Shut the door behind you; Examining the closer role

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With the Rockies bullpen expected to be much improved, I’m still not sold on the closer role.  While semisonic might know who they want to take them home, I don’t know that the Rockies do.  LaTroy Hawkins will enter the season as the closer, but with a shaky spring training Hawkins doesn’t have much room for error.  With guys like Rafael Betancourt, Rex Brothers and Adam Ottavino close behind don’t be surprised if we don’t see a switch early on.

Going into 2014 Rex Brothers was slated as the closer going into 2014, but with a bad spring training and lost confidence Walt Weiss gave the role to LaTroy Hawkins.  While Hawkins did a good job (23 saves in 26 chances) he gave me a few scares and things were closer than I’d like, not to mention the clock is ticking on the 42-year-old reliever.  Despite what I think of Hawkins age, he does boast a good twitter game.  I think it’s time for the Rockies to find their closer of the future sooner rather than later.  With four members of the bullpen having closer experience the Rockies have options if Hawkins falters.

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The main option if Hawkins is replaced should be Rafael Betancourt.  After missing all of 2014 with a full UCL tear in his right elbow, Betancourt has been near perfect this spring.  Betancourt has posted a 1.17 ERA, striking out 9 in 7.2 innings down in the Cactus League.  Entering his sixth playing season with the club, Rafael ranks fifth in all-time Rockies saves leaders with 57.  I personally love Betancourt as the closer because he pounds the strike zone with his four seam fastball and while he’s never been a strike out pitcher he gets his fair share.  Betancourt, who took a line drive off of the face, is one tough cookie and has the nasty side you like to see in a closer.  The problem is he’s entering his age 39 season.  If the Rockies are going to keep him and Hawkins around they better hope the bullpen car is a two-seater.

If I was Weiss this guy would have been my closer from day one.  Adam Ottavino is down right filthy, I mean come on his slider has its own twitter.  Ottavino will start out as the set up man but if Brothers doesn’t bounce back, Ottavino should be the next young gun in line.  While never having any extensive closer experience Ottavino had a strong 2014 and cut his BB/9 down from 3.6 to 2.2.

” Because he’s the rare Rockies pitcher who actually tries to get strikeouts, and he’s good at it”

After agreeing to a $1.3 million one year deal, Ottavino will again be entering an arbitration year looking to capitalize on a strong season.  I asked Bryan Kilpatrick from Purple Row why Ottavino would be successful in the closer role, he said ” Because he’s the rare Rockies pitcher who actually tries to get strikeouts, and he’s good at it”.  If you’re not convinced Ottavino could handle the high leverage job of being a closer, take a look at this You Tube clip.

While writing this Rex Brothers was optioned to Albuquerque after a horrible spring, where he continued to struggle with walks.  In 7.2 innings Rex walked 6 batters.  With Rex down in New Mexico, his road to the closer role may be a bit longer than Betancourt or Ottavino, but he’s the guy Rockies fans love to root for.  As

Rox Pile Editor Bobby DeMuro pointed out

“When Rex Brothers is on, he can dominate.  When Rex Brothers is bad, he sometimes can’t even throw the ball 60 feet, 6 inches, let alone get an out”.  In 2013 Brothers was lights out as he stepped in the closer’s role in Betancourt’s absence.  In 21 chances Brothers slammed the door shut 19 times, while posting a 1.74 ERA.  However in 2014 he couldn’t find the light switch, walking nearly as many batters that he struck out( 39 BB 55 K).  As much as we would love to see Brothers in the closer spot for years to come if he doesn’t get his walks under control ( 7 BB/9 this spring), we will always wonder if that immaculate inning he had in San Fransisco was a thing of the past.

No matter who closes games for the Rockies in 2015, the fact that they’re getting save chances is a good thing. Whether it’s one of grey beards or one of the young guns, the ninth inning over on 20th and Blake should be exciting.  So Rockies fans, who do you want for closing time?

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