The Brewers have had two save opportunities arise since Corey Knebel’s looked-worse-than-it-was hamstring injury last week.
They haven’t converted either of them.
I hesitate to say those saves were blown, because for the most part, Jacob Barnes and Matt Albers did their jobs in inducing weak contact. Barnes was burned by Little League-levels of defense on Saturday night, while Albers gave up an infield hit, a bunt single, and a sac fly to lose a one-run lead.
Even though neither pitcher has thrown the ball poorly, the results are enough to get some people worried about what the next 6-or-so weeks could look like without Knebel (who, just so we don’t forget, didn’t look sharp in 2 of his 3 outings before he got hurt).
Meanwhile, Josh Hader is making some good Major League hitters look foolish.
.@jhader17 has 14 strikeouts in just 6.1 innings this season, which is tied with Adam Ottavino (Rockies) for most among @MLB relievers. Opponents are batting just .050 (1-for-20), including a current 0-for-18 stretch. #Brewers— Mike Vassallo (@MikeVassallo13) April 10, 2018
Naturally, that has some clamoring for Hader to take over the role of closer. After all, we’ve been conditioned to think Best Reliever = Closer after a couple of decades of using relief pitchers in that way, and when the Brewers figure to play in so many close games it’s tempting to want the guy blowing everyone away to get the last three outs of the game.
It looks like Craig Counsell is shutting down talk of making Hader the Capital-C Closer early, though. He was asked about the possibility after Monday night’s game and had this to say (courtesy of Adam McCalvy’s game recap):
“If he gets outs, it’s working. We can save him until the end and not get to the ninth. I’d rather make sure we’re using him and be able to use him in multiple innings and good matchups and pick the hitters a little bit. I think it’s a better way for us to go.”
The “it’s working” line is in reference to the way they’re currently using him -- for three or four or five batter stretches through the middle of the opposing team’s lineup for what the Brewers hope are their last at-bats of the game, leaving the less threatening hitters for whoever pitches the rest of the 8th and the 9th innings. On Monday night, that meant Hader mowing down Dexter Fowler, Tommy Pham and Matt Carpenter before Counsell called on Barnes to get righties Marcell Ozuna and Jose Martinez out. That stretch worked perfectly.
Counsell’s point has been and remains this: if Josh Hader is the best reliever in the Brewers’ bullpen -- and he pretty clearly is at this point -- why wait to pitch him in a situation you don’t know for sure will happen? If you avoid using Hader against Matt Carpenter in the 8th inning and he ends up hitting a game-tying home run off of Jacob Barnes, what good was accomplished in saving Hader for the 9th?
That’s why Counsell prefers picking his spots carefully with Hader and controlling the situation, and we can probably expect that to continue.