Lefty Hader's spring goal: refine changeup

Brewers' top pitching prospect expected to start regular season in Triple-A

Lefty Hader's spring goal: refine changeup

PEORIA, Ariz. -- Last spring, it was his slider. This spring, top Brewers pitching prospect Josh Hader is determined to refine his changeup.

If he succeeds, that third pitch could help the left-hander reach the only level he has yet to touch: the Major Leagues. Hader, who is poised to begin the season at Triple-A Colorado Springs, said he threw six or seven changeups among his 40-plus pitches in two innings against the White Sox on Wednesday.

"I wouldn't say it's too much different from last year," said Hader, who was new to Brewers camp last year, having been acquired with three other prospects from the Astros the previous July. "The goal is to make sure I'm good, mechanics-wise, and that I'm controlling all of my pitches.

"That was one of the things I came in last year doing, working on my slider. This year, it's going on with my changeup and trying to perfect that. It's not bad. The consistency, it's almost there. It's a feel pitch, so you have to throw it as often as you can."

Because he is on the fringes of the crowded race for spots in the Brewers' starting rotation, Hader, the Brewers' No. 3 overall prospect according to MLBPipeline.com, is free to experiment and refine, rather than pitch for a big league job. He was charged with a run on Avisail Garcia's second-inning solo homer, one of four White Sox hits against Hader on Wednesday. He struck out three without a walk. It was the first run off Hader in 4 2/3 innings over three Cactus League outings.

Set to turn 23 on April 7, Hader is bidding to build off his first taste of Triple-A, which meant facing the challenges inherent in pitching in the swirling winds and high altitude of Colorado Springs. After cruising to a 0.95 ERA and a 1.00 WHIP in 11 starts at Double-A Biloxi to begin 2016, Hader posted a 5.22 ERA and a 1.43 WHIP in 14 starts for Colorado Springs.

Some of the deeper stats, however, were encouraging, including the fact that Hader's strikeout rate (11.5 per nine innings) was identical at both levels last season.

"It's like, once you hit Triple-A, you're right there," Hader said. "It's only the little things you have to master to get to that next level."

He figures he threw about 10 percent changeups last season. That's about the right ratio to play off his fastball and slider, Hader said. He just wants to make the changeup -- which he describes as "a messed-up circle change" -- better.

He continues to work on his other pitches, too.

"Look, Josh is a fastball pitcher," Brewers manager Craig Counsell said. "It's always assumed that everybody [at the top levels] has a fastball, but his fastball can still get better in how he uses it. He is still going to rely on that pitch more than most guys, because it's his best pitch, and his best swing and miss pitch. He can still improve how that is used as well.

"But I think his changeup and slider, both of those pitches, he wants to get better at. I think his changeup has looked good in this camp."

Adam McCalvy has covered the Brewers for MLB.com since 2001. Follow him on Twitter @AdamMcCalvy, like him on Facebook and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.