Saturday, May 10, 2008

Who to close?

"I don’t deserve that ninth inning right now. It’s pretty simple,"

Those were the words of Eric Gagne after today's loss. Obviously he was disappointed with the two runs he surrendered in the ninth, but it's never good to hear that from the $10 million arm brought in specifically to serve in that inning. With five blown saves and today's backwards tie-breaker, a change may be warranted and Gagne may have a point. With all that's happened in the late innings of this young season, who should close?

The team has numerous capable arms to hold the closer role and/or man the ninth inning in situations like today. It may be unpopular, but I have my own take on the Brewers closer pecking order.

1. Eric Gagne: Plain and simple, Gagne was brought in this off season and paid handsomely to be the team's closer. He may be immersed in one of the most wretched slumps in recorded pitching history, but I feel he should retain the role. Excluding a few control issues, he is making good pitches that are just being hit or - though I hate to drag umpires into this - not being called strikes. The one scary observation is a staggering loss in the velocity of his fastball.

One must also dissect exactly why some of these saves were blown. Most were due to his pitching, but I remember a certain Rickie Weeks throw, nay, bounce that failed to complete what would have been a game-ending double play. The best thing that can be done to resurrect the once dangerously dominant finnisher's season in Brew City is to keep him in.

2. Guillermo Mota: Excluding a few lapses in perfection, Mota's opperendi this season has been great. He can bring the heat, work out of pressure situations, work on short rest and go more than one inning. RotoWorld too alludes to Mota being a good choice to take the ninth should Gagne be extradited from the role.

3. David Riske or Salomon Torres: To me they are both equally fitting and equally unfit for basically the same reason. They both have saves under their belt and have both held down setup roles. Torres can pitch almost every day so it'd be a shame to displace a workhorse arm to what wold amount to significantly fewer innings. And Riske just hasn't been too great to date, though he seems to be coming around. Closer by committee flat out does not work, and probably would not work here either.

4. Mitch Stetter: He's a favorite of certain radio personalities on our terrible sports talk station to garner the closer's role, but he's one of only two lefties in the pen. With Brian Shouse as more of a pure situational lefty whose outing often last 1/3 or 2/3 of an inning, Stetter seems better fit for his current form of use. File Seth McClung and his current awesomeness in the "don't mess with a good thing" file too.

5. Derrick Turnbow: It's a fifth option for good reason. Need I spell out why this would be risky and have potential for more bad than good? No.

6. Dave Bush to close and either bring up Jeff Weaver or move Seth McClung to a starter role: This crazy, but Bush did close in college and - if he can pull it together for just one inning at a time, he could be great... then again if Gagne could just pull it together for an inning there would be no need for this post in the first place. This proposition has next to no likelihood of taking place; let's save Weaver for when another starter goes down.

7. Make a trade: But for who and with what? The only teams I know with a plethora of qualified closers is my ironically-named fantasy team "Cubs Jr." (make an offer, Jared) and... well, the Brewers.

Hate it as you may, I just hope Gagne's statement was merely out of frustration and that he remains on the mound to end games the way we all know he's capable of.

Who knows how this will all shape up, but you can be sure the next time Eric Gagne is called to the mound I will stand and cheer because he is a Brewer and he is trying his damnedest to do his job, and so long as he is a Brewer, I have to hope he will.

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