Josh Hader’s July struggles continue as Brewers closer hits three home runs in blowout loss to Giants

The San Francisco Giants pulled victory from the jaws of defeat Friday night with a stunning six-run, ninth-inning comeback against the Milwaukee Brewers to win 8-5. Mike Jastrzemski finished the rally with a grand slam. It was San Francisco’s first homer since August 25, 2020. Almost two full years ago.

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

Notice that all three homers and all six runs came against the Brewers’ Josh Hader, who is arguably the best reliever in the sport. Lately, however, Hader has been anything but. Friday’s outing was Hader’s fifth time in six appearances to allow a run, and he has allowed four homers over the last eight batters he has faced. That seems impossible for a man with his stuff, but it’s true.

Here are Hader’s last six appearances:

July 4th

against the Cubs

1

2

1

1

0

2

1

July 6

against the Cubs

1

1

1

1

1

2

0

July 8

against the pirates

1

2

1

1

1

2

0

July 12

in Gemini

1

0

0

0

0

3

0

July 13

at Gemini

0

2

3

3

1

0

1

July 15

in the giants

1/3

5

6

6

0

0

3

Total

4 1/3

12

12

12

3

9

5

Before those six games, Hader owned a 1.05 ERA and held hitters to a .125/.196/.225 batting line over 25 2/3 innings. He now has a 4.50 ERA and a .204/.280/.434 opposing 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 should get down to business and try to help him. Location is always something that is obviously important. He has lived with a great fastball. Hitters know a fastball is coming and it was dominant. I just have to look at it and fix it.”

Hader, who is making this year’s All-Star Game for the fourth time in his six major league seasons, confirmed he is healthy after Friday’s concussion. He attributed his recent issues to poor execution and, yes, that’s certainly part of it, though it should be noted that his fastball percentage is a career-worst 33.3 percent. It usually goes up about 40 percent. Hitters are hitting pretty well against what has been one of the best fastballs in the game over the last few seasons.

“I think it’s just the execution of the pitch. I don’t think it’s a big deal. I think this is the “final” part of the submission. If you can make the passes you need to make and limit the mistakes, you’re going to put yourself in a better position,” Hader said after the botched save. “I feel like I’m trying to feel things I don’t need to, and I’ve lost the aggressiveness I usually have.” So, these are just little things. But I just have to go ahead and bring it tomorrow.”

It should be noted that Hader has had bad stretches like this before, though not quite this one 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 this sort of thing before. He has shown he can overcome slumps and return to dominance.

That said, a bad pitching approach can 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 give him allow it to reset in anything other than highly leveraged situations. It doesn’t have to be permanent. Once Hader gets going, he can go back to closing because when he dominates 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 little more than just a bad week. I’m not sure the Brewers and Hader are in panic territory yet. Still, there are red flags. His fastball hits very hard. Hader has shown he can adjust when he goes down, and Milwaukee needs that to happen soon.

“He’s looking to make pitches and he’s not making a lot of pitches right now. He’s just looking 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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