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Pomeranz thriving as fireballing reliever

@AdamMcCalvy
September 18, 2019

MILWAUKEE -- Gio Gonzalez was extolling the virtues of Drew Pomeranz, lights-out reliever, when someone suggested that Pomeranz was turning into Josh Hader Jr. Gonzalez did some quick math in his head. “He might be a little older,” Gonzalez said, “so I might give him the Sr.” While technically true

MILWAUKEE -- Gio Gonzalez was extolling the virtues of Drew Pomeranz, lights-out reliever, when someone suggested that Pomeranz was turning into Josh Hader Jr.

Gonzalez did some quick math in his head.

“He might be a little older,” Gonzalez said, “so I might give him the Sr.”

While technically true -- Pomeranz is 30, Hader 25 -- it’s Pomeranz who is just learning the ropes of relief. He’s finding success similar to two-time All-Star Hader.

Pomeranz made the switch in July when he was still with the Giants, and he has continued performing in the role in remarkable fashion since a July 31 trade to the Brewers.

He had a six-up, six-down save Tuesday night at Miller Park in the Brewers’ 3-1 win over the Padres, which lifted the Crew back into a tie for the National League’s second Wild Card berth. Pomeranz has struck out 43.4 percent of the batters he has faced since the trade. Hader’s rate this season is a best-in-baseball 48.5 percent.

There’s no secret to how Pomeranz has morphed from a starter with a 5.97 ERA this season in San Francisco to a lights-out reliever for a team in the middle of a pennant race. He’s doing it with power fastballs that have jumped in velocity from a 91.3 mph average on June 16, his final start with the Giants, to 94.3 mph on July 22 in his first appearance out of the bullpen, to the 95-96 mph range for the Brewers. His four-seamer averaged 95.2 mph on Monday, when he threw 19 fastballs in 24 pitches.

“Just sitting in here watching him, it’s like he could literally throw all fastballs,” said Brandon Woodruff, who touched 99 mph with his own fastball on Monday in his first start off an oblique injury. “It’s like Hader in a way, just coming in there and firing fastballs. Until they hit it, keep throwing it. He’s done a phenomenal job for us. He’s pitching in some big games and some big innings. He’s doing a terrific job.”

Pomeranz has thrown fastballs 75 percent of the time and curves 25 percent in a Brewers uniform. That’s still shy of Hader’s 85 percent fastballs, but in the neighborhood.

“I didn’t think I was going to go back out there a second inning,” said Pomeranz, eligible for free agency at season’s end. “I gave it all I had the first inning and came back in and they said, ‘Keep going.’ My focus is getting outs. So, it was three more outs.”

Said Brewers manager Craig Counsell: “It’s always a challenge to figure out which guys are going to benefit from the bullpen. Some guys, it’s the same. And then you see a guy like Drew, and it’s night and day. I think from Drew’s perspective, it’s, ‘I can just let it fly.’ That’s what he’s doing.”

With four more strikeouts against San Diego, Pomeranz has 36 whiffs in 21 1/3 innings as a Brewer and has limited opponents to a .189 average. He has been a crucial addition to a team missing former closer Corey Knebel (Tommy John surgery) and Jeremy Jeffress (released earlier this month) from the National League Championship Series roster of a year ago.

Counsell relied heavily on whom he dubbed “the electric dudes” in the bullpen last fall. Now Pomeranz and Hader are an electric duo, with Counsell increasingly counting on such others as right-handers Jay Jackson and Junior Guerra in big spots. Left-hander Alex Claudio also has been effective after a rocky start to the season.

“I think we’ve gotten ourselves in a place where I feel like we’ve got a bunch of weapons in the bullpen again,” said Counsell, whose club has won 11 of its past 12 games. “It’s not one guy; it’s multiple guys we can go to. To go through a stretch like this, that’s what you need. We’re not going to the same guy every night; we’re going to different guys and the guys are getting the job done.”

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