Last night Rockies closer Rafael Betancourt recorded his 30th save of the season in the team’s 4-2 victory over the Diamondbacks. That would be an impressive accomplishment on its own, but it is even more so on a team that has only won 59 games and needs to win 4 more between now and the end of the season to avoid 100 losses.
As the closer, Betancourt is an unlikely source of stability on an otherwise frighteningly fluid roster. Not unlikely due to a lack of talent…unlikely because of his role. The Rockies acquired him to be a setup man in a 2009 trade with the Cleveland Indians. In an era of highly specialized relief pitchers, Betancourt was absolutely locked in as an 8th inning pitcher. His job was to get the ball to the closer. He did so with great proficiency and continued that success as a member of the Rockies.
He was never meant to be the team’s closer. Even with Huston Street’s heartbreaking failure in the 2009 playoffs, the Rockies signed him to a fresh 3 year contract after that season. The back of the bullpen was set. Betancourt in the 8th, Street in the 9th.
In that stage of his career, there were two key questions about Betancourt’s ability to close. As far as his pitches went, was his stuff good enough to close? After all, that well-hidden fastball of his has always been dead straight and his offspeed pitches were below average. Secondly, did he have the head for it? Going into his Rockies debut, he had 19 career saves in blank opportunities. Without playing too much arm chair psychologist, it seemed like he had some sort of mental block when it came to closing games. That was why he remained out of the 9th inning in favor of other pitchers. But once Street flamed out and the Rockies did not have any better option, they turned to Betancourt in hopes that he could overcome those previous struggles in that role.
Betancourt has answered both questions. With precise locations and a sluggishly slow pace that keeps hitters off balance, he has provided reliability as the closer. More importantly, he looks comfortable in that position. He is one of very few Rockies who does not make me nervous. I am relieved to see him on the mound. With all of the other questions the Rockies have going into 2013, the closer position will not be one of them.
Thank goodness for Rafael Betancourt.