Two for the show: Henderson relishes in two-save day

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By Todd Rosiak, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Friday, August 2, 2013

CHICAGO--Tuesday was a day Milwaukee Brewers closer Jim Henderson won't ever forget.

The big Canadian saved both ends of a doubleheader with the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field, becoming the first Brewers pitcher to accomplish the feat since Mike DeJean did it against the New York Mets on June 5, 2003.

Henderson threw 23 pitches in Game 1 to record his 13th save of the season and 19 in Game 2 to record his 14th, a rare daily double for the right-hander who once again finds himself pitching in the ninth inning after last week's trade of Francisco Rodriguez to the Baltimore Orioles.

“I was just nervous how my arm was going to bounce back after Game 1,” Henderson said Wednesday, a well-earned day off for him.

“I threw a lot of pitches, and they were max effort. I stayed with my routine — came in, got stretched out. I never ice my arm, so I kept it loose and did the same routine for Game 2 as far as stretching and getting ready.

“Popped a couple Advils and got after it.”

What was especially impressive about Henderson's two-save day was he actually managed to increase his velocity in the second game despite more than five hours passing between appearances.

All 19 of the pitches he threw in the nightcap were fastballs, with Henderson touching 99 mph on the Wrigley Field gun on the 37th pitch he'd thrown overall.

“Probably just the adrenaline,” he said. “In my mind I was thinking, 'Might as well have fun with it, try to save two games in a day.' Just the intensity and trying to finish it.”

It's been an interesting season for Henderson, who has bounced from setup man to closer to the disabled list, back to setting up and now finally closing games again.

Henderson got his initial shot as the full-time closer just one week in after John Axford was removed from the role. Henderson thrived, converting all nine of his initial save opportunities and dropping his earned-run average as low as 0.92.

Then in the ninth inning of a victory over the Pittsburgh Pirates on May 24, Henderson strained his right hamstring, leading to a stint on the 15-day DL.

Rodriguez was installed as the closer in Henderson's place and “K-Rod” did well, leaving Henderson to again pitch the eighth inning. He had his ups and downs but generally was solid in setting up Rodriguez, who had become something of a mentor to both Henderson and Axford during his second stint with the Brewers.

“Frankie talked to me more this year just about situations,” Henderson said.

“I struggled a little bit in the eighth inning when Frankie was here, so he was able to come up to me and talk about pitch selection and kind of pitching to the game and the scoreboard and stuff like that. I still have to learn a bit with runners on and how much you need to pay attention to runners at certain times in the game.

“It's all a learning process, so hopefully I can have it all down by the end of the year.”

When the Brewers dealt Rodriguez on July 23, the ninth inning became Henderson's again. He has saved four games since then, surrendering just one hit and three walks while striking out seven to drop his season WHIP to 1.11.

“Just get the three outs,” said Henderson, who currently sports a 3-3 record, 1.99 ERA and 47 strikeouts to go with those 14 saves in 402/3 innings of work.

“It's still kind of new to me, and with some of the time off since the beginning of the season with the DL stint and Frankie here, I'm still trying to pick the brains of Ax and (Michael Gonzalez) and trying to learn. I'm still learning the situations and stuff. I'm just looking to finish the season strong.

“Body feels good, arm feels good, so hopefully I can get back in that groove again.”

Seemingly the entire Brewers bullpen was mentioned as possible trade bait at one point, and Henderson was no exception, although he was likely one of the last relievers the team would be willing to move because he throws so hard, has experience closing and is drawing a very team-friendly salary.

“I saw it a little bit,” he said of the trade rumors. “I still think it's weird that I'm a major-league baseball player in the first place and I'm getting mentioned in that type of stuff. But I didn't really pay attention to it at all.

“I'm under team control for a few more years, so I just ignored anything that came up with that. I'm cheap for them right now.”

Most bullpens change considerably year to year, with the Brewers' being almost totally turned over after last year's fiasco. Henderson would figure to have a leg up in the battle to close games in 2014, with a number of other relievers having pitched well enough to be brought back in similar roles as well.

“I like the group of guys we have,” Henderson said. “The bullpen's been the strength of this team all year, and it's good that we stayed intact. Throughout the whole year we've had a good vibe down there — we're cheering each other on, we're a pretty tight-knit group out there.

“We're all happy that we're still together.”

Staying healthy the rest of the way is also going to be a focus for Henderson and his bullpen mates after seeing starter Yovani Gallardo become the fifth pitcher to suffer a hamstring injury this season when he was forced from Game 1 on Tuesday.

Gallardo has since gone on the DL, joining Henderson and Marco Estrada as the unfortunate members of that group. Wily Peralta also missed a start with a hamstring strain, while Kyle Lohse was able to pitch through the one he suffered while running the bases.

“I told the trainers it's my fault because I started the trend,” Henderson said with a laugh.

“It's just one of those things. I find with teams you do have a weird injury that happens to a lot of guys. It's just weird how it works. One year it could be obliques, another year it could be hands or feet or whatever. I guess this is the year of the hamstring with the Brewers

“It's unfortunate that it keeps on happening.”

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