Closer Encounters: Hader Saves His Season?

Closer Encounters: Hader Saves His Season?

This article is part of our Closer Encounters series.

It took Josh Hader just under one month to record his first save with the Padres.

With Nick Martinez unavailable Wednesday after logging back-to-back saves for San Diego on Monday and Tuesday, the struggling left-hander preserved a 5-4 win at San Francisco with a scoreless ninth inning for his 30th save of the season. Hader was able to work around a lead-off single by Thairo Estrada, then a passed ball, to strand the runner at second and get back on track against the team he had previously given up nine earned runs against across three appearances this season.

He threw 14 pitches — 13 sinkers and one slider — eight of which went for strikes and three that resulted in whiffs.

Hader's appearance wasn't dominant, but it was certainly a step in the right direction. Padres pitching coach Ruben Niebla — who I'm very familiar with and have a high degree of faith in from his success working with Cleveland's pitching factory over two decades — seems to think the southpaw is close to returning to form.

For more on Niebla, check out Zack Meisel's piece for The Athletic last November, right after he got hired as the Padres' pitching coach. Niebla was there for Corey Kluber and Shane Bieber's Cy Young

It took Josh Hader just under one month to record his first save with the Padres.

With Nick Martinez unavailable Wednesday after logging back-to-back saves for San Diego on Monday and Tuesday, the struggling left-hander preserved a 5-4 win at San Francisco with a scoreless ninth inning for his 30th save of the season. Hader was able to work around a lead-off single by Thairo Estrada, then a passed ball, to strand the runner at second and get back on track against the team he had previously given up nine earned runs against across three appearances this season.

He threw 14 pitches — 13 sinkers and one slider — eight of which went for strikes and three that resulted in whiffs.

Hader's appearance wasn't dominant, but it was certainly a step in the right direction. Padres pitching coach Ruben Niebla — who I'm very familiar with and have a high degree of faith in from his success working with Cleveland's pitching factory over two decades — seems to think the southpaw is close to returning to form.

For more on Niebla, check out Zack Meisel's piece for The Athletic last November, right after he got hired as the Padres' pitching coach. Niebla was there for Corey Kluber and Shane Bieber's Cy Young seasons and has helped develop Mike Clevinger, Triston McKenzie and countless others throughout their careers. He's a big reason I think Hader can return to his dominant ways this season.

In the post-game clubhouse Wednesday, Hader noted that some mechanical adjustments were necessary, and he admitted to being mentally affected by his recent struggles:

"Obviously, you go through struggles of mechanics or whatnot, but what a lot of people don't understand is the mental side of the game," Hader said. "If you can go through that (expletive) every single day, it's pretty much uphill from there."

Also remember Hader and his family recently welcomed a newborn child right before his trade to San Diego, while also missing time in late May on the family medical emergency list. We often forget, amidst analyzing statistics and box scores, that Major League Baseball players are human too, though Hader downplayed the pressure associated with joining a new team.

"It's just bad timing," he said, mentioning the mechanical problems that predated his trade from Milwaukee.

Am I ready to anoint Hader the Padres' closer again?

Not quite. We still need to see an extended run from him with positive results. Hader still has a 19.06 ERA and 3.53 WHIP in eight appearances (5.2 innings) with the Padres, even after Wednesday's scoreless outing. Plus, Nick Martinez has been Bob Melvin's "go-to" reliever in the ninth inning of late, tallying all four of the team's saves between August 21 and August 30. For now, I've labeled this a committee between Martinez and Hader until one of them separates themselves. Those who have been thinking about dropping Hader may wish to hold on another week in case he carries this positive momentum forward through his next several outings.

Closer Updates Around the League

Red Sox - After going 20-6 in June and looking like they'd be playoff contenders in the American League, Boston has gone 20-35 over the last two months to fall to last place in the AL East. Despite their losing ways, the Red Sox still managed to tally nine saves during the month of August, with the distribution split as follows: Garrett Whitlock (3), John Schreiber (2), Matt Barnes (2) and Tanner Houck (2).

Houck (back) is currently on the injured list and has experienced persistent soreness that has pushed back his throwing program. Consider him out of the mix for saves moving forward since he may not even return this season. Among the currently healthy options, Whitlock offers the most upside for ratio support, strikeouts and the potential for wins and saves. He's been pitching high-leverage, multi-inning stints for Boston since shifting back to the bullpen in mid-July. Schreiber has had a breakout season but scuffled a bit in August, posting a 3.95 ERA and 1.32 WHIP. Interestingly enough, it has been old friend Matt Barnes who has captured our attention once again. In addition to logging Boston's most recent save on Wednesday, Barnes has a solid yet unspectacular 13:4 K:BB ratio over his last 10 innings, with two saves and two holds during that span. Those desperate for saves should consider adding him for a cheap price, with the caveats that a full-time closer role isn't guaranteed and an implosion that could impact ratios is always possible.

Yankees - Clay Holmes has yet to be afforded a save chance since returning from the injured list earlier this week, but two consecutive scoreless outings make him the likeliest candidate to get the next opportunity, especially with Scott Effross (shoulder) and Aroldis Chapman (leg) currently on the IL.

Angels - It appears Los Angeles is willing to give their best reliever this season, Jimmy Herget, an extended look in the closer role. Herget has tallied saves in each of his last three appearances for the Angels, while lefty Jose Quijada has been relegated to eighth-inning duties in three of his last four outings. Veteran Ryan Tepera has pitched the seventh inning in two of his last three, while Jesse Chavez returned to Atlanta after the Angels released him. Looking at the numbers, it makes sense that Phil Nevin has turned to Herget in the ninth inning. The right-hander was impressive last month, with a 0.53 ERA, 0.82 WHIP and 18:6 K:BB over 17 August innings. Herget is capable of multi-inning stints and currently sports the best walk rate (5.8 percent) and second-best strikeout rate (25.0 percent) among Angels relief pitchers. An obvious negative is the Halos' losing record, but Shohei Ohtani and company have won five of their last six. Herget makes for a solid backup plan if you miss out on Holmes.

Reliever Appreciation Corner

I debuted this section in my last article to highlight relief pitchers who have performed well over recent stretches.

Andres Munoz, Mariners - Munoz led all relievers with nine shutdowns (against only one meltdown) in August. His 1.98 gmLI last month ranked eighth among qualified relievers, and he struck out 25 in 12.1 innings. He's getting five-to-seven strikeouts per week — often better than a starter with one start during the week would provide — and he's likely to benefit your ratios. I still think Seattle should give him a longer look as their closer now that he's signed over the next several seasons.

James Karinchak, Guardians - Karinchak hasn't been scored upon since July 6, a span of 18 appearances and 21 innings during which he's struck out 38 batters. Among qualified relievers, his 50 percent strikeout rate in August ranked second (behind Munoz's 51 percent) and his K-BB percentage ranked third at 37.5 percent.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Ryan Rufe
Ryan manages the MLB Closer Grid and authors 'Closer Encounters'. He also contributes to the MLB draft kit and has been helping RotoWire subscribers through our 'Ask An Expert' feature since 2014. He's an NFBC enthusiast.
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