CINCINNATI - On a night the Milwaukee Brewers' offense finally got back on track, it was Josh Hader who stole the show.
The left-hander continued his reign of dominance with a performance that was so good, it left his even-keeled manager, Craig Counsell, struggling to describe it.
To sum it up:
» Nine batters faced.
» Thirty-seven pitches thrown.
» A career-high eight strikeouts.
» A fourth save of two or more innings.
And in the end, a much-needed, 6-5 Brewers victory over the Cincinnati Reds at Great American Ball Park.
"I don’t know what to say about Josh," Counsell said. "Literally, your mouth is kind of wide-open, watching it. It was absolutely incredible."
Picking up for Brandon Woodruff with one out in the seventh and the Brewers clinging to a one-run lead, Hader simply embarrassed the Reds.
His first at-bat was arguably his most impressive. How many pitchers can claim they struck out Joey Votto on three pitches? Hader can after he did so with a fastball and two sliders, retiring the all-world hitter for the first time in four plate appearances.
Hader finished the seventh by fanning Scott Schebler on four pitches, then he needed four more to strike out Eugenio Suarez to open the Reds' eighth.
After a momentary loss of control that saw Tucker Barnhart draw a five-pitch walk, Hader recovered to blow away Alex Blandino on four pitches and pinch-hitter Adam Duvall on three.
All but one of his 16 pitches in the inning were fastballs.
Having not pitched since Wednesday, and mowing through the Reds lineup as he was, Hader was eager to stay in the game for the ninth.
Counsell granted his wish.
"I definitely felt good," Hader said. "Body was feeling good on that rest. It was nice to be able to stretch it out, get a couple innings in and let the fastball eat a little bit."
The ninth posed the biggest challenge on paper for Hader, who'd again have to face Votto if any of the first three hitters reached base.
Speedy Billy Hamilton opened by fouling out on a bunt attempt – strikeout No. 6. Jesse Winker made Hader throw six pitches before striking out on an 83-mph slider.
Then, with Votto in the on-deck circle, Jose Peraza went down swinging at a 95-mph fastball.
"I think when you bring him in for the seventh, I didn’t know that he was going to get through the ninth," Counsell said. "But he was so efficient, really, in attacking hitters and getting quick strikeouts.
Joey Votto of the Reds reacts as he heads back to the dugout after striking out against Brewers reliever Josh Hader in the in the seventh inning Monday. (Photo: John Minchillo, Associated Press)
"He got eight outs in 37 pitches. It was pretty incredible. I’ve never seen anything like that. That was a heck of a performance."
Hader, who is about as aw-shucks as they come, was asked to sum up what turned out to be a historical performance as he became the first pitcher in modern baseball history (since 1900) to strike out as many as eight batters in fewer than three innings.
"Fun," he said with a smile. "A lot of fun."
The 2 2/3-inning outing was the longest of the season for Hader, but not the longest of his career. The starter-turned-reliever pitched three innings on three different occasions in 2017.
Not that it matters to him.
"Just attack the hitters and whenever Couns comes up to me and says I’m out, that’s my mindset," Hader said. "I don’t limit myself on how many I go. Whenever I hear, ‘You’re done,’ that’s when I’m done."
Hader continues to throw hitters a steady diet of fastballs – he topped out at 96 mph in this one – and sliders while mixing in the occasional changeup to right-handed hitters.
"Just really staying on my strengths and sticking with what’s working," Hader said. "Trying to keep the hitters off-balance."
After Monday's outing, his earned run average after 11 outings sits at 1.00 and his WHIP at 0.50. He's struck out 39 in 18 innings. And his four saves of two or more innings before May 1 are the most since Boston's Derek Lowe accomplished the feat in 2000.
Is any of this registering with Hader? Has he actually looked at his numbers and is he grasping what he's accomplished to this point?
"Not really," he said. "I try and stay away from that stuff. Every day is a new day and I look forward to the next day. As long as I can help the team win, that’s my job. You’re going to have good days and you’re going to have bad days.
"Being able to forget those good days and bad days and stay even-keel is the biggest thing."
Counsell was asked if Hader is the most dominant reliever in the major leagues.
"You can call him whatever you want," he said. "I don’t know about that, but that was the most dominant relief appearance in baseball this year."