Lindstrom feels close to full strength
Closer hopes early struggles will soon be behind him
MIAMI -- When Matt Lindstrom went into his first season as the full-time closer, it was understood that preparation would not be one of his advantages.
But not like this.
Yes, Lindstrom had only converted five saves in his previous 124 1/3 Major League innings. But with the experience he gained in September, coupled by an extended Spring Training this year, he was supposed to be well-suited for an entire season as the ninth-inning man.
But those plans were shot in one fateful inning of work in the World Baseball Classic.
And ever since then, the 29-year-old fireballer has been learning on the fly.
"I think the biggest thing, is that as baseball players, we're kind of creatures of habit," said Lindstrom, whom the Marlins are still cautious about using on back-to-back days. "As we continue to go on throughout the season, I think I'll find my routine and find that edge I need."
The question is: When?
Lindstrom suffered a strained right rotator cuff while pitching for Team USA on March 15. Since then, his spring consisted of just rest, bullpen sessions and Minor League games until the regular season began.
So far, Lindstrom's line in two save opportunities this season doesn't look too bad -- 1-0 with one earned run in two innings and one save -- but those two frames have definitely been a struggle, and because of that, they definitely haven't been boring.
During his first save opportunity against the Nationals on Wednesday, Lindstrom inherited a three-run lead in the top of the ninth and needed 32 pitches and a diving catch by Brett Carroll with the tying run on second base to get his first save.
After not throwing the following off-day, Lindstrom was back at it with a one-run lead in the ninth against the Mets on Friday -- a night he gave up a run after facing six batters and was only the winning pitcher because Jorge Cantu hit a walk-off single in the bottom half.
"It's a process," Lindstrom said, "and we're in that process right now."
Lindstrom is known for being in the upper-90s with his fastball, but so far this season, he's been mostly in the mid-90s and has had a hard time throwing his secondary pitches for strikes. The right-hander said the extra mph on his fastball will come with his arm loosening up more, and the secondary pitches will be more effective when his fastball command improves.
So far, his catcher hasn't seen much to be concerned about -- at least not long term.
"It's not an ideal situation that he has to get through his Spring Training now, but there's no other guy that you would expect to jump in the fire because he's got great stuff like that," catcher John Baker said.
"He's still mid-90s, and there's not many people in baseball that throw in the mid-90s. As he loosens up, and he starts throwing 98, 99, 100 [mph] again, he'll be totally back to normal."
The Marlins are off on Monday, then travel for a nine-game road trip in 11 days beginning Tuesday.
Somewhere in that trip, Lindstrom hopes to find his stuff again.
"I wanted to be here with the guys when the season started to make sure I was ready to compete, and I think I am," Lindstrom said. "Now it's just working on how I'm going to feel the next day and continuing to build off that. And it's coming.
"I don't think I'm quite there yet, but I think it's going pretty good -- the way my arm is bouncing back, playing catch and stuff every single day. So I'm optimistic about how it's going."
Alden Gonzalez is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.