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Closer? Middle reliever? Josh Hader fine with any role for Brewers
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Closer? Middle reliever? Josh Hader fine with any role for Brewers

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Nobody asks Josh Hader about starting anymore.

The Milwaukee Brewers left-hander was peppered with questions about returning to that role during spring training in 2018 after he earned his first big-league call-up and posted a 2.08 ERA out of the bullpen down the stretch in 2017.

The Brewers left Hader in a relief role and he’s excelled ever since, winning back-to-back NL Reliever of the Year honors, but there’s a new question for Hader as spring training gets underway: How will he be used this year?

Although his role hasn’t changed, the way he performs it has evolved through the years. First, Hader was a middle-inning fireman of sorts, often getting starters out of a jam that bridged the gap to the back end of Milwaukee’s bullpen.

In 2019, he slid into the closer’s role when Corey Knebel was lost to injury but still worked a number of multiple-inning outings. Hader returned to the closer role again in 2020 but this time in a more traditional manner with rookie right-hander Devin Williams handling set-up-man duties.

So what will it be this year? Hader’s answer is the same as it was at the start of his career.

“Whatever role I have going into the season, my job is one pitch at a time,” Hader said Monday. “Whatever the inning, just face each batter I have and do what I have to do to get those three outs.”

Few pitchers have gotten outs as successfully as Hader over the past few years. Although his strikeouts per nine innings dropped to 14.7 last season — his lowest mark since his rookie season — it still ranked sixth among NL relievers. And while his fastball velocity dipped a mile per hour to 95.5, WHIP jumped to 0.95 and ERA rose to 3.79, Hader still led the league with 13 saves.

“Players like Josh are real anchors for your team,” manager Craig Counsell said. “What he’s done over a four-year period is incredible.”

Last season, Hader made a point to make better use of his slider after throwing fastballs 83% of the time in 2019. He accomplished that goal in 2020, throwing the slider 32.3% of the time with opposing batters collecting just one hit in 120 chances against the pitch.

This spring, Hader plans to continue tinkering with his changeup with the hope it will help reduce his home run totals. He allowed three in 19 innings last year, dropping his rate per nine innings slightly from 1.8 in 2019 to 1.4.

“You can’t live on one pitch,” Hader said. “It’s something I can add to that mix to where that fastball plays a little bit better than it normally would.”

Hader, 27, had been the subject of trade rumors during the winter but avoided arbitration by agreeing to terms on a one-year, $6.675 million contract. He earned $4.1 million last season after losing in arbitration, where he sought $6.4 million for 2020.

Anderson arrives

Brett Anderson cleared quarantine and arrived in camp. Anderson, who returned to the team on a one-year contract last week, got off to a late start because of the winter storm that ravaged his home state of Texas, where millions were without power or water.

Anderson said he was fortunate: His home didn’t lose power or water during or after the storm, though many of his friends and neighbors weren’t as lucky.

“Some of the surrounding areas got hit pretty hard,” he said. “It’s been a crazy couple of days.”

Anderson is looking forward to taking advantage of a normal spring training and full 162-game season after going 4-4 with a 4.21 ERA in 10 starts during the 60-game sprint of 2020.

“I feel like I have some unfinished business, so it’s good to be back,” Anderson said.

He was coming off one of his best seasons in recent memory when he first signed with the Brewers but missed his first start of the season because of a blister issue that later resurfaced during his final regular-season start and kept him off the postseason roster.

The increased workload that comes with a return to normalcy not withstanding, going through a normal build-up process while having the chance to made adjustments during the course of the season have Anderson optimistic he can return to his 2019 form.

“Getting on a routine, getting on a normal schedule, throwing progression and things like that, I’m excited for it,” Anderson said.

Milwaukee finalized Anderson's $2.5 million, one-year contract. Anderson can earn $1 million in performance bonuses for innings: $50,000 each for 100, 110, 120 and 130; $100,000 for 140; $200,000 for 150 and $250,000 apiece for 165 and 180. He earned $1,851,852 in prorated pay from a $5 million salary last year and $222,933 in earned bonuses for $2,074,785 total.

All-school assembly

Although a number of them have been in camp for several days, Monday was the deadline for position players to report to American Family Fields of Phoenix, with the first full-squad workout of spring set for Tuesday.

Counsell traditionally holds a team meeting ahead of the first workout, in which he and his staff go over the traditional annual housekeeping items, allow new players to introduce themselves and lay out the themes and expectations for the upcoming season.

The meeting and workout will take place as usual, but with slightly different twists thanks to the health and safety guidelines in place this season.

“We’re going to kind of run two different days tomorrow,” Counsell said. “The position players will go early, the pitchers will go late and we’ll have the meeting in the middle — and we’ll do it outside.”

Jeffress signs with Nationals 

Right-handed reliever Jeremy Jeffress agreed to terms with the Washington Nationals on a minor league deal that is pending the successful completion of a physical exam.

The 33-year-old Jeffress was taken by Milwaukee in the first round pick of the 2006 amateur draft and has pitched for five teams over 11 years in the majors. He was an NL All-Star in 2018 for the Brewers.

Last season, Jeffress went 4-1 with a 1.54 ERA and eight saves in 10 chances for the Chicago Cubs.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Here's everything you need to know as Milwaukee Brewers kick off spring training in Arizona

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