Return to ninth inning has suited Broxton nicely
Soria's injury has led to renaissance for two-time All-Star closer
KANSAS CITY -- This isn't what Jonathan Broxton signed up for.
The big, strong Georgian was signed in the offseason by the Royals to be their setup man, to pitch the eighth inning ahead of All-Star closer Joakim Soria. But Soria went down in Spring Training and required Tommy John surgery, knocking him out for the entire 2012 campaign.
What better way to replace an All-Star closer than with an All-Star closer?
Called into action, Broxton has done the job well, saving 19 games, good for fourth in the American League.
"I was signed to come here and set up, but it doesn't matter if it's the seventh, eighth or ninth. They're all tough outs," Broxton said. "If you just keep that mindset to where you're going out there and getting your job done, it doesn't matter if it's the seventh, eighth or ninth, you're going to have good success. And that is what I was able to do. Plus, it also helped out that I had some experience before.
"Coming here, [Soria] was a great part of our bullpen, and we lost him. All we've got to do is just fill in as best we can. I think we're able to do that, for the most part."
The Royals couldn't be more pleased with the results.
"We couldn't have asked for anything else," fellow reliever Greg Holland said. "[Broxton] is one of those guys that knows how to make big pitches in big situations, doesn't get flustered. He just goes about his business day in and day out, much the same as Soria did, preparing himself and getting his mind set. [He's] mentally and physically ready to [pitch] day in and day out and get the job done. He just kind of leads by example. And it's been real big for us knowing that if we can just get the ball to the ninth, we've got a good chance of winning."
Broxton has made those words ring true. He's converted 19 of 22 save opportunities, allowing just five earned runs in 29 2/3 innings pitched this season. He's struck out 23 batters and posted a 1.52 ERA. Only 15 relievers in baseball with 20 or more innings pitched have a lower ERA.
This isn't the first time Broxton has put up big numbers. He amassed 58 total saves over two All-Star seasons with the Dodgers in 2009 and '10, but injuries slowed him last year. When the Royals picked him up over the winter, he was coming off arthroscopic surgery to remove a bone spur in his right elbow. Now he's pitching the way he did two years ago.
"Close as it's probably going to get to that '09 form," Broxton said. "I don't know if I'll ever get back to those numbers, velocity wise, but I've been feeling great and that's all I'm concerned about right now is making sure the arm is feeling good, the elbow, body, just going out there and competing, giving it everything I have. I've been able to do that this year."
Broxton hasn't been flawless. In fact, many of his saves have come in the white-knuckle variety. In just six of his 29 outings has he not allowed a baserunner, and he's given up multiple hits in six outings. Add to that his incredibly long pauses between pitches -- the kind that make you wonder if your TV is still working -- and Broxton's appearances can be nerve-wracking.
But total collapses have been rare, even if the threat of them has been frequent.
"Brox has had [a few] hiccups, but you can't be perfect. [Soria] for a while was, and Mariano [Rivera], but you're talking about two of the best guys -- percentage-wise -- ever," designated hitter Billy Butler said. "You get kind of spoiled looking at that kind of stuff. But Broxton's been fantastic this year, especially in the situations we've put him in. We've given him a lot of one-run saves, and he's done a great job with it."
Broxton is having fun as a member of this young Royals team. Of the current seven in the Kansas City bullpen, Broxton is the oldest at 28, edging out Jose Mijares by a few months. Whether it's his age or experience, he's become the elder statesman and leader of the bullpen.
"I'm not old years-wise, but [in terms of] baseball time, especially with this team," Broxton said. "I don't know if we have anybody down there that has even three years. I kind of have had to put that on my back and try to show them the ropes, the reins and lead them in the right direction. They've been very good down there.
"[The young relievers have been] great so far with everything I've asked them to do and everything they work on. I don't have to stay on them hard. They're always trying to get better, they're always out there competing. As a bullpen leader, that's all I can ask, that they go out there and give everything they have."
Broxton is devoting his mentoring skills to more than just the Royals' youthful 'pen. His son, Brooks, just turned 3, and Broxton is bringing his son up to speed with one of his favorite hobbies: hunting.
"I was always a big hunter," Broxton said. "My dad always took me out when I was little, with my granddad. I was out in the woods when I was six months old. I've done the same thing to my son. He was out when he was six months, and he loves it. I was always brought up to, 'If you're out in nature -- hunting, fishing, playing golf -- you'd never be on the streets doing stuff you weren't supposed to.' That's the way I'm bringing up my kid."
Vinnie Duber is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.