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Hader closes out win with immaculate inning

@AdamMcCalvy
March 31, 2019

MILWAUKEE -- Veteran Brewers reliever Alex Wilson has pitched 11 professional seasons for three organizations. Has he ever seen a pitcher like Josh Hader? “No,” Wilson said. “No one’s ever seen a guy like Josh Hader.” The reigning National League Most Valuable Player Award winner was similarly wowed on Saturday

MILWAUKEE -- Veteran Brewers reliever Alex Wilson has pitched 11 professional seasons for three organizations. Has he ever seen a pitcher like Josh Hader?

“No,” Wilson said. “No one’s ever seen a guy like Josh Hader.”

The reigning National League Most Valuable Player Award winner was similarly wowed on Saturday night, and Christian Yelich watched Hader all of last season.

Saturday’s outing was next-level. Hader struck out all three batters he faced on the minimum nine pitches to save a 4-2 win over the Cardinals. It was a so-called immaculate inning, the first of 2019 in Major League Baseball.

Tyler O’Neill fouled off Hader’s first pitch, a fastball. Eight more fastballs followed, and the Cardinals didn’t put lumber on any of them. There was one called strike and seven swinging strikes. Hader’s last pitch was his firmest, a 98.1 mph heater to Yairo Munoz to end the game.

“I’ve never seen anything like that,” Yelich said. “I mean, I’ve seen an immaculate inning before -- from the wrong side. But I’ve never seen one where it was all swings and misses on fastballs. There was one foul ball on the first pitch and then it was domination.”

“It’s as good an inning as you can have,” Brewers manager Craig Counsell said. “You can’t have a better inning than that. He’s had a great start to the season.”

Counsell went on to use the word “incredible,” and it seemed apt. Here’s a breakdown of Hader’s two outings so far this season:

• Nine up, nine down.

• Seven strikeouts.

• Thirty pitches, all fastballs.

• Twenty-two swings, two balls in play, two foul balls, 18 swinging strikes.

"This guy, he’s coming right at people,” Cardinals manager Mike Shildt said. “I’m comfortable that the more we see him, the more we’ll figure him out. Clearly, he’s a talent."

Immaculate innings have become more common in recent seasons, as velocities soar and so do whiff rates. There were four in 2018 after eight in 2017. Hader’s was the first in a save situation since the Dodgers’ Kenley Jansen on May 18, 2017. It was the first by a Brewers pitcher since Mike Fiers on May 7, 2015. And it was the first by a Brewers pitcher for a save since Doug Jones on Sept. 23, 1997.

“I didn’t even know I had it until a couple minutes ago, when [catcher Yasmani Grandal] told me,” Hader said. “Pretty crazy stuff. … Obviously, attacking the zone like that is pretty hard to do.”

Wilson said the closest comparison is a former teammate, Andrew Miller, who now pitches for the Cardinals. But Miller gets most of his swing and miss with a nasty slider.

Hader, so far, has been all fastballs.

“It’s kind of scary, isn’t it?” Wilson said. “You’re going to see me throw all breaking balls, and him throw all fastballs. That’s just how it’s going to work, I think.”

Hader does have a nasty slider, which he threw just shy of 20 percent of the time last season. And like so many pitchers, he worked on a changeup in Spring Training.

“The way we look at it is, ‘Why change something or why try fix something that’s not broken?’” Hader said. “We were just trying to attack the zone and continue to read the swings and what we see. That was one of the big things, continuing to attack with our strengths.”

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