NLCS Roundtable: What Is the Earliest Inning Josh Hader Will Enter a Game?

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Josh Hader has become arguably the most feared reliever in Major League Baseball, so what is the right time for him to enter a high-stakes game? How many innings will he pitch over the course of the series? The SI MLB staff discusses.

Tom Verducci: First rule: don’t save him for late because the right spot might not come up. Craig Counsell has been very good at avoiding those passive massives.

Second rule: look to Andrew Miller as a guide. Hader should throw eight to nine innings in a seven-game series. Miller won the 2016 ALCS MVP with just 7 2/3 innings against. Toronto. In that postseason Miller entered in the fifth inning three times.

Hader’s early entry is especially important because the Brewers will start a righthander in all non-Wade Miley games, so if Dodgers manager Dave Roberts starts his lefthanded hitters, Craig Counsell can force him early to empty his bench or leave lefties in against Hader – neither a comfortable option.

Emma Baccellieri: Hader’s strong background as a starter makes this intriguing, beyond the standard threshold for playoff bullpen experimentation. As a prospect, he didn’t come out of the bullpen once in three years in Milwaukee’s system, across Double-A and Triple-A. Hader only began working in relief when he was called up, in 2017. That’s contributed to Counsell’s creative deployment of him this year—he’s showed up as early as the fourth inning, and more than half of his appearances have stretched across multiple frames. What does that flexibility look like when extrapolated to the wild world of October? I wouldn’t be surprised to see him come out as early as the third, if a starter’s working his way through the order for a second time and seeing some trouble. As far as total innings, Counsell might be more tempted than usual to lean on Hader, as well as Corey Knebel, given Jeremy Jeffress’ shaky performance in the NLDS. If this one goes seven, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him five or six times for, say, 6.0 IP.

Ben Reiter: Two years ago, the Indians’ Terry Francona set the precedent for how to properly deploy a lefthanded weapon like Hader in October. Francona’s guy was Andrew Miller, and Tito at various points unleashed him in the fifth, sixth, seventh, and eighth inning, allowing him to record as few as four and as many as eight outs. Of course, Miller seemed to run out of gas by the end of the World Series; he allowed two runs on four hits in Game 7 against the Cubs. But Craig Counsell must hope that doesn’t happen to Hader—who has shown he can work more than one inning, something he did 33 times during the regular season—especially as the Brewers’ skipper doesn’t have a starter like Corey Kluber who can take care of a few evenings more or less by himself. There’s no reason why Counsell shouldn’t turn to Hader as soon as the first inning—in, say, a high leverage, bases loaded situation. I’m expecting at least a six-game series, so I’ll set the over-under on Hader’s innings at nine.

Stephanie Apstein: I could imagine seeing Hader as early as the fifth or sixth inning, if the Brewers’ questionable rotation gets into trouble. And with the two travel days, I wouldn’t be shocked to see him putting out fires every game.

Jon Tayler: Hader’s total number of innings will depend on how long this series goes, but a safe bet is that he’ll pitch in every game, and at least one inning every appearance. A Brewers pennant doesn’t really seem feasible without that much Hader, and I expect to see him getting three-to-six outs every night from here on out.

Jack Dickey: Josh Hader should work in four or five games in this series and throw eight innings or so as needed—after a division-series sweep, he should be well-rested. Counsell’s willingness to go to the pen early is an asset here; Hader should pitch a bunch of fifths and sixths.

Connor GrossmanJosh Hader will pitch as many innings as he’s capable of throwing. Let’s call it eight. I don’t envision manager Craig Counsell turning to Hader in a first inning gone wrong, but it’s clearly established in postseason baseball today that there are no hard-and-fast rules. If the game might be decided in the third inning, then here comes Josh Hader to pitch the third inning. Counsell has proven to be nimble with his bullpen management and willing to strip everyone of conventional roles. Hader is example 1A.

Gabriel Baumgaertner: Hader does seem to have a rubber arm of sorts, but Counsell has a strong enough bullpen that there is no need to burn him out too early in the series. This is not to argue going the route of Yankees manager Aaron Boone, who clearly left starters Luis Severino and CC Sabathia in too long during Games 3 and 4 of the ALDS, but to consider a hard cap on Hader’s pitch count early in the series. If he’s needed in the third inning, then use him. But that doesn’t mean he should pitch into the sixth. 

Counsell will likely get his best work from Hader in this series; the two best comparisons to Hader in 2018 are the 2016 editions of Indians’ Andrew Miller and then-Cubs closer Aroldis Chapman. Miller threw 19 1/3 innings over the course of the postseason: his best were the 7 2/3 he worked over four appearances in the ALCS (0.00 ERA, 14 Ks). By the time Game 7 of the World Series arrived, he surrendered four hits and two runs in the biggest outing of his career. Chapman threw 15 2/3 innings during that postseason, entered a lopsided 7–2 contest in Game 6 and threw 20 pitches before blowing a save in Game 7 the next night. Both were certainly fatigued, and the reliance on having your best pitcher in at all times backfired.

The point? You can’t bank on getting to the World Series—especially against a loaded side like the Dodgers—but you can wear out your best arms because of over-reliance. Here’s to hoping Counsell gives his other strong relievers—Corey Knebel, Jeremy Jeffress and Corbin Burnes—chances to work through high-leverage situations. Hader is the best there is right now, but even he isn’t equipped to throw 2-3 innings every night of the series. 

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