Despite Josh Hader’s struggles, the Padres still have options in the back-end of their bullpen
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When the San Diego Padres acquired Josh Hader at the trade deadline, the expectation was that the Friars wouldn’t have to worry about the back-end of their bullpen moving forward.
Hader, who’s under team control through this year and next, has been one of this decade’s most dominant relief forces, accumulating 10 WAR and 125 saves since the 2017 season. He’s certainly on a Hall of Fame trajectory, striking out 15.3 batters per nine innings pitched, including an incredible 143 punchouts over 81 ⅓ innings back in 2018.
Unfortunately for Hader and the Padres, that hasn’t been the case. He’s been, to put it nicely, abysmal since arriving to America’s Finest City, allowing six runs over 3 ⅓ innings with five walks to pair. While the loud stuff is still there, an upper-90s fastball with true swing-and-miss sweep on his slider, Hader’s inability to work anywhere near the strike zone has been his major downfall as of late.
Bob Melvin, the Padres’ manager, announced prior to yesterday’s game that the team would be stepping away from Hader as their closer. They’ll utilize Hader in lower leverage roles until he regains some semblance of his former self, and that the Padres would be turning to a closer by committee for the time being. The full clip can be found here:
Thankfully, San Diego has options that have proven valuable out of the back-end of their bullpen. Even though he’s been a bit wild at times, Luis Garcia truly has some of the loudest stuff in the entire league. When around the zone Garcia is fairly dominant, pumping 99-101 mph sinkers with darting downward action while turning to a sharp, tight slider that’s essentially been unhittable all year. He limits hard and elevated contact, making him the frontrunner in the clubhouse for the closer role while it’s open.
Nick Martinez is another name on this team that’s been excellent all season long. Originally a starting pitcher, Martinez moved to the bullpen after Blake Snell and Mike Clevinger returned to full health. He’s been an incredibly valuable addition to this team back there, pitching to a 3.13 ERA over 89 innings on the season. He pounds the zone with a true five-pitch mix, throwing all of his offerings for strikes and continuously inducing ground balls as a result. Though he doesn’t have the sexiest stuff like others, Martinez has proven he’s capable of getting outs in high leverage situations this season.
Two more hard-throwing options for Melvin to look at: Robert Suarez and Adrian Morejon. Both missed time due to injury this season, but are back to full strength and they’ll definitely be relied upon down this Padres’ playoff push. Suarez imploded on Opening Day against the Arizona Diamondbacks, but he’s been absolutely dominant since then, pitching to a 1.78 ERA with a 10.38 K/9 over 30 ⅓ innings. Suarez’s stuff has always been good enough to close, an upper-90s fastball and swing-and-miss slider, and his growing comfort at the big league level may be enough for him to earn some save opportunities down the stretch.
As for Morejon, the 23-year-old Cuban native has seen limited action this season, but he’s been really impressive when on the rubber. Like Suarez, Morejon’s stuff is disgusting, featuring an upper-90s fastball and knee-buckling breaking ball from the left side. His ability to pitch through high-leverage situations is key, most recently escaping a bases-loaded jam against the Marlins on the road and tossing two scoreless frames in last night’s win.
Even though the best version of the Padres has Hader locking things down in the ninth, they have options to turn to for the time being that have proven themselves capable of getting outs in clutch situations.