All season (and at times last season), the manager has defended his closer and shown no inclination to make a change. On Wednesday, the day after Rodney blew a one-run lead in the ninth inning against the Yankees, McClendon’s answer was no different.
In what has become a predictable routine the day after Mariners closer Fernando Rodney blows a save or has a poor outing, a question about his future was posed to manager Lloyd McClendon.
All season (and at times last season), McClendon has defended his closer and shown no inclination to make a change.
On Wednesday, the day after Rodney blew a one-run lead in the ninth inning against the Yankees, McClendon’s answer was no different.
“Well, Rodney has struggled a little bit, but so has everybody else,” McClendon said Wednesday. “But the fact is, he’s our closer. We need him. We are going to need him to be successful.
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“I think people talk very lightly about changing closers. And that’s fine, but you have to have somebody to do it. You just don’t throw anybody in the ninth inning and say, ‘Let him do it.’ Because what happens when that guy doesn’t do it? And that’s exactly what’s going to happen.”
Does he have a backup closer if Rodney were to get injured or be unavailable? Most fans would assume side-armer Carson Smith and his 1.17 ERA would be the automatic answer. Any poll of Mariners fans would show an overwhelming preference for Smith to replace Rodney.
“I don’t have that guy right now,” McClendon said. “I know people point to the kid, Carson Smith. But he’s a young kid, and we have to be careful with him, particularly with his innings, particularly with back-to-back-to-back. I’m not sure if he can do that. I think his velocity goes down quite a bit.
“He’s a young man and he still doesn’t have his man muscles, so to speak. He needs to mature and continue to develop. He’s done a nice job. I think part of him doing a nice job is the fact that we put him in situations where he can be successful. When you’re a closer, you don’t have that ‘comfortability’ where we can put you in a situation where you can be successful. … You have to go in and get it done.”
The Mariners have been careful in keeping Smith from facing too many tough left-handers this season. He has faced some, but they try to use him mostly against right-handed hitters. Smith has pitched three days in a row just once this season and admitted to feeling the effects on the third day. He’s also taking as much as two days to recover after some back-to-back outings. The arm action and torque he throws with can be fatiguing as well the emotional and mental grind of the season. It’s typical of a young pitcher in his first year in the big leagues.
“The biggest thing with a kid like Carson is having the ability go out there three or four days in a row and have the same stuff,” McClendon said. “And then have the ability to blow a game and come back the next day to get a save. These are all questions that people take for granted. It’s not that easy. We need to develop and continue to grow on the path that he’s going. Eventually, he’s going to be a real, real good eighth-inning guy or maybe even closer in the future. But today? No. He’s not that guy.”
McClendon was asked about Rodney’s 6.85 ERA and .307 batting average-against, which are less than ideal for any pitcher, but specifically one who is working with little wiggle room for mistakes.
“I will say this, people get caught up in hits and ERA,” McClendon said. “I don’t give a damn about his ERA as long as he closes them out. That’s all I care about. (Tuesday) night was tough. His stuff was there. He missed his spot on a fastball that was supposed to be low and away, and it was down and in to a hot spot on a lefty. Other than that, I think he’s going to be just fine.”
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