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.
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.
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
WHO'S ON THIRD
After Keston Hiura moved to first base to make way for Kolten Wong, third base remained the only position without an obvious starting candidate.
The Brewers brought Travis Shaw back on a minor-league contract, hoping he can return to the form in 2017-18, when he hit 63 home runs with 187 RBI. While Luis Urias (above) and former top-prospect Daniel Robertson are likely to get a shot at winning the job, too.
Acquired last winter in a trade with Seattle, Omar Narváez (above) was supposed to give the Brewers a much-needed offensive boost while admittedly being a work-in-progress behind the plate. Instead, Narvaez was one of many Brewers hitters to struggle last season but surprised the Brewers’ coaching staff and front office with his defensive improvements. He’s back again in 2021 but will have to battle for a job with the likes of Manny Piña, Jacob Nottingham and Luke Maile.
With Brett Anderson returning on a one-year deal, the Brewers will open camp with all five spots of their starting rotation seemingly filled. But as history has shown, it’s rare to get through an entire season with just five starters. So who’s waiting in the wings if and when the Brewers need a replacement? Eric Lauer (above) and Freddy Peralta will try to earn spots in the rotation this spring, as will former UW-Stevens Point standout Jordan Zimmermann, who is in camp on a minor league deal.
PLAYERS TO BE NAMED LATER
It was a quiet offseason for the Brewers, but they weren’t unique in that regard. Across baseball, trades and signings seemed to be few and far between as players and teams both waited out a winter of uncertainty. Now that camps are open, there’s a greater likelihood of trades and with more than 100 free agents still unsigned, the Brewers’ roster could have a new face or two before the season gets underway.
WILL IT LAST?
Baseball is back, but for how long? That might be the single biggest question this spring, not just for the Brewers but baseball as a whole. The pandemic still rages on and though vaccinations are on the rise, one infection can quickly become an outbreak that leaves an entire team sidelined indefinitely. Players resisted requests and suggestions to delay the start of spring training, and the regular season, by a month believing they proved last year they can complete a season safely. But the margin for error is still slim and another full-blown shutdown of spring training, which would ultimately impact the regular season, remains one large outbreak away.
SPRING TRAINING ROSTER
Teams are allowed to have up to 75 players in major league camp at any given time and the Brewers go into camp with all 40 of their roster spots filled along with 20 non-roster invitees. Once the regular season begins, active rosters will revert to the original 26-player limit that was planned for 2020 before the pandemic suspended operations. Teams still are allowed to add an additional player to the active roster for doubleheaders and can have a taxi squad of up to five players — including one catcher — on all road trips. Rosters will expand again in September, but only by two spots for a total of 28.
Pitchers (31): Brett Anderson, Clayton Andrews*, Aaron Ashby*, Alec Bettinger, Phil Bickford, Ray Black, Zach Brown*, Corbin Burnes, Jake Cousins*, J.P. Feyereisen, Dylan File, Josh Hader, Blaine Hardy*, Adrian Houser, Thomas Jankins*, Eric Lauer, Josh Lindblom, Hoby Milner*, Freddy Peralta, Angel Perdomo, Drew Rasmussen, Miguel Sanchez*, Ethan Small*, Brent Suter, Justin Topa, Quintin Torres-Costa*, Bobby Wahl, Devin Williams, Brandon Woodruff, Eric Yardley, Jordan Zimmermann*.
Catchers (6): Mario Feliciano, Payton Henry*, Luke Maile, Omar Narvaez, Jacob Nottingham, Manny Pina.
Infielders (11): Orlando Arcia, Zach Green*, Keston Hiura, Tim Lopes, Mark Mathias, Jace Peterson*, Daniel Robertson, Travis Shaw*, Brice Turang*, Luis Urias, Daniel Vogelbach, Kolten Wong.
Outfielders (11): Lorenzo Cain, Dylan Cozens*, Derek Fisher, Avisail Garcia, Tristen Lutz*, Billy McKinney, Garrett Mitchell*, Corey Ray, Pablo Reyes*, Tyrone Taylor, Christian Yelich.
* — Non-roster invitee
Manager Craig Counsell’s coaching staff will have a different look in 2021. Third-base coach Ed Sedar has transitioned into a new, advisory role while longtime bullpen catcher Marcus Hanel’s contract was not renewed by the team after last season.
Sedar will be replaced on the staff by Quintin Berry, who had been the Brewers' minor-league outfield and base-running coordinator for the last two seasons after concluding his 13-year playing career serving as a player/coach with Class AAA Colorado Springs in 2018.
Néstor Corredor and Adam Weisenburger will replace Hanel and Robinson Diaz as the team's bullpen catchers.
The rest of Counsell's staff will remain intact moving forward, including hitting coaches Andy Haines (above left) and Jacob Cruz. Chris Hook and Steve Karsay will handle Milwaukee’s pitchers and bullpen, respectively, and Pat Murphy returns for a sixth season as Counsell’s bench coach.
Jason Lane, the Brewers’ first base coach last season, returns, too, though Counsell planned to decide during spring training where Lane and Berry would be used in games this season.
Manager — Craig Counsell (7th season). Bases — Quintin Berry (1st season), Jason Lane (5th season); Bullpen — Steve Karasy (3rd season); Bench — Pat Murphy (6th season); Hitting — Jacob Cruz (2nd season); Andy Haines (3rd season); Bullpen catchers — Néstor Corredor (1st season); Adam Weisenburger (1st season).
CACTUS LEAGUE SCHEDULE
The Cactus League schedule underwent a last-minute adjustment earlier this month with the elimination of split-squad games. The Brewers will play 27 games in Arizona — 14 at American Family Fields and 13 on the road — and wrap up their exhibition slate with a pair of contests against the Rangers at Globe Life Park on March 29 and 30 before returning to Milwaukee ahead of their April 1 regular-season opener against the Twins at American Family Field.
February: 28 — @ Chicago White Sox. March: 1 — at Diamondbacks; 2 — vs. Athletics.; 3 — at Padres; 4 — vs. Cleveland.; 5 — at Rockies; 6 — vs Cubs; 7 — OFF; 8 — vs. Angels; 9 — vs. Giants; 10 — at Athletics; 11 — vs. Royals; 12 — at Cubs; 13 — vs. Rangers; 14 — at Mariners; 15 — vs. Padres; 16 — at Dodgers; 17 — OFF DAY; 18 — at Angels; 19 — vs. Diamondbacks; 20 — at Reds (7 p.m.); 21 — vs. Mariners; 22 — vs Cleveland; 23 — vs. Dodgers; 25 — at Giants (8 p.m.); 26 — vs. White Sox; 27 — at Royals; 28 — at Reds; 29 — vs. Rangers (Arlington, Texas); 30 — vs. Rangers (Arlington, Texas).
(NOTE: Unless otherwise noted, all games start at 2:10 p.m. local time prior to March 14 and 3:10 p.m. after, due to Arizona not observing Daylight Savings Time)
IF YOU GO
Unlike previous seasons, fans will not be able to watch the team’s workouts, which take place on the complex’s ancillary fields. That means no opportunities for kids — little and big alike — to get autographs and pictures. The team store at American Family Fields will be open and the team announced last week that a limited number of fans — up to 23% of capacity at the 10,000-seat stadium — will be allowed to attend games when Cactus League play gets underway.