Sun, Jul 11, 2004 - Page 24 News List

Trading places gets mixed results

By Paul Huang  /  CONTRIBUTING REPORTER

Michael Garcia, ace closer for the Lions, won all 16 of his save attempts during the first half of the CPBL season. Other teams are now attempting to emulate his success.

PHOTO: CPBL

With the tremendous success that President Lions ace closer Michael Garcia enjoyed in the first half of the season by converting 16 straight saves, other teams in Taiwan's Chinese Professional Baseball League (CPBL) have attempted the same stunt -- reassigning their top pitcher to the closer role.

Nevertheless, holding back a team's top pitcher is useless is save opportunities fail to materialize.

Some say a "situational game" dictates that "money players" should be held for critical moments in a game as dominant closer can bring invaluable sense of assurance to a manager.

Assigning one-time starter Dario Veras to the closer's role has worked so far for Chinatrust Whales manager Hsu Sheng-ming (徐生明). Veras has eight saves along with five wins this season.

His ERA of .78 is among the best in the CPBL.

The Macoto Cobras' attempt to place lefty ace Huang Chin-chih (黃欽智) in the closer's spot earlier in the season was more problematic as Huang had difficulties adopting a closer's strategy.

The plan to use the injury-ridden pitcher in the new role seemed reasonable, but after four straight blown saves in April, the team quickly put a stop to the idea.

Huang's return to the mound after lengthy rehabilitation, this time back in his former starting role, was a success as he allowed only one run (unearned) on five hits in 5-1/3 innings in a tie against the Lions.

A closer's state of mind

"Not everyone is cut out to be a closer," Brother Elephants reliever Hsiao Ren-wen (蕭任汶) said. "The objective is very different."

"When you're a starter, you are more concerned with using a variety of ways needed to strike out a hitter, so you may not want to use your best stuff early on because you will see the same guy two to three times in the same game. When you're a closer, it's do-or-die on every pitch," Hsiao said.

Learning the ropes

Hsiao's teammate, Jonathan Hurst, has taken some time to adjust to his new closer's role. The American made the change the second half of the season in the interest of providing the Elephants with some late-inning insurance on the mound.

After failing in three of his first four save opportunities, the 37-year-old veteran from South Carolina has begun to settled into his new role.

Startegic considerations

Among factors such as injuries, age, and physical stamina, a manager also needs to consider the game schedule when deciding to move a top pitcher from his usual starting role to that of a closer.

In a typical three-game series, for example, a win from a top starter could be more important to a team's overall success than saving him for one or two possible late-game situations.

Until the CPBL has a six-game-per-week schedule, as in Major League Baseball, managers in the CPBL may be better off keeping their best starters in the rotation to secure the most wins.

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