Melvin of the Padres should have brought Hader (but had a good year)

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Yes, Bob Melvin should have brought in Josh Hader when Padres are needed the biggest output National League Championship Series.

Bryce Harper, the Phillies star, needs special treatment. More dangerous than usual, the left tackle has been on a hot streak throughout this season and into Sunday’s game. Hader was supposed to be the counter. He wasn’t used to pitching in the eighth inning, but the conditions called for it.

Fueled by a three-day rest but exacerbated by exits in all three rounds of the playoffs, the three-time National League hitter heading into the year has been on a hot streak of his own.

He struck out his previous eight hitters, which included another protected left-handed star, Freddie Freeman of the Dodgers.

He has defeated the Mets, Dodgers and Phillies in his five playoff appearances (5.1 innings). Throw in the left-hander’s near-perfect last 10 games in pursuit of the wild card, and he’s gone 14.2 innings with no earned runs, 23 strikeouts, five hits and two walks since Sept. 7

Even the Philadelphia fog seemed to beckon Hader. Eight days earlier in rainy San Diego, he pitched one of the great innings in Padres history, striking out three Dodgers stars — Mookie Betts, Tre Turner and Freeman — in a 5-3 victory that eliminated Los Angeles with 111 wins. playoffs.

According to MLB data released by ESPN, Hader hit the hottest fastballs of his life.

The crossfire lefty has topped 100 mph six times in the postseason. While maintaining his lightning fast arm speed, he threw changeups and sliders.

The hitter looked uncomfortable trying to track the ball from his release point.

When Hader faced the Phillies in Game 2 — after three days’ rest — he struck out the side (Alec Bohm, Jean Segura and Matt Vierling).

Harper, a left-hander who breaks the ball himself, entered the bullpen Sunday with none out in the eighth inning with the Padres leading 3-2 and JT Realmute on first base.

While Harper was the “checker” in red in this high-stakes chess match, Hader loomed as a checkmate in brown.

Melvin said he plans to split the final nine innings between reliever Robert Suarez — who has also been dominant for several weeks — and Hader. Suarez went through a tight seventh inning before allowing a single by Realmut to start the eighth.

“We were going to look for four outs (from Hader),” Melvin said. “We tried to part with him and Suarez. But, look, we have a lot of confidence in Suarez. He came in and did a great job before pitching. Here we just fell a little short.”

Suarez threw Harper with throws that would have knocked out many hitters or given weak contact. He showed sinkers, a riser and an ungodly changeup.

Harper has maintained his sharp form as he has in other batsmen in the series. Two examples: In Game 1, he stunned right-handed ace Yu Darvish with a home run from the outside corner into the seats in left field. Darvish called it a good move. A day later, Harper watched as left-hander Blake Snell threw only high-velocity fastballs through the game’s first 12 innings. After adjusting to Snell’s two-strike slider on the corner, Harper flipped it past shortstop Ha-Sung Kim for a single, initiating a four-run second inning.

Harper, withstanding Suarez’s attack, brought the score to 2-2. He hit the seventh pitch of the game, a waist-high 99-mph sinker over the outer third of the plate, over the left-field wall.

He said he correctly assumed it would be the same pitch — a sinker — that Suarez had used to defeat him four days earlier in San Diego. He grounded it to Manny Machado, starting a double play.

The Padres needed six outs before Harper struck out. If Hader had four outs, one more pitcher would be needed, or Hader would have to get more than four outs for the first time in 2022.

The more pressing issue was Bryce Harper.

SEVEN THINGS

  • I’m a fool who wrote after game 2 The Padres should go to the World Series because they had the best pitching staff. The Phillies hit that pitch out of their own infield. They scored four, 10 and four runs to win the next three games and take the series 4-1. In Game 3, Suarez, the Phillies’ third baseman, struck out 80 percent of his first pitches, leading the Padres when he homered off Joe Musgrove. Suarez returned two days later to get the final two outs of Game 5. Padres No. 4 starter Mike Clevinger didn’t retire anyone in Game 4, allowing three runs. Phillies No. 4 starter Bailey Folter also failed to double his outs (2) in runs (4), but the Phillies hit No. 5 starter Sean Manaea for five runs in 1.1 innings after Nick Martinez shut them down for three innings.
  • Reliever Tim Hill deserved a hit in the 10-6 loss in Game 4 — sooner rather than later, preferably if Melvin had given Manaea a quicker hook. The hill was a lot more grooved than any rusty starter. Max Muncy’s strikeout by the left fielder was key in the game against the Dodgers.
  • Credit to Darvish for Zack Wheeler’s Game 5 matchup with Suarez’s big assist. Called up after Melvin tried to force an extra out from Darvish, only for Bryson Stott to double, Suarez struck out Stott.
  • AJ Preller should check out the Japanese pitcher Code Seng and look to add two or three starters to the rotation. The veteran big three of Darvish, Musgrove and Snell haven’t missed a start due to health issues this year as their respective seasons have begun (with the exception of Musgrove getting a few extra days to deal with arm fatigue in September). What are the chances that this will happen next year?
  • Trent Grisham deserves no scorn for trying to rip off Sunday; he went hitless in the series, striking out half of his batters. Suarez, a great fielder, made a good play in the wet conditions for the second out of the ninth. It wasn’t a good draft, but Grisham is a good draft. The best opportunity came against Wheeler, but Grisham ducked and punched.
  • Melvin, who had a terrific season, took over the Dodgers and Dave Roberts, the Mets and Buck Showalter in the playoffs. The Padres are in good hands with Melvin, bolstering a position where they have often struggled since Bruce Bochy joined the Giants shortly after the 2006 playoffs.
  • One of the greatest accomplishments of Padres 2022: two huge crowds in San Diego, replete with the gold and maroon and Dodgers blue that have barely been seen in the stands this month. “I don’t remember it happening in any other Dodgers game,” former longtime Padres broadcaster Ted Leitner said of Games 3 and 4 in the divisional round. Take my word for it: reintroducing brown into the color scheme was the right thing to do, championed by Tony Gwynn.

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