Friday, August 19, 2022

Josh Hader’s July struggles continue as Brewers closer yields three home runs in walk-off loss vs. Giants

The San Francisco Giants snatched victory from the jaws of defeat on Friday night with a stunning six-run, ninth-inning comeback against the Milwaukee Brewers to win 8-5. Mike Yastrzemski capped the rally with a walk-off grand slam. It was San Francisco’s first walk-off homer since Aug. 25, 2020. Nearly two full years ago.

Here is the three-homer, six-run ninth inning rally:

Note all three homers and all six runs came against Brewers closer Josh Hader, arguably the top reliever in the sport. Lately though, Hader has been anything but. Friday’s meltdown was the fifth time in six appearances Hader allowed a run, and he’s allowed four homers to the last eight batters he’s faced. That seems impossible for a guy with his stuff, but it’s true.

Here are Hader’s last six appearances: 

July 4

vs. Cubs

1

2

1

1

2

1

July 6

vs. Cubs

1

1

1

1

1

2

July 8

vs. Pirates

1

2

1

1

1

2

July 12

at Twins

1

3

July 13

at Twins

2

3

3

1

1

July 15

at Giants

1/3

5

6

6

3

Total

4 1/3

12

12

12

3

9

5

Prior to these six games, Hader owned a 1.05 ERA and had held hitters to a .125/.196/.225 batting line through 25 2/3 innings. He now has a 4.50 ERA and a .204/.280/.434 opponent’s batting line through 30 innings.  

“It was the fastball tonight,” Brewers manager Craig Counsell told MLB.com after Friday’s loss. “They jumped on some fastballs. I think we’ve got to get to work and try to help him. Location’s always something that’s obviously important. He’s lived with a great fastball. Hitters know a fastball is coming, and that’s been dominant. We’ve just got to take a look at it and get him straightened out.” 

Hader, an All-Star this year for the fourth time in his six big league seasons, confirmed he is healthy following Friday’s meltdown. He chalked up his recent issues to poor execution, and, yeah, that’s certainly part of it, though it should be noted his fastball whiff rate is a career worst 33.3 percent. It’s typically up around 40 percent. Hitters are taking pretty good rips against what has been one of the game’s best fastballs the last few seasons.

“I think it’s just the execution part of the pitching. I don’t think it’s anything big. I think it’s the ‘finish’ part of pitching. If you can execute the pitches you need to make and limit the mistakes, you’re going to put yourself in a better position,” Hader said after the blown save. “I feel like I’m trying to feel things I don’t need to and I lost the aggressiveness that I normally have. So, it’s just little things. But I’ve just got to move on and bring it tomorrow.”

It should be noted Hader has had bad stretches like this before, though not quite this bad. Last July, he allowed six runs and three homers in 5 2/3 innings spanning six appearances. In 2020, he gave up seven runs in 4 1/3 innings spanning six games. In 2019, Hader had an extended slump in which he allowed 13 runs and seven homers in 16 innings spanning 15 appearances. Hader has done stuff like this before. He’s shown he can work through slumps and go back to being dominant.

That said, a badly struggling closer could sink a team in a division title race. The Brewers have an elite setup man in Devin Williams (1.77 ERA with 50 strikeouts in 35 2/3 innings) and could slot him into the closer’s role for a bit, just to take some pressure off Hader and allow him to reset in something other than high-leverage situations. It doesn’t have to be permanent. Once Hader gets on track, he can go back to closing, because when he’s dominant in the ninth, the Brewers are at their best.

Great closers have bad stretches all the time — Hall of Famer Mariano Rivera had a bad week in April and a bad week in August every year, like clockwork — though Hader’s current bad stretch is worse than most, plus it’s a little more than just a bad week. I’m not sure the Brewers and Hader are in panic territory yet. There are red flags though. His fastball is getting hit very hard. Hader has shown he can self-correct when he slumps, and Milwaukee needs it to happen soon.

“He’s looking to make pitches, and he’s not making a lot of pitches right now. He’s just searching to make pitches,” Counsell told MLB.com. “… It wasn’t a good night. We’ve got to get to work and see what’s going on, and try to help him fix it.”   

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