It will take a lot more than three outings to draw any conclusions, but early signs indicate Josh Hader is aiming to be more multidimensional in his bid to make it three straight National League Reliever of the Year Awards.
Through his first three hitless outings of 2020, Hader threw 22 fastballs and 19 sliders, a 53.7 percent to 46.3 percent mix that represented a dramatic change from the past two years. In 2018, his first full year in the Majors, that ratio was 77.3 percent fastballs to 20.6 sliders, according to Statcast. In ‘19, the fastball was an even more dominant part of his arsenal, 82.9 percent to 15.5 percent.
Hader also spent the spring and early summer continuing to work on his changeup, using technology in the Brewers’ pitching lab in Phoenix to perfect the release. Statcast has not recognized that pitch among his offerings so far in 2020.
“You know, being in the league for two and a half years, these hitters are going to be knowing what you’re throwing,” Hader said. “Relying on my fastball the last years that I’ve been here, these hitters are good enough that they are going to sit on one pitch and they are eventually going to put a barrel to the ball.”
That happened from time to time last season, when Hader surrendered home runs for 15 of the 41 hits he allowed all year in 74 2/3 innings. In parts of two seasons before that, Hader had yielded only 13 homers in 129 innings.
“Coming into this year … I was really focused on my secondaries,” Hader said. “This year, I had time to really develop the shape that I wanted my slider to be, and to develop the changeup. Mixing all those in to make the fastball look faster is one of the things I thought would be very beneficial for me.”
Said Brewers manager Craig Counsell: "It's not necessarily about the percentage he uses it, it's more about Josh having another pitch. For Josh, under just the normal progression and development as a pitcher, it's having more places to go when he needs to. I still think there will be days when Josh can live with his fastball, but there will be days and hitters that it will be helpful to have other options.”
Healy, Feyereisen optioned
Teams faced an 11 a.m. CT deadline to trim active rosters from 30 to 28, where they will remain for the rest of the regular season and postseason. The Brewers optioned infielder Ryon Healy and reliever J.P. Feyereisen, who will return to the team’s alternate training site in Appleton, Wis.
Healy had been active since a weekend promotion to the Majors, making one start as the Brewers’ designated hitter and another as the first baseman. Feyereisen, a Wisconsin native, pitched only once in the Brewers’ first nine games, and he had not appeared since working an inning on Opening Day at the Cubs.
A home game on the road?
The Brewers have played as the road team at home -- in 2017, when Hurricane Irma forced a series to shift from Miami to Miller Park -- but they have never played as the home team on the road.
That could change in 2020.
Major League Baseball announced several scheduling updates on Thursday, including a trio of doubleheaders between the Cardinals and Brewers to make up the three games postponed last weekend following a series of positive tests for COVID-19 within the St. Louis traveling party.
Since the teams only had two more series on the regular-season schedule, they will play doubleheaders on Sept.14 and 16 at Miller Park beginning at 4:10 p.m. CT, and another doubleheader on Sept. 25 at Busch Stadium beginning at 4:15 p.m. CT -- with the Brewers batting as the home team in Game 1. Per the new rule agreed to by players and the league last week, doubleheaders will consist of a pair of seven-inning games, with rosters expanded to 29 each day.
When the Marlins came to Milwaukee to “host” the Brewers three years ago, they were made to feel at home, with palm trees on the concourses at Miller Park and the Marlins’ video package on the scoreboard.
There were two other updates Thursday involving the timing of Brewers games: The Aug. 13 game against the Cubs at Wrigley Field has been pushed back to 6:15 p.m. CT and will be a national broadcast, and the Sept. 9 game against the Tigers at Comerica Park has been moved up to 12:10 p.m. CT.
Lauer set to start
When he makes his Miller Park debut in his first Brewers start on Friday against the Reds, left-hander Eric Lauer is hoping to stick in the team’s ever-changing starting rotation.
Lauer opened the season on the COVID-19 injured list because of contact with an individual who was positive, then struck out six in 2 2/3 innings in a promising relief outing in the third game of the regular season against the Cubs. He has been idle since then.
“It's definitely a weird kind of scenario, a different kind of season that we're going through, so I'm not 100 percent sure what the role is going to be,” Lauer said. “I mean, in my mind and my perfect world it would be that starter routine so that I can kind of stick on that five- or six-day rotation kind of thing, and be one of the guys that we look to every fifth or sixth day to go out there and get a lot of innings.
“So that's my thoughts on it. I'm going to try to stick in the role and help the team in that way as much as I can because I think that's the best way for me to help the team.”
The Brewers essentially have seven pitchers stretched out as starters at the moment, and Counsell has suggested he prefers a flexible rotation. Lauer, acquired in a November trade with the Padres, is one of two left-handers in the mix, with Brett Anderson.