MILWAUKEE -- There are times, says Eric Thames, that he catches himself laughing at first base after watching a hitter react to something filthy out of Josh Hader's left hand."I'm just chuckling," said Thames. "Like, 'Oh man, that stinks.'"Thames, Milwaukee's Mr. April, hit the decisive home run, and Junior Guerra
MILWAUKEE -- There are times, says Eric Thames, that he catches himself laughing at first base after watching a hitter react to something filthy out of Josh Hader's left hand.
"I'm just chuckling," said Thames. "Like, 'Oh man, that stinks.'"
Thames, Milwaukee's Mr. April, hit the decisive home run, and Junior Guerra delivered the scoreless start. Both were wowed by Hader, who added three more strikeouts and another two-inning save to his dominant start to the season in the Brewers' 2-0 win over the Reds on Tuesday at Miller Park.
Forty-one batters have stepped into the box against Hader. Twenty-five have struck out. Hader is tied for ninth in the National League in strikeouts, even though he has worked 11 2/3 innings of relief and everyone else on the leaderboard has at least four starts.
Tuesday marked Hader's second straight two-inning save, but he is not the Brewers' closer, even though All-Star Corey Knebel is on the disabled list. Manager Craig Counsell wants to remain free of the constraints of that role with the long-haired left-hander.
"There are a few guys in the league who have fastballs like that," Thames said. "Out of the hand, you think it's going to be a ball down. Then, bam, it has that late life, and it just blows you away. It's like, 'I was right on that pitch,' and then it's in the mitt.
"As a hitter, that's the biggest headache in the world. Hader has done a great job for us to step up like that."
Is this sustainable? Not just the strikeouts, but the multi-inning outings? Hader has recorded at least four outs in six of his seven appearances this season, including four appearances of two full innings.
"I don't know," said Hader. "I guess we can find out."
Has he looked at his eye-popping statistics?
"I don't really check that out," Hader said. "Whenever I get up, I get outs."
The Brewers had to get a lead in order to get Hader into the game. Thames obliged in the sixth inning with a two-run homer off Cincinnati starter Sal Romano, who entered the game with a 6.46 ERA but matched Guerra through five scoreless innings against a Brewers lineup bolstered by the return of Thames and Ryan Braun from minor injuries.
Guerra's second start of the season was just as good as his first. He allowed one hit -- a Joey Votto two-out single in the third inning -- in 5 2/3 scoreless innings, with three walks and seven strikeouts, including a trio of swinging strikeouts on his signature splitter. Guerra threw only nine of his 20 pitches for strikes in the first inning, when he had to navigate around consecutive one-out walks before settling in.
In his first two starts since a promotion from Triple-A, Guerra has allowed one run on five hits in 11 innings, for a 0.82 ERA.
"I feel really good right now," Guerra said. "I don't know if I'll have the same year as two years ago, but the best thing right now is I feel really good."
Dan Jennings, Jeremy Jeffress and Hader finished the Brewers' first shutout in 2018. It was their first shutout over the Reds since Sept. 14, 2016, and their first shutout over the Reds at Miller Park since Aug. 28, 2015.
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Mr. April: Romano allowed only a walk and two singles before Lorenzo Cain worked a walk leading off the sixth inning, and Thames followed with a home run to the second deck in right field. It was Thames' sixth home run this month and his 17th April homer over the past two seasons to match the Nationals' Bryce Harper for most in the Majors. Nine of Thames' April home runs over the past two years, and 11 of his 37 home runs overall, have come at the Reds' expense.
Hader vs. Votto: The best moment of Hader's two innings came with two outs and the bases empty in the eighth, when Votto, the 2017 National League MVP runner-up, stepped to the plate. Hader fell behind in the count, 3-1, but came back with consecutive fastballs to catch Votto looking.
"I don't know if it was fun [because] I got into a deep count," Hader said. "It was nice to get that punchout."
Said Counsell: "He's getting outs. He's getting them in a pretty dominating fashion right now. The first innings of his work have been absolutely electric. We'll keep trying to put him in good spots and give him the proper rest. I still think that's critical for him. With the way he's performing, we have to do that."
According to Elias, Hader's seven straight relief appearances with three or more strikeouts ties Tom Henke (1989 Blue Jays) and Tom Gordon (1991 Royals) for the longest such streak since 1893, when the distance from the pitcher's mound to home plate was set at 60 feet, six inches.
YOU GOTTA SEE THIS
From the "you don't see that everyday" department: Brewers second baseman Eric Sogard kept his focus in the fourth inning and made the catch when Scooter Gennett's towering popup to shallow right field struck one of the cables that help support Miller Park's convertible dome. The Brewers don't track fly balls that strike the roof, but the most notable instance came during Game 4 of the 2008 National League Division Series between the Brewers and Phillies, when Counsell, then an infielder with the Crew, made an athletic catch near the third-base line in Milwaukee's season-ending loss.
The ground rules state that a batted ball that strikes the roof, a roof truss or roof cable over fair territory is in play. If, in the umpires' judgement, it strikes part of the roof in foul territory, it is a dead ball.
HE SAID IT
"Nothing." -- Guerra, when asked what he would do if he had to bat against Hader
The Brewers expect to have one of their big bats back in the lineup against the Reds on Wednesday, when left fielder Christian Yelich makes his first start since sustaining a right oblique injury against the Cardinals on April 4. Zach Davies is Milwaukee's scheduled starting pitcher for the 12:40 p.m. CT series finale, while Tyler Mahle is expected to start for Cincinnati.
Adam McCalvy has covered the Brewers for MLB.com since 2001. Follow him on Twitter @AdamMcCalvy and like him on Facebook.