Wednesday, August 17, 2005

CLOSER CRISIS 2005!!!

After a flawless July, Chris Reitsma has been about as bad as a pitcher can be in August. Ever since his disastrous 9th inning in St. Louis ten days ago, he's been unable to get anyone out, save for one competent inning at the end of a 9-5 win over Arizona on Sunday. Last night, he failed to record an out while facing five batters from the L.A. Dodgers, one of the worst offensive teams in baseball.

On the one hand, we might look back on this season and think that it all went south when he deflected a double-play grounder in the 9th in St. Louis. If he doesn't touch that ball, then he's left protecting a two-run lead with a runner on third and two outs, he probably gets the save, and he doesn't go through his current crisis of confidence. On the other hand, Reitsma could be going through the same doldrums that he went through last year, when he wore out and was mostly useless for the last portion of the season. As I see it, the Braves have a few options right now:

1. Keep Reitsma as the closer and hope that he pitches through his slump. This is the strategy that Bobby will employ for the time being; the question is how long will he employ it. The Braves have a four-game lead over Philadelphia in the loss column and there are still 43 games to go. That gives Reitsma a little time to sort through the demons that scream in his head every time he goes to the hill. If that lead dwindles too much, then Bobby might be forced to go to other options...

2. Find another closer in the bullpen. The most obvious candidate is Kyle Farnsworth, who has the stuff to close games and was very effective for Detroit this year. However, he's pretty emotional and he could be another Dan Kolb: a guy who pitches well in obscurity, but blows up when faced with pressure. Otherwise, I don't see another closer in the bullpen. There is a pretty good closer on the roster, however...

3. Move Smoltz back to the bullpen. This will probably never happen because Smoltz would have to be dragged kicking and screaming, but if the closer crisis gets bad enough and Hampton and Thomson are both pitching well, then Bobby will be faced with a team that has a glut of great starters, no closer, a 13-year divisional title streak on the line, and a solution sitting at the top of his rotation. Smoltz has worn down a little this year and acknowledged last night that his endurance wasn't very good. If he's only going to be a six- or seven-inning guy from here on out, isn't it better for him to move to the pen? And would doing so, changing his work pattern, be a recipe for arm trouble?

4. Call up Joey Devine. It would be fitting, in a year in which the Braves have relied so heavily on their farm system, that they would look to it to solve a closer crisis. He has a 2.37 ERA right now at Mississippi. A 1.42 WHIP isn't especially impressive, but the sample size is small. He was described as major league-ready when the Braves drafted him and it seems likely that he'll be called up when the rosters expand, unless his pitching at Mississippi has the Braves' scouts convinced that he's not yet ready. It seems unlikely that Bobby would trust a rookie to close in big games in September and (G-d willing) October, but necessity being the mother of invention, it's not impossible. I never thought that Lloyd Carr would ever trust a true freshman in a critical role, but when Michigan was 1-1 and about to lose a home game to San Diego State, voila, Carr went to Mike Hart and Michigan rode two true frosh in the backfield to Pasadena.

2 comments:

Ryno said...

No consideration given to Blaine Boyer?

He throws pretty hard and I'd have more faith calling him up than the DeVine kid.

Michael said...

He's been good, but not much better than Reitsma in the aggregate. That reminds me that I was going to include a fifth option: bullpen by committee. Bobby would be forced to forget that it's the 9th inning and he would simply pick out a reliever based on the batters due up. He'd also freely switch pitchers based on match-ups. Boyer could be part of that.