Monday, June 9, 2014

Getting to Know JetHawks LHP Josh Hader

I'm not sure what I expected when I talked to Lancaster JetHawks LHP Josh Hader recently, but it wasn't what I got. The 20-year old lefty is a study in contrasts. He is as easygoing and laid back off the mound as he is fiercely competitive on it.

Josh Hader - May 2014
Photo by Jayne Hansen

I first spoke with Lancaster Pitching Coach Don Alexander about Hader to get his take, "He's still a pup, but on the mound, he's extremely mature. Excellent mound presence. Competes very, very well and he's got filthy stuff ... the slot that he throws from plus an above average fastball with life and movement. The big thing with him right now is the secondary package and getting consistent with the slider and the change up." Alexander started to say that Hader was holding his own at the level, but corrected himself, "He's competing extremely well at this level right now."

And that is a fact. In 13 appearances (eight starts), Hader is 5-0 with a 2.31 ERA (second in the league) and a 1.086 WHIP (third in the league). He has 72 strikeouts to 21 walks in 58+ innings of work. Plus he pitched the first six innings of a combined no-hitter last month. And he just turned 20 in April.

Hader is a young man of few words and most of those words came out in a slow, Maryland drawl. The first question I asked him was about his pitch repertoire. He responded, "I throw a two-seam probably around 87 to 93, a slider that's probably about 73, 76 maybe and a change up." His out pitch depends somewhat on the batter, but he will generally go to the slider.

In asking what he's accomplished so far this season, he said, "I feel like I accomplished a lot. I came into the season, working on my change up a lot. It's [developed] into a good pitch for me, getting in the zone and also getting outs and swing and misses with it. That's one of my big accomplishments."

How does the Orioles system (from which he was acquired in the Bud Norris trade) compare to the Astros system? Hader answered, "They're kind of the same. They go about their business a little bit differently. Like the piggyback here, that's a little different from the Orioles." But in the end, it's basically the same thing as both organizations are focused on developing players.

His responses to many of my questions were short and to the point. Who has a pitch he would like to steal? "Vince Velasquez' change up. I wouldn't mind stealing that." Who would he least like to face in the batter's box? "I'd say Carlos [Correa] or Teo [Teoscar Hernandez]." Who on the team makes you laugh? "I'd have to say Tony [Kemp] or Tyson [Perez (since promoted to Corpus)]."

In asking what he'd do if he couldn't play baseball, "Not really sure. Never really thought about that. Probably go into sports medicine or something like that. Stay in sports at least." In response to a query as to what people might not know about him, "I think a lot of people know it, but I like Country [music] and sweet tea. If you didn't know that, now you do."

The one question I posed to him which drew a more animated response was in asking what he thinks he brings to the mound, "I compete a lot when I get on the mound. I'm not going up there to be anybody's friend. I'm straight murdering them, basically. Not really, but figuratively. Not letting anything get to me or anything like that."

Drawling about sweet tea and then punctuating the conversation with a statement as to his murderous intent on the mound ... like I said, a study in contrasts. Personally, I'm glad that I only have to face Josh the person and not Josh the pitcher.

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