendered his eighth homer of the season, which came in the form of a walk-off blast off the bat of Twins catcher Christian Vázquez, who handed the Astros their second consecutive loss, 3-2, at Target Field.

Hader, who suffered his fifth loss of the season, was trying to go “up and in” with a 96.7 mph sinker that instead wound up staying over the middle of the plate. Vázquez sailed it 362 feet into the left-field seats to beat his former team, for which he helped win a World Series ring in 2022.

“You don’t want to lose a game,” Hader said. “In that situation, you want to at least take it to an opportunity where we can get our bats at the plate and be able to score some runs, but [it’s] part of the game sometimes. Obviously, I want to go up there and put up zeroes every time I can and it just didn’t happen.”

The Astros went 6-4 on their 10-game road trip with series wins over the Mets and Blue Jays, but losing the final two games -- Houston’s first two-game losing streak since June 9-10 -- dampened an otherwise successful trip.

“And I’ll take [6-4] every time,” Astros manager Joe Espada said. “[That] is a pretty good road trip and the boys are grinding. They’re playing really hard. We’re looking forward to our off day tomorrow.”

Hader gave up a grand slam to Carlos Correa in the ninth inning of Friday’s 13-12 win over the Twins before he was able to shut the door. On Sunday, he misplaced a 3-2 sinker and gave up the eighth walk-off homer of his career.

“This is the big leagues and you’ve got to give guys credit for getting to their pitches,” Espada said. “They put [up] some good swings and it happens. I don’t want to take anything away from any hitter in the big leagues.”

Hader has allowed eight homers in 39 innings this season, which is 1.85 homers allowed per nine innings. Five of those eight homers have come on sinkers, with two on sliders and one on a changeup. Hader said he’s simply not executing his fastball at the top of the strike zone.

“I’m sure if you look at it, last year I was able to execute at the top of the zone a lot more often,” he said. “I’m in the zone this year, which then gives the hitters a chance to hit the inner-half fastball.”

Astros starter Spencer Arrighetti rebounded from a rough start in Toronto on Tuesday holding the hot-hitting Twins to two runs and seven hits in five innings. He walked two and struck out six batters while throwing a career-high 101 pitches. He induced 12 whiffs on 49 swings (24.5 percent) and allowed only eight hard-hit balls.

“My goal every single time is to just keep us in the ballgame, and I feel like despite the traffic, I was able to do just that,” Arrighetti said. “I would never draw it up that way. I’m not out there putting people on [base] on purpose, but I’m proud of the way I dealt with it.”

Houston relievers Bryan King, Ryan Pressly (10 consecutive scoreless appearances) and Bryan Abreu worked behind him with each throwing a scoreless inning to keep the game at 2-2 entering the ninth and hand the ball over to Hader.

“I can’t speak highly enough of our bullpen,” Espada said. “They have kept us in games, and if it wasn’t for that group of guys, we would not have been able to turn our season around. I trust those guys and things happen.”