Brewing up trouble
Well, that was quick. You didn’t have to be a profit to see Trevor Hoffman’s demise coming this season after his surprising success in 2009, but even the most cynical forecaster would have given until mid-May before he’d be going down in flames. Yet after two crushing blown saves in less than 18 hours to the lowly Pirates, the future Hall-of-Famer has likely served up his last ninth-inning stomach punch for a while.
After a 17-3 drubbing by the Brewers on April 26th, the Pirates had been outscored 72-12 over a seven-game losing streak. However, demoralized they were not, as they just needed a little Trevor in their lives to spark two heroic comebacks. Hoffman couldn’t preserve a one-run lead Tuesday, allowing a game-tying bomb to none other than Ronny Cedeno, then made sure his team was completely out of contention by serving up a grand slam to Ryan Doumit – who hadn’t had an RBI in 12 games. On Wednesday, Hoffman made another one-run lead vanish as he was bested again by a Doumit long ball, and Milwaukee later lost in 14 innings.
The 42-year-old’s ERA actually went down with Wednesday’s outing to a comical 13.00, accompanied by an even 2.00 WHIP. It was his fourth blown save , and the sixth of nine appearances in which he allowed an earned run. While we had all become accustomed to Hoffman coughing up leads in crucial September and postseason games, looking lost against the Pirates in April may finally be a sign for the all-time saves leader to hang up his cleats. The Brew Crew can’t afford to cough away any more games, so they’re all but certain go with someone new in the next closing opportunity. While Milwaukee is brewing overtime to drown out the sorrows from the last two games, here are two closing candidates who you should keep your eyes on.
LaTroy Hawkins pitched a perfect eighth inning on Wednesday while striking out two, so he might seem like the logical choice to fill Hoffman’s shoes. However he is LaTroy Hawkins, and there’s no way manager Ken Macha would feel good about having a 37-year-old who’s been on eight teams in the last eight years coming in to close out tight games for his team on a nightly basis.
Before Wednesday the right-hander had not pitched in a big spot in almost two weeks, since he surrendered four earned runs to the Cubs and three to the Nationals in consecutive eighth-inning appearances that directly resulted Milwaukee losses. Those two disasters along with a 7.71 ERA don’t exactly inspire confidence in the late innings.
Yes, Hawkins miraculously revived his career by pitching to a 2.13 ERA in 63 1/3 innings last season with the Astros, and was 11-for-15 in save opportunities while filling in for an injured Jose Valverde. But that’s about all he has going for him. This is a guy with a career 4.54 ERA and 1.44 WHIP, and 47 blown saves over the past seven seasons (with two already in 2010). That’s a lot of disappointing nights. If there was a career blown saves leaderboard somewhere – and yes I tried to find one – he’d have to be near the very top. In conclusion, if he’s named the closer, I don’t see him keeping that title for long.
Now it’s easy to sound like a negative person when discussing LaTroy Hawkins and a washed up Trevor Hoffman, so let’s take a positive turn and see Carlos Villanueva. Ahhhhhhh. Macha must feel this type of refreshment when thinking of the young right-hander and his stellar statistics. After striking out one in a perfect sixth-inning Wednesday, the 26-year-old has not allowed a run in 12 innings this season and owns a paper-thin 0.75 WHIP. He’s got a dominant 11.25 K/9 rate and has held opponents to a stunning .135 batting average. Sounds very closery to me.
The biggest thing he’s got going against him is that while Hoffman was working his way back from an injury in early 2009, Villanueva struggled to fill the void with three blown saves. He did, however, convert three saves during that stretch, and now he is a year wiser and pitching much better. Something tells me that even if Hawkins is given the initial chance to close games, youth will eventually be served. Villanueva is the guy I’d consider grabbing for now.