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Counsell 'considering everything' for Hader

Brewers debating best role for left-hander, who flourished from 'pen in 2017
MLB.com @AdamMcCalvy

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Will Josh Hader return to the Brewers' starting rotation for 2018 or stay in the bullpen? That remained an open question as the Winter Meetings began Monday, but manager Craig Counsell promised it won't remain open forever.

Counsell wants to give the left-hander some direction before the start of Spring Training -- hopefully long before -- but for now, the answer relies on factors still up in the air. Who will the Brewers acquire this winter to help cover innings while Jimmy Nelson heals from shoulder surgery? Who will they add to the bullpen, and how many innings can those relief arms fill? And most of all, what is best for 23-year-old Hader himself?

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Will Josh Hader return to the Brewers' starting rotation for 2018 or stay in the bullpen? That remained an open question as the Winter Meetings began Monday, but manager Craig Counsell promised it won't remain open forever.

Counsell wants to give the left-hander some direction before the start of Spring Training -- hopefully long before -- but for now, the answer relies on factors still up in the air. Who will the Brewers acquire this winter to help cover innings while Jimmy Nelson heals from shoulder surgery? Who will they add to the bullpen, and how many innings can those relief arms fill? And most of all, what is best for 23-year-old Hader himself?

"Everything is on the table with Josh," Counsell said. "Maybe because of the circumstances of the club last year, we used him in a place we weren't expecting to use him. We weren't expecting to use him in relief, necessarily, and he performed so well.

Winter Meetings interview with Counsell

"So it's opened up this question."

When the Brewers promoted Hader to the big league bullpen in June, general manager David Stearns said the organization still viewed him as a starting pitcher in the future. Then he watched Hader thrive in the 'pen, holding opponents to a .156 average, including .140 for left-handed hitters.

At the same time, Counsell was employing some of the ideas he'd been thinking about since the previous winter. Counsell has made it his mission to blur the lines between starter and reliever, preaching instead the idea of "out-getter."

It's a strategy managers have been deploying in the postseason, when travel days make it easier to lead hard on an ace reliever. During the grind of the regular season, it is more problematic, but Counsell and pitching coach Derek Johnson learned along the way how far they could safely and effectively push Hader during the Brewers' stretch drive.

Tweet from @Brewers: The #WinterMeetings are underway! Manager Craig Counsell meets with the media in Orlando. pic.twitter.com/A84vLDhK8V

For his part, Hader said at the end of the regular season that he'd like to know his 2018 role by the end of the year, because it would impact his pre-Spring Training throwing program.

"They'll communicate with me once we find a decision about what is best," Hader said. "I just like being in the big leagues. I'll take any chance I can do that, starting or relieving."

So, starter or relief? As a starter, if he can continue to improve the changeup -- which would be required to navigate lineups likely to be stacked top-to-bottom with right-handed hitters -- Hader would deliver more innings. As a reliever, Counsell could have more control over the matchups, and Hader could deliver high-leverage work in a higher percentage of the team's games.

"Look, we have not added any pitchers to the mix as of yet," Counsell said. "So I think part of that decision kind of is reflective on what we add and who we add. The other thing is that he had a lot of success in the role we used him in last year. Are there ways to expand on that? Can you use him at the start of the game in a role like that?

"So we're considering everything right now with Josh. On Dec. 10, you feel like you've got some time still."

Counsell added, "The challenge is to always push ourselves to be open to Josh doing more while keeping him healthy and effective. As we add pitchers to chew up innings in the big leagues, that will clear itself up."

Adam McCalvy has covered the Brewers for MLB.com since 2001. Follow him on Twitter @AdamMcCalvy and like him on Facebook.

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Milwaukee Brewers, Josh Hader