Kobayashi comes to the rescue
With closer Betancourt in trouble, Japanese reliever gets call
CLEVELAND -- Indians skipper Eric Wedge has often said that once the closer has been summoned, the manager can do nothing more but sit back and watch.That's what made Wedge's call to the 'pen in the middle of the ninth inning of Thursday's 4-2 win over the A's so intriguing. Closer Rafael Betancourt had just walked Jack Hannahan to load the bases with one out, and Wedge had seen enough. In came Masa Kobayashi, and, with the Japanese reliever's second save of the week, plenty of questions arose. Has Betancourt pitched himself out of the ninth-inning job he inherited from an injured Joe Borowski? Wedge was non-committal. "I've got to reflect upon everything and go from there," Wedge said. "I haven't had time to think about it just yet." But Wedge has had time to digest Betancourt's inconsistency this season. After dominating in the setup role last year, Betancourt has gone 1-2 with a 7.31 ERA and four saves in 18 outings this season. Kobayashi, meanwhile, has only improved as the season has evolved. He is now 2-0 with a 1.86 ERA and two saves in 19 appearances. Does Kobayashi want to close? "I'm just happy to be here and help the team in any situation," he said through interpreter Toshi Nagahara. Betancourt declined to speak with reporters after Thursday's game, in which he faced four batters, recorded one out and used 25 pitches. "He had difficulty throwing the ball where he wanted to," Wedge said of Betancourt. "I just didn't think we could take it any further." Kobayashi had a shaky moment himself when he let one of the inherited runners across on a wild pitch. But he recovered to strike out Mike Sweeney and Rob Bowen in succession to end the game. "It's a little bit harder [coming into a game with runners on]," he said. "But I tried to focus and make my pitches, and it worked out." With Borowski expected to remain on the disabled list with a strained right triceps for at least another week, how the closing situation works out will be a matter of intrigue, where the Indians are concerned.
Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.