Pirates shy away from extending closer
With the Pirates' bullpen struggling over the past few weeks, using their best reliever, closer Joel Hanrahan, in the highest-leverage situations whenever possible seems logical.
To hear closers and the coaches who work with them tell it, the decision isn't that simple. Avoiding injury is a concern, and like most teams, the Pirates intend to keep using their strongest reliever primarily in the ninth inning to collect saves, even if other relievers run into trouble earlier.
Manager Clint Hurdle has said he likely won't use Hanrahan for any outing longer than a four-out save this year, and pitching coach Ray Searage agrees with that approach even though the bullpen has contributed to the 10-game losing streak the Pirates took into their series opener Monday night in San Francisco.
"If we try to push the envelope, we might lose him for two or three days, because here's a guy who comes in the game and leaves it all out there in one inning, or four outs. To push that, I'd be real leery on it," Searage said.
Last year, Hanrahan worked primarily in the seventh and eighth innings before closer Octavio Dotel was traded July 31. He pitched more than one inning four times in 72 outings and had six saves. A high strikeout rate -- 12.9 per nine innings in 2010 -- helped earn him the chance to work in the ninth this year.
Hanrahan said his mindset is the same in all of his outings, whether or not he enters in a save situation.
"I'm a reliever, so whenever they call me I'm going to be ready," Hanrahan said. "I'll be ready to pinch-hit if they need me to."
General manager Neal Huntington believes closing requires slightly different skills from other relief roles, and that saves, though they can't be recorded if a team isn't leading in the late innings, influence a closer's market value significantly.
"Closers are paid handsomely for saves and for quality performance in the arbitration or free-agent market," Huntington said. "Saves have value, but are a result of team production and not all saves are created equal. We look at the overall picture and combine our subjective and objective evaluations as we make decisions."
The emphasis placed on saves around baseball means relievers that become closers see the change as a promotion and an opportunity to become more visible. Heath Bell, one of the league's top closers for the San Diego Padres since 2009, said saves are always the bottom line by which closers measure themselves.
"You can't take care of (whether) it's going to be a save (situation) or not, but you can take care of not letting them score," said Bell, who is tied for third in the National League with 31 saves. "You could go out there and give up one run but get the save every time, and they're going to like you."
Bell said the only difference he sees between entering with a tie score and a lead is the crowd's enthusiasm. He also said that while plenty of setup men have become successful in the ninth inning, fewer have become defined by the role, creating the idea of the "closer's mentality" that makes some managers hesitant to use closers in non-save situations.
"There's pitchers out there that can pitch and do real well in the closer's role, but then you have closers that you look at and go, 'Dude, he's a closer,' " Bell said. "I think you're just born that way."
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Pirates star McCutchen marries in private ceremony
- Pirates enter Plan B with Martin off market
- Pirates trade Davis to A’s for international signing bonus money
- Pirates ready to protect top pitching prospects from Rule 5 draft