- The Washington Times - Monday, July 16, 2018

Before an offseason trade brought Christian Yelich from Miami to Milwaukee, the All-Star outfielder faced Brewers reliever Josh Hader twice in 2017. Yelich struck out both times.

“It’s not a comfortable at-bat,” Yelich said Monday. “It’s really good to be on his side, that’s for sure.”

Yelich’s past struggles against the 24-year-old from Millersville, Maryland, are emblematic of Hader’s overall dominance since joining the big leagues with Milwaukee last season — and why he’s primed to make his first All-Star appearance about an hour away from his hometown.

Last year, when the Brewers visited Nationals Park in July, almost 30 friends and family members were present to support him.

Hader isn’t sure how many relations will make the trip to D.C. because ticket prices are steep for Tuesday’s All-Star Game, but the Old Mill High School graduate is looking forward to playing on baseball’s biggest stage near where his passion for the game began.

“I’m just still trying to take it all in,” Hader said. “It’s definitely a great experience so far and it’s definitely an honor to be named with the best of the best.”

Growing up, Hader was an Orioles fan. Baltimore drafted the left-hander in 2012 but traded Hader to Houston a year later. In 2015, Milwaukee completed a deal for Hader and the starter transitioned to the bullpen.

The shift has been successful. Hader leads all relief pitchers with 89 strikeouts and has a 1.50 ERA in 48 innings this campaign. Instead of the marathon, he was used to as a starter, he has been more aggressive with opposing batters. He recalled using a heavy dose of sliders against Yelich in 2017 to induce both swinging strikeouts.

“He’s deceptive, his fastball’s got a lot of life to it, he throws across his body,” Yelich said. “And he’s still relatively new in the league, so guys haven’t had a whole lot of experience off of him. When you face a guy, you remember it, whether it went good or bad for you, you kind of use that to base your approach to the next at-bat. … Guys are seeing him again for the second time and he’s still having a lot of success, which means he’s got some really good stuff, a lot of good deception, and he’s been huge for us.”

The Brewers enter the All-Star break 12 games above .500 and 2.5 games behind the Chicago Cubs in the National League Central. Hader has secured seven saves, and his WHIP is 0.792.

“He prepares himself to the point where he’s ready for the big situations,” Jeremy Jeffress said, Hader’s Milwaukee teammate who is a South Boston, Virginia, native. “We’re both from this area and I know if it means a lot for me, it means a whole bunch for him.”

Before Hader knew officially if he was in the All-Star Game, he said family and friends sent him pictures of banners on light posts around the city with his face on it. “If you have any word on how I can get one,” Hader said, “let me know.”

Tuesday, Hader could feature out of the bullpen for the National League.

“What he’s done has been unbelievable,” Yelich said. “We’re all happy that he gets a chance to come back here and play close to home in the All-Star Game. So well deserved.”

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