When I was in my last season of Little League, I was my team's closer. I would trot over from first base or third, dig in my plastic spikes, and get to work. My repertoire, though multiplicity-challenged, did feature a straight fastball and fledgling knuckleball that my coach found objectionable. His son, (my catcher) used to tattle on me when I threw it, even though it occasionally fluttered and busted some hitters. I guess the coach just wanted me throw strikes, because the scourge of my young career was the base on balls. I hit guys, too, and naturally, I blew some saves because I couldn't keep the ball in the strike zone. But I was always right back in there when the game was on the line.
So it goes with major league closers. While a few top closers blew saves this week that involved walks, each letdown was during a fairly atypical situation, and somewhat out of their control, so to speak. We all know how
Just back from the DL,
The moral, if there is one, is even if closers can rely on their teammates, dumb luck, or their best stuff to get the job done, they're still going to blow a few ? especially if they put a guy or two on base. Heck, poor Soria didn't even give up an earned run, and he got the dreaded "BS" next to his name in the box score. How these guys rebound is what makes them viable closers ? even if they're an occasional victim of the baseball gods.
Chad Qualls, ARI
Frank Francisco is ready to come off the DL, but I'm not ready to proclaim him "On Board" until he gets a few saves under his belt and shows the shoulder stiffness is behind him. He hasn't pitched since a June 3 save at Yankee Stadium. Chad Qualls pitched well on Sunday in a loss to the Astros, his former team. He's still feeling a twinge, but it sounds like he's dealing with it. Ryan Madson may soon be relegated to eighth-inning duties again, as Brad Lidge nears a return from the DL. Jose Valverde turned in a couple solid performances, including striking out the side his last time out on Sunday. It tough to reconcile Fernando Rodney's 4.50 ERA, paltry 1.82 K/BB ratio and humdrum 6.92 K/9 rate with 12-for-12 in save situations, especially considering the calamitous events of June 9, but that's baseball.
Downs hurt his foot batting in the top of the 10th inning on Tuesday against the Phillies. He was helped off the field, and while initial X-rays were negative, pending results of a Wednesday MRI will probably mean a trip to the DL.
This week, I bit the bullet and listed the stats for both Mike González and Rafael Soriano. It's the most balanced and effective pairing I've ever seen, even if it's frustrating to some owners. They have nearly identical (and quite adequate) K/9 rates (11.57/11.53), and Bobby Cox is just playing the cards he's dealt in game situations. It's almost like having two talented running backs in the red zone -- down and distance may determine who runs it in. The Scott Downs injury means the Jays will have to choose among exiled closer B.J. Ryan, Brandon League, Jesse Carlson and Jason Frasor. While League (7 ER in his last 2 IP) and Carlson (8 ER in his last 4.2 IP) were next on the depth chart, they can't be trusted in the ninth. Ryan has pitched well this month, but he's not as impressive an option as Frasor, who's 2.54 FIP (fielding-independent pitching), 1.14 BB/9 and 79.6 LOB% are the best in the Toronto bullpen. He's my huckleberry.
Not surprisingly, Mike MacDougal hasn't nailed down a save since being named the Nats' closer, while the Rays' J.P. Howell has (against Washington, in fact). With Jason Isringhausen done for good (Tommy John surgery) and nobody else capable of assuming the reins, Howell appears to have the job until they make a deal or develop a prospect. Andrew Bailey blew another save on Tuesday, giving him four on the season, and three more than Brad Ziegler, the submarining sap he ousted. Hey, Bob Geren never said this was fair.