PEORIA, Ariz. (AP)Josh Hader looks around San Diego’s clubhouse and sees a team on the rise. He also sees a bunch of familiar faces.
It’s a good feeling.
The All-Star closer is more comfortable these days than he was when he first joined the Padres in a blockbuster trade in August. That deal was completed during one of the most difficult stretches of his career, right in the middle of a pennant race, and it took a while for him to regain his form.
”You’re just familiar with how they run things. I think that’s the biggest thing, right?” Hader said Saturday. ”When you’re coming over in the middle of the season, you have your routines, you have this and that. … I think that’s the biggest thing is just like finding the comfort in your everyday stuff that you do.”
San Diego also acquired Juan Soto at last year’s deadline, and manager Bob Melvin said he thinks each player likely feels more at home this spring.
”Whether it’s he, whether it’s Juan, whether it’s anybody that came in last year, they’re going to be able to take a deep breath and relax a little bit and be able to go through a full spring and so forth with the team,” Melvin said.
The 28-year-old Hader avoided arbitration by agreeing to a $14.1 million, one-year contract last month. He is eligible for free agency after this year’s World Series.
The 6-foot-3 left-hander developed into one of the majors’ top closers during his first five seasons with Milwaukee. He went 4-2 with a career-low 1.23 ERA and 34 saves in 2021, helping the Brewers to the NL Central title.
He opened last season with 19 consecutive scoreless appearances covering 17 2/3 innings. That’s when things started falling apart for the lefty.
Hader had an 8.82 ERA in his last 18 games for Milwaukee, allowing seven homers in 16 1/3 innings. He surrendered a total of six homers in 81 games over the previous two years.
The trouble continued after the trade. He was tagged for 12 runs and 12 hits in his first 4 2/3 innings for San Diego.
Hader said he turned around his season by ”using the right parts of my body to perform like I normally do.”
”I got away from it,” he continued, ”and I didn’t have the answer of how to fix it quick.”
Hader eventually settled down, allowing one earned run and striking out 14 in his last 11 1/3 innings of the regular season. He was terrific in the playoffs, saving four games and striking out 10 in 5 1/3 innings as the Padres made it to the NL Championship Series.
”Mentally, to get beat up like that every single day or every single time you get out there, it’s hard to just continue to be like `Hey man, that’s just what it is,’ and you’ve just got to keep going with it,” Hader said, looking back on his 2022 season. ”For me to go through that and be able to just come out and finish on a strong note, ultimately is what you want to do.”
After making the trades for Soto and Hader and going on a deep October run, San Diego kept adding to its roster in the offseason. Shortstop Xander Bogaerts, infielder/outfielder Matt Carpenter,designated hitter Nelson Cruz and reliever Seth Lugo signed with the Padres in free agency.
Hader and San Diego are shooting for the franchise’s first championship.
”We saw what it took to get to where we were, but that’s not the end goal,” Hader said. ”We want to get to the final piece and win a World Series. Obviously the front office saw what we needed to do to get back to the playoffs, but ultimately win that World Series. As a player, for me, that’s exciting stuff.”
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