Hader's feats generating All-Star, Cy Young buzz

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MINNEAPOLIS -- Is Josh Hader pitching his way onto the National League All-Star team? What about the way-too-early NL Cy Young Award debate?

Brewers manager Craig Counsell will leave those questions to observers outside the clubhouse.

"I think Josh is pitching really well and affecting a lot of our games -- and affecting them in a pretty meaningful way," Counsell said. "And we highly value the impact he's making. Whether that merits [honors and awards], that's what baseball fans love to debate.

"I hope he keeps pitching like this, and I hope he makes them debate it."

In the wake of Hader's latest strikeout special, a 2 1/3-inning outing Saturday in which he struck out the final six batters he faced for a 5-4 win over the Twins, here are some of the more eye-popping things about the left-hander's start to the season:

• Ninety-five hitters have dug in against Hader. Fifty-six of them have struck out. That 59-percent strikeout rate would shatter the all-time record (min. 25 batters faced) set by the Reds' Aroldis Chapman in 2014, when he struck out 52.5 percent of hitters. The only other pitcher in history to strike out more than half of the hitters he faced was then-Braves closer Craig Kimbrel at 50.2 percent in '12.

• Hader, 24, is also on a pace to break Chapman's record for strikeouts per nine innings (min. 25 batters faced). Hader has 18.44 so far, to Chapman's 17.67 in '14.

• Hader's Major League-leading 0.51 WHIP after 27 1/3 innings is also historic. According to STATS Inc., the record-low WHIP for a pitcher in 25-plus innings is 0.36, by Ed Cushman of the Milwaukee Cream Citys in 1884. Hader's 0.51 is next, then Boston's Koji Uehara's 0.57 in 74 1/3 innings in 2013.

• Hader, a relief pitcher, entered Sunday ranked 11th in the NL in strikeouts. Every other pitcher in the top 28 is a starter who had pitched at least 15 more innings than Hader.

• His strikeout rate is not abating as hitters get more aggressive earlier in counts. Twenty-seven of Hader's last 38 outs have come via strikeout.

• "I don't know if anybody has struck out 200 people out of the bullpen before, but …" Twins manager Paul Molitor said Saturday after Hader's outing left him on pace for 197 strikeouts in 56 games spanning 95 1/3 innings. His instinct was correct; nobody in Major League history has ever topped 200 strikeouts pitching exclusively in relief. Only six men have topped 150 strikeouts, led by 181 for Boston's Dick Radatz in 157 relief innings in 1974. The closest thing to what Hader is doing was Astros closer Brad Lidge in 2004, when he struck out 157 batters in 94 2/3 innings.

• Both of Hader's wins, five of his six saves and 10 of his 16 outings overall have spanned at least two full innings. The Dodgers' Mike Marshall owns the Major League record with 62 multi-inning appearances in 1974, the year he won NL Cy Young Award honors. Hader won't get to 62, but he does have a chance to become the first reliever since Mariano Rivera in '96 to get to 35 appearances of two-plus innings.

• His sling-like delivery makes Hader death on left-handed hitters, who are 1-for-28 (.036) against him. Miami's Justin Bour singled off Hader on April 22 at Miller Park.

• Hader has gotten to two strikes against 75 batters, for whom it looks like walk or bust. Five have walked. One -- Steven Souza Jr., with a full-count single off Hader last week -- has gotten a hit, for a batting average of .014.

• Hader's 57.1-percent contact rate is the lowest in baseball for pitchers who have logged at least 10 innings this season, but the Twins didn't come close to that on Saturday. They made zero after Eddie Rosario hit consecutive foul balls while leading off the eighth inning. That's a span of six different batters, 21 pitches/16 strikes, with no contact. In all, Hader threw 22 strikes, and the Twins had 15 swings and misses.

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• The Reds know the feeling. On April 30 at Great American Ball Park, Hader logged an eight-out save while getting every out via strikeout. No one had ever struck out all eight batters in a 2 2/3-innings appearance.

"I'm really just trying to do my best to attack hitters and keep them off-balance," Hader said. "[On Saturday] the fastball was there, so it just came down to executing."

The buzz is building, with one national publication this weekend picking up on Hader's bid for the NL All-Star team.

Does Counsell worry Hader will get caught up in it if that buzz builds?

"Players are human. They're affected by a lot," Counsell said. "And a lot of things that we don't always advertise. They've got everything going on. They've got pressure. I'm not singing a sob story for the players, by any means. But keeping them focused on what they can control is important. So that's what we'll continue to do."

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