If the Brewers are going to be successful this season, they need closer Jim Henderson to have a big year. When the bullpen has done well, the club has made playoff runs. When they have struggled, the team has fallen out of contention quickly. During the 2011 season, if the Brewers had the lead in the ninth inning the game was over. Closer John Axford led the league with 46 saves, while winning the Rolaids Relief Award. This allowed the Brewers to win their first ever NL Central championship. In the next season, the once strong bullpen fell apart. According to MLB.com, the Brewers bullpen blew 29 of their 77 save opportunities and had a league worst bullpen ERA. Had the bullpen been able to finish games, there is a good chance the team would have made another post season run. Last season, Axford again stumbled until he finally lost his job to Jim Henderson and was traded away.
In Axford’s absence, Henderson exceled. The 31 year old closer, who spent ten years in the minor leagues before debuting in 2012, recorded saves in 28 of his 32 chances. Almost every time he stepped on the mound he was impressive. He struck out 75 hitters in just 60 innings of work. According to fangraphs he threw his fastball 77 percent of the time at an average of 95.3mph.
This spring however, has left signs of concerns for Henderson. Former teammate John Axford struggled in the 2012 and 2013 spring seasons and was never able to recover. While Axford had a 2.53 ERA in 2012, he blew three of his five save opportunities. The next year after getting pounded in the World Baseball Classic, Axford’s spring ERA rose to 5.87 by allowing five runs in just seven innings of work. Henderson has had similar spring struggles. Last year, Henderson gave up five runs in seven innings of work. In seven innings this spring, Henderson has been even worse allowing six runs in seven innings including two homeruns.
Knowing that he cannot simply rely on just his fastball and his slider to be a successful closer, Henderson has worked to add a change-up to his pitch selection. By using this pitch there is hope that he can keep hitters off balance more often and limit homeruns.
If the Brewers are going to compete in the mighty National League Central, they need Jim Henderson to be at the top of his game. His last two spring outings (March 22nd and 23rd) have been clean innings where he has only allowed one hit. Axford could never recover after poor springs the last few seasons. The Brewers need Henderson to not only rebound from his slow start this spring, but they need him to dominate come April.
Statistics Provided by MLB.com