10/07/08 9:07 PM EST
Torre: Game will dictate closer for LA
Broxton's dominance in NLDS could give him edge over Saito
By Michael Schwartz / MLB.com
"Both of us are ready," Broxton said. "Whatever Joe wants. Whoever he's going to go to."Broxton took over as the Dodgers' full-time closer after the All-Star break when Saito, the incumbent closer who saved 17 of 20 games with a 2.18 ERA in the first half, missed about two months with a torn right elbow ligament and then used the final few weeks of the season as a Major League rehab assignment of sorts with the Minor League season over. In Saito's absence, the 24-year-old Broxton moved from the setup role into the closer's spot for the first time in his career and saved 14 of 17 contests with a 2.76 ERA. The Dodgers told Saito, 38, he would be reinstated as the closer in the playoffs, but he was on a short leash in Game 2 of the NLDS, when Torre pulled him after he allowed two runs on three hits without recording an out to bring Broxton in with the Dodgers ahead, 10-3, in the ninth. Then in Game 3, Torre picked Broxton to pitch the ninth and eventually close out the series after he ended the eighth inning with an overpowering strikeout of Mark DeRosa. "When he's throwing strikes he's ... near unhittable," Torre said of Broxton, who threw 15 of his 18 pitches for strikes in Game 3. "But again, we did tell Saito this last series he was going to pitch the ninth inning, and I lied to him because we brought Broxton back in the ninth inning, so they know they're important. Each game, [pitching coach Rick] Honeycutt will tell them what we're thinking." Torre added that thinking may depend on whether more lefties or righties are due up, as Broxton held right-handers to a .181 batting average this season, while lefties hit .270 against him. Saito also fared better against righties, but the splits are not so pronounced.
Who's the closer?
|Jonathan Broxton made a strong case to be the NLCS closer with his dominant finish of the NLDS and his steady work in the second half while Takashi Saito was injured.|
|Note: Saito gave up two runs on three hits without recording an out in his only NLDS appearance.|
Broxton's performance in Game 3 -- when he mowed down all four batters he faced, three by strikeouts -- showed he was not bothered by the fact he did not know he would be pitching the ninth until he was sent out there.Saito, meanwhile, did not seem to mind being passed over for the save when he barreled out toward Broxton during the on-field celebration and gave him a big hug after warming up earlier in the inning. The Japanese right-hander has saved 81 games with a 1.95 ERA for Los Angeles the past three years, but he has not looked quite as sharp since returning from his injury. "Everyone's aware of where I am and how my condition and how my situation is, so I'm just here to contribute as much to the team," Saito said through a translator. "If they need me I'll be there. I'm always prepared to go out there. I don't think it was a big deal. "If you're a closer, you know what your role is. It's probably easier. It is difficult not knowing your role, but as a relief pitcher you always have to be prepared." It's interesting that Broxton will be headed to Philadelphia as the hot hand in the bullpen because the last time he visited Citizens Bank Park he blew a save in a crushing loss during Los Angeles' eight-game August losing streak that ended a 16-day stretch in which Broxton took three losses, blew a pair of saves and compiled a 7.88 ERA in eight outings. After the blown save in Philadelphia, Broxton blamed a mechanical flaw in which his shoulder was flying open, the type of issue Torre said can easily happen to a 290-pound hurler like Broxton, and Torre spoke of using left-hander Hong-Chih Kuo as a co-closer with Broxton depending on the situation, his confidence in Broxton clearly waning. Broxton then worked with Tanyon Sturtze, a pitcher who had been designated for assignment by the Dodgers and eventually became the club's third bullpen catcher, in sessions that helped Broxton regain his mechanics and stay in control on the mound. The results showed immediately, as Broxton struck out the next eight batters he faced and has been lights out ever since. Aside from a pair of outings after the Dodgers had clinched, Broxton has not yielded an earned run in 14 2/3 innings since his hiccup in Philadelphia, including the playoffs. Broxton admitted there's "a big difference" between closing in the playoffs and the regular season, but after his stellar September helping the Dodgers lock up the NL West, he will be ready if called upon. "It's helped me out a lot, getting out there and getting some experience, then coming in a big situation and closing out the series," Broxton said. "It's very fun. You've just got to go out there and calm the game down and go right after guys."
Michael Schwartz is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.