MILWAUKEE -- Long-term, the Brewers still see Josh Hader as a starter, general manager David Stearns said on the team's television broadcast Saturday. He spoke just as Hader was beginning to fire fastballs at the Cubs in the sort of dominant, Andrew Miller-style relief outing that makes one wonder what
MILWAUKEE -- Long-term, the Brewers still see Josh Hader as a starter, general manager David Stearns said on the team's television broadcast Saturday. He spoke just as Hader was beginning to fire fastballs at the Cubs in the sort of dominant, Andrew Miller-style relief outing that makes one wonder what Hader could do over the years if the Brewers just let him air it out of the bullpen.
In an 11-inning, 2-1 loss to the Cubs, Brewers starter Junior Guerra struggled so much with command that he was out of the game by the fourth, Brewers batters couldn't find a hit with runners in scoring position and Jason Heyward's home run off Jared Hughes sealed Milwaukee's 28th relief loss this season, most in the Majors. But in the middle of it all was Hader, who topped out at 98.5 mph while striking out six and limiting the Cubs to one walk and one hit in three scoreless innings for his best big league outing to date.
"He's proud of his fastball and I love that," said Cubs manager Joe Maddon. "I watched him on video. I think he's proud of his fastball and he's also proud of his hair. I'm definitely an advocate of that. He should be on a beer shampoo commercial."
Slowly but surely, manager Craig Counsell and the Brewers have elevated Hader's role. There was a three-inning, seven-strikeout stint at Yankee Stadium just before the All-Star break, and a showdown with Bryce Harper in a big spot in Washington earlier this week. Hader struck Harper out.
On Friday night against the Cubs, Counsell had Hader warming in the eighth with the Brewers leading by a run. On Saturday, with the largest crowd of the season packed into Miller Park, he called upon Hader for length after Guerra walked four and threw 61 pitches (31 strikes) in three innings of his second straight abbreviated start.
"A lot of fans, adrenaline gets going," said Hader. "But every day, [he is] just coming in prepared, mentally and physically and ready to get outs."
Hader got most of his outs Saturday with his fastball. Of Hader's 53 pitches, 42 were fastballs. He touched 98.5 mph, according to Statcast™.
"My fastball's my best pitch, so I like to use that as much as I can and then use my secondary off that," Hader said. "I felt like I was using my fastball pretty well, to where they weren't getting good cuts on it. I feel like in that situation I should stick with it."
"That guy has good stuff and it's tough to pick up," Cubs starter Kyle Hendricks said. "It's hard and moving and deceptive motion. Hopefully we can see him more. He's definitely in the mix and we'll have to get to him."
Fellow Brewers reliever Jared Hughes sees Hader the most. The two are daily throwing partners.
"He was just rocking and firing and saying, 'Here it comes,'" Hughes said. "That thing was coming out hot at 97. I play catch with him every day and sometimes it's hard to kind of see it come out of his arm slot. It's really funky. I'm glad I don't have to hit against him."
The Cubs' best contact against Hader was produced by Javier Baez, who was robbed of an extra-base hit when right fielder Hernan Perez made a leaping catch at the wall to end the fourth.
The Cubs' only hit off Hader was a Kristopher Bryant single in the fifth.
"Josh was exceptional," Counsell said. "There were a bunch of lefties in that lineup. He was outstanding. Obviously, when you go to your bullpen in the fourth inning, you have to get a big performance from that guy. He gave us one."
Counsell used to offer similar plaudits for Guerra, but this year has been different for the Brewers' Opening Day starter. With consecutive outings in which Guerra has not lasted past four innings, club officials will have a discussion about that spot in the rotation.
So far, the Brewers have not been inclined to move Hader back to a starting role. They like his value in relief.
"Long-term, we see Josh as a starting pitcher," Stearns said. "At this point, we think his role on the team best functions in the 'pen. He's done an outstanding job in the bullpen since we called him up. … For the moment, we're not going to mess with that."
Adam McCalvy has covered the Brewers for MLB.com since 2001. Follow him on Twitter @AdamMcCalvy, like him on Facebook and listen to his podcast.