You'll never guess which pitch Hader is working on

March 18th, 2022

PHOENIX -- It’s a Spring Training tradition like none other: Josh Hader plans to spend the next couple of weeks working on his changeup.

If that sounds familiar, it’s because Hader has come to camp prioritizing that pitch for years, and he managed to make some headway in 2021 en route to winning the National League Reliever of the Year Award for the third time in four years. He threw 65 changeups (6.7 percent of his pitches) during the regular season, according to Statcast. That was after throwing none in 2020 and one in 2019.

It’s Hader’s way of trying to get better, even as he is perched at the top of the sport.

“It's just a mentality,” Brewers manager Craig Counsell said. “Josh has just lived with it, I think. It keeps him on that path, just always looking for something else to do or a way to get a little bit better in every facet that he can control.”

Counsell is so impressed by Hader’s willingness to experiment that he made it the topic of one of the Brewers’ first morning meetings in camp. Early in his career, Hader had success pitching almost entirely with fastballs. But he used spring to work on his slider, and it’s become a weapon.

“Even when maybe we've said, 'You're gonna work on that?' He's like, 'I need to keep going with it,’” Counsell said. “And he makes it something important and useful. The evolution of his slider. For a lot of us at times, you could look at it through '18 and wonder why he'd need something else, but he saw it coming, and to his credit, he was right.”

Said Hader: “For me, it’s just about getting one percent better. Each offseason, I try to refine all my pitches, try to get more consistent. At the end of the day, as long as we can be consistent with what we do, the results are going to come. I don’t try to be better than the previous season, not stat-wise at least. But mechanically, the pitching mentality, trying to work hitters, keep on the same line with my pitches, that’s the real key.”

He was asked about the one thing he’s prioritizing most in camp.

“I think this year, coming in, it’s my changeup. Having that third pitch would be huge,” Hader said. “To be able to throw it in any count, that’s the big part for me. How can I use all three of my pitches and have confidence in any count?”

Last call

• Hader is one of 10 Brewers players still eligible for salary arbitration, a list that includes key performers like Brandon Woodruff, Corbin Burnes, Willy Adames, Luis Urías and others. Team and players will exchange figures on Tuesday if they don’t reach an agreement before then, and potential hearings would be scheduled for in-season. Hader, who has gone to arbitration with the Brewers in each of the last two years, is trying not to think about it, saying, “Hopefully we can come to an agreement and not have to go to arb. There’s a lot of communication back and forth. If we can’t make it and we have to go to a case in-season, we’ll figure it out.”

• Right-hander Logan Henderson, the Brewers’ fourth-round pick in 2021 and their No. 19 prospect per MLB Pipeline, had right elbow surgery -- not Tommy John -- Thursday, per farm director Tom Flanagan. The Brewers do expect Henderson to pitch in games later this season.

• Shortstop Adames and right fielder Hunter Renfroe are among the position players penciled into the lineup for Friday’s 3:05 p.m. CT Cactus League opener against the Dodgers. Renfroe, acquired by the Brewers in a pre-lockout trade, has already made an impression by smashing a batting practice home run clear out of American Family Fields of Phoenix.

“He hits the ball far. It's going to be fun to watch BP. He destroys baseballs,” Counsell said. “He hits them very hard. He already hit a ball over the second wall in the stadium, which is much rarer than you think. It doesn't happen every spring and he did it his first day he was down there. Things like that, without seeing any games, do stand out.”