Previewing the ‘pen

19 02 2008

Much has been made of Eric Gagne’s struggles in Boston last season. Many were surprised that the Brewers offered the former dominant closer $10M for a one-year deal. Many believe that Eric Gagne is the pitcher with a 6.75 ERA, not the lights-out pitcher with the 2.16 ERA he had in Texas last season.

Ned Yost isn’t worried, though. He believes Boston threw Eric into a situation that put him out of his comfort zone, and his pitching suffered because of it. Now that Eric is back in his familiar closers role in Milwaukee, Yost has monumental confidence in his closer. A new place, a familiar role, and a tight clubhouse will do Gagne some good.

This argument does hold some credibility.  Closers have been famous for sticking to a very strict, and sometimes odd, routine during games to ready themselves for a game.  It must be very difficult to break that routine after doing the same thing to prepare for so many days.

Gagne also said that he may have been trying too hard to impress the fans in Boston.  I wholeheartedly believe that.  I think that coming to the National League and to a smaller-market team will help Eric Gagne immensely.  He still has the stuff.  It was just his control that abandoned him last season in Boston.  Mike Maddux will also be able to help, no doubt.

One of the most interesting aspects of the article to me was the conversation with Derrick Turnbow. First of all, all signs point towards Turnbow pitching in the 8th inning still. I had heard many reports that Riske was going to take over that role. Yost uses the same line of logic for Turnbow. He doesn’t want to take him out of his comfort zone, and he will let Turnbow settle another year into a comfortable role that he can thrive in.

This is what caught my attention, though. During all the talk about how overworked the bullpen was last year, Turnbow mentioned that there were points in the season last year where he could literally not pick up his arm and throw a ball. That is how tired and overworked he became down the stretch. That is why his control starting to spiral out of control.

Turnbow pitched 68 innings last season, and his maximum-effort delivery makes it very difficult to pitch back-to-back days.  Add the fact that Turnbow usually has high pitch-counts during his outings, and one can easily see why he became so worn out at the end of the year.

Melvin is hoping that this veteran group of relievers (Torres, Mota, Riske, and Shouse) behind Turnbow and Gagne will allow both of them to get enough rest and keep their arms fresh.  Melvin actively sought out veteran arms that could pitch for more than one inning at a time, and even pitch back-to-back days.  Pitchers like Seth McClung and Matt Wise put a strain on the rest of the bullpen last year because they needed to rest a couple days after pitching before being available again.  This season’s bullpen seems to remedy this weakness.

Yost expects a big year from his bullpen, and he expects Mota and Torres to bounce back tremendously.  Experts have doubted this veteran group from the beginning.  Expect Yost to use that as a motivator.  There are many good arms in the Brewers ‘pen this season.  Don’t underestimate them. They just might surprise you.

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