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April 12, 2010

Who should be the Orioles closer now and for the rest of 2010?

The Orioles have won one of their first six games this season.

That doesn’t seem particularly good to me.

If you want the Connolly Bar patented silver lining, here it is: The Orioles started 6-2 last year and ended up losing 98 games. So the first week of the season is just a blip that doesn’t necessarily dictate how the season will go.

Yeah, that’s the best I can do.

As I have told people heading into this season, I think the Orioles will be more competitive within games than they have been since 2005. That might not translate into a serious bump in the record/standings, but there should be fewer 11-2, 9-4 games in 2010.

We’ve seen that so far. In fact, the Orioles could very well be 5-1 instead of 1-5 at this point. A lot of that has to do with the uncertainty with the club’s closer situation.

Michael Gonzalez was anointed the guy this winter with a two-year, $12 million deal. But he has blown two of three chances and loaded the bases in the other one. He has been temporarily removed from the position until he can get his mechanics straight and throw strikes.

And, regardless, he won’t be closing the game tonight; he went to Arizona for the birth of his first child and is expected back Tuesday.

So who should get the lion’s share of closing opportunities in Gonzalez’s absence/struggles?

Jim Johnson is the obvious answer because he took on the job part of last season. But the club likes him better as a shutdown setup man in the eighth.

Matt Albers is probably next in line, with Cla Meredith and even lefty specialist Will Ohman possibly getting chances depending on the situation.

There’s also Kam Mickolio and Alberto Castillo at Triple A. And the Orioles paid a lot of money for Gonzalez, so eventually he gets another shot, right?

This isn’t an easy call. No one jumps out. And closers by committee rarely work.

So I am giving the managerial reins to you. Who do you trot out in the ninth with the game on the line right now? Should it change as the season progresses?

Daily Think Special: Who should be the Orioles closer now and for the rest of 2010?

Posted by Dan Connolly at 7:00 AM | | Comments (79)
Categories: Connolly's Corner Sports Bar


J.J. for now. Koji when he comes back from DL. Another player who I think could excel in the role is Jason Berken, but I don't think he will get a shot.

None! They don't need a closer for the worst team in baseball.

Go with the hot hand or whoever is pitching well in the 8th inning and let him continue into the 9th.

How about bringing back Jesse Orosco...even at 60, he's got to be better than anything the O's currently have later the game.

Oh, so that's what the problem has been with Gonzo. He was a typical, nervous, expectant father to be. Well, that explains why the 6 million dollar man did not come through. He'll be fine now!

Well, Koji Uehara closed in Japan, right? Not sure how far away his return to the 25-man is, but if the back end of the bullpen doesn't sort itself out in the meantime, I'd think he gets a shot at some point.

Easy -- Steve Houschka

Guthrie shouldn't be a starter- he has been given way too many chances; his track record speaks for itself. His role should be closer- he can gas it up for one inning and preserve the lead and get the save. Never trust a left-handed closer- EVER...Jesus H. Sherrill ring a bell??

I agree that Uehara deserves a shot if and when he comes back healthy and the O's are still without a reliable closer.

He doesn't throw as hard as a traditional closer, but if he can get guys out...

The O's should just go by-committee for the time being. They can play some combination of Johnson, Albers, and Ohman in both the 8th and the 9th depending on who has the best matchup. And we can add Uehara to the mix when he returns.

I think Gonzalez should have a chance to ultimately get the job back; however, he clearly needs to work in non-pressure situations for now, and show that he can still pitch effectively. If he can't, then its time to cut our losses and give the roster spot to someone else.

How about remove the "Closer" position all together. Never works. Never has. Why pull a guy who is doing well? Dumb. New manager. Better yet move the crappy team away.

I'd like to see Guthrie and Hernandez compete for the closer's role. Allow Gonzalez to work as a spot reliever in the mean time. Whichever of the three pitches best gets the job (or if no one is consistent enough then go with a closer-by-committee approach). To fill the rotation spots make Jim Johnson a starting pitcher (he has the stuff and the stamina). Call up Tillman to take Hernandez's spot in the rotation.

Hendrickson is only good for two innings...he's perfect folks

Don Aase

David Hernandez

Luis Lebron

The guy was an outstanding closer in AA last year, he pitched well in the Arizona Fall League, and then he was very impressive in spring training too.

Let the guy try closing for us, and I suspect we'll all be very pleasantly surprised by the results.

Alternatively, let's see what Kam Mickolio's got.

I would say either move Guthrie to closer and make Hendrickson a starter. Or bring up Mickolio and let him close. It wouldn't be J.J. We experienced that debacle last year!

bring back zuverink or stu miller

The O's might not want to call it "closer by committee" but if the pitcher that pitched the 8th inning did well then let him go back out for the 9th. If not, next man up. We might not agree on who the closer should be but I bet we'll all agree who it shouldn't be!!

Mike Gonzalez. We're paying him $12M to be the closer, he'd better figure out how to be the closer.

Doesn't matter as the O's never seem to have the lead going into the 9TH.

Mickolio didn't do so well the other night in Norfolk... no runs but 37 pitches in 1.1 innings --No, wait, those are typical numbers for an Oriole closer. Sherrill isnb't doing any better than Gonzalez; he's blown a couple of games and has a 22.50 ERA. Gonzalez should come around... eventually... and keep our hearts beating furiously for the rest of the season in memory of his first three appearances. If the won-lost record is too bad come May/June, the Orioles may have to abandon the old ship and go youth... Lebron, perhaps.

Does it really matter,,,,,most minor league teams don't have a true closer anyway......................

JJ no question. Move Albers to set-up.
I don't know about Koji. We need someone with some power and Koji doesn't have that. I see him being used exactly like Hendrickson.

Off topic, but the offense is worrying me more than the closer situation right now.

Who sez we need a closer?

Let's go back to the 50's and 60's when the only closer you needed was a mop-up guy in the 9th inning of a 17-2 lead.

Why can't they go get George Sherrill back!!!

Bring up Chris Tillman and let him get major league experience by closing games. He's done all he can against minor league competition and his problems in the majors are that his stuff isn't dominant over subpar competition, so he needs to learn to get out good quality hitters.

Jason Berken. Yes, it sounds crazy, but they talk about his make-up and bulldog mentality, which is essential for a closer. He's got good stuff.

Albers has proven nothing. Meredith would be a soft throwing closer, which usually doesn't work. Berken throws hard and is a tough guy. Give it a shot.

Koji is definitely the easy answer, but I wouldn't be surprised if Brandon Erbe or Jake Arrieta were a long term solution.

I know it scares the heck out of people, but the closer by committee approach really makes the most sense to me.

Take the last blown save against the Jays for instance. Johnson had just mowed down the side in the 8th inning. The 9th began with a right handed hitter. Explain to me why it is the right move for Gonzalez to enter the game at that time? No logic can be used other than trying to fit into traditional stereotypes that the closer must pitch the 9th inning.

The guy on deck was a lefty. Leave Johnson in for the first batter, then bring Gonzalez in. Now of course I realize the lefty then smacked a double, but if there were no runner on who knows what happens there.

The right answer is to approach the 9th like they approach the 8th. Let the matchups dictate who's coming in and when they come in. I don't get Trembley's insistence on having these guys pitch exactly one inning. Let one guy get 4 outs and the other 2 if that's what the situation calls for.

Long term I really hope Mickolio can take over the role. The dark horse (besides Koji) for me is Hernandez. I'm not convinced he's a starter, but with that fastball and ability to strike guys out, I think he could have a future in the back of a bullpen. By midseason Tillman should be up in the rotation and Hernandez could slide into a late inning role or hopefully take over as closer.

Gonzo will, and probably should, get another shot when his mechanics get straightened out. You don't want to give up on him too soon, although the fans are infuriated.

It doesn't make sense to me to convert a guy into a closer when he has only a year left on his contract, so that rules out Koji, Guthrie, Ohman and maybe some others. J.J. didn't take to the role last year; let him stay where he is successful.

Our closer of the future is at AAA, Kam Micholio. If he's healthy, maybe it's his time. It also seems to me that Alberto Castillo does a decent job whenevere he's called upon, whatever the role. I can't believe there's not a major league spot for him somewhere. Perhaps Alberto could be the Cinderella story we need to make this season interesting.

They are competitive..working hard to win every game - a positive

Coach T seems to have them prepared - a positive

The starters are off to a good start - a positive

They are scoring enough runs to win - a positive

The young players are playing very well - a positive

This monkey on their back is a real problem, learning how to win and over come adversity isn't easy. But they're playing well, they are playing to win and most importantly.... I like what I see!

Maybe we move up least get ready to give him a chance. Move T to DH?

Mark Hendrickson

Eddie Watt!!!! The most exasperating relief pitcher the O's ever had.

MECHANICS..?!! Let me get this straight; A major league pitcher making 12 million bucks needs to work on MECHANICS??!! MECHANICS?!! PLAYOFFS!!????

Hit the Northern League like your twin George Sherrill...!

The only teams that need a closer by definition are those who have leads most of the time heading into the 8th (dare I say it) and 9th innings, AND if they have a legitimate person occupying a roster spot.

If you're going to pigeonhole soembody in there, let it be one of the guys who "can only go a few batters" anyway. I don't know who to suggest because I don't know if the Orioles are overloaded with one-inning guys or if Trembley just makes everyone one-inning guys whether they are or not.

The Os should go with 9th inninig match-ups for now, leaving the position open to anyone who proves himself. This would be a good motivational opportunity for all the pitchers. Dave T should de-dramatize the whole issue. Who is your closer? The best person...Let Gonzo do one and two batter appearances until he pulls himself together

The Orioles need to resort to closer by committee. None of their pitchers are bona fide closers so they have to improvise. They should use the pitcher most effective currently regard less of righty -lefty match ups.

Gonzalez had good stuff back in the NL, and I think eventually we have to try to get him worked out for the closer's spot. Unless he's hurt, which I think is a possibility. The fact that he is an impending father makes me sympathize with his recent struggles a bit more.

Until then, Johnson should be the guy, nominally, although Trembley should match guys up situationally. Of course, closers are a dumb position: the best relief pitchers should be used in the highest leverage situations in the late innings, not just the 9th.

Also, Albers and Berken are marginal MLB players, and certainly should be kept to low leverage situations as much as possible. Especially Berken, who is a stiff, bulldog mentality or no.

I'm available.

I agree with all who say, "Quit thinking 'closer position.' Get outside that box. Look at the statistics of the last ten years and see how many guys have really been effective in that role. A relatively small percentage. That has to do with the foolish definition of an artificial role. A guy shouldn't be in the bullpen if he can't work the ninth in a close game. But don't let the other team know, by default, whose stuff their going to see in the ninth. Let 'em guess until the ninth comes. You don't win games by limiting your own options. You do it by using every possible advantage to beat the other team.

The O's need to score more runs and give the team a chance to win. M.G., when he comes back, needs to settle down and get another chance. He could be great if he gets in the groove. His arm doesn't look healthy as he consistantly throws high when his velocity is up. Johnson needs the reigns for now.

who should be the Orioles manager after 30 games?

there should not be a designated closer. The closer role is a joke.

Chris Tillman!! I like Koji when he is healthy.

Gregg Olson! Bring back #38. He's o nly 43 years old!

Cla Meredith and will Ohman combo.

Upstate NY, the O's are last in the AL in runs scored after the first week, so they're not scoring enough.

Put Koji in as closer - if he ever gets healthy. Until then, if the guy that finished the 8th is doing well, let him finish. A lot of people have nailed it here about overrating the closer role.

Well, there are some 'interesting' ideas. Maybe Gonzalez was distracted by the birth of his first child. It happens (ed) to all of us fathers. As an alternative, if they want to make an 'out of the box' move, what about making an offer to John Smoltz? He's broadcasting right now but may jump at the idea to pitch again. Just a thought.

You go and buy a new/real least one who can give one good inning....just one good inning..Yo Mr Angelos go buy a closer...a real one

Is Berken being officially overlooked? He made the roster with an impressive spring, and Hendrickson all but has the long man role covered. Wouldn't Berken make more sense than taking away from the (relatively) solid middle relief of Ohman, Albers, and Meredith?

Yes....Bring back Gregg Olson....WILD THING WHERE ARE YOU!?!??!

Matt Wieters

Jim Abbott


I agree with those who say "None". Go with who is doing well. Stop restricting relief pitchers to one inning, especially if they are doing well. Get rid of pitcher specialization (set-up, closer, etc.). If Trembley can't abandon this modern day game management of the relief staff and return to what works, then get someone who will.

Closer by committee until Koji gets back.

Kam Mickolio....I love his stuff and plus he is a very intimidating figure at 6'9" and 250 lbs. I was hoping for him to be the closer at the end of last year but he had arm fatigue and was shut down. He got the praise from Trembley in spring training...give him a shot now!

Let's see: so far I have seen posted:

Koji-no, because he's never closed (forget he did well in that role in Japan).
Yes, but let's forget he's injured for now and probably will be hurt again by the end of May once he comes back.

JJ-failed miserably last year and didn't have a good spring this year

Mickolio-maybe someday, but wild and also injured so therefore not available

Drop a starter to the bullpen and put Hendrickson in the rotation: Did you forget last year already?

Trade for Sherrill: We traded him last year because he wasn't part of the "future". Do we give up Bell and Johnson to get him back?

Tillman: He is being groomed to be a starter and that's why he is in Norfolk.

Do some of you ever actually think before you post stuff?!?!?!?

My Grandma (well, she's dead), Greivis Vasquez, Testudo, anyone but that BUM who we do have!!!

It's Closer by Committee or bring up our Papelbon clone; Jake Arrieta.

No matter how many seasons, one after another, they all sort of blend together like one of those layerd sand bottles you can make at the carnival, that becomes one homogenous bland color over the years. After a while, you start feeling like bill murray in Ground Hog Day.

Tippy Martinez

Michael Gonzalez. Nice to see the idiots who post on here want to get rid of a guy who has blown two saves in three chances during the first week of the season. Just goes to show the mentality of someone who hides behind a computer screen. I think they should get rid of Adam Jones too since he's batting a buck and the same with Markakis. Idiots.

Having a closer (or deciding which to use) implies having a team that is ahead in the 9th.

I think the chick in the "I lost my stomach in four weeks" ad should be the closer.

Well by asking who the closer should be I guess you're assuming that at some point the O's will be beating someone after the 8th inning.

Matt Wieters.

Where is Chris Ray???

Barkepp's Reply: Texas

Why is this a surprise? There were proven closers available, i.e. Wagner, but the O's went with an unproven. Also, why the surprise at no offense? Tejada, Itzuris, Atkins....seriously? That is a 60 win infield at best.

No need for a "closer" if you don't have a lead.

Me...I can give up the game for $50 each instead of the $12M were paying Gonzales.

Koji Uehara should close. Never should've wasted the cash on Gonzo. Colossal waste. Dude couldn't cut it as Atlanta's closer what makes you think he can do it in the AL East. He's a bonifed setup man who's often insured, 32, walks too many and is a FLYBALL pitcher. Duh.

Don Stanhouse would be better than the joke we have right now.

I'd be inclined to let Jim Johnson close the games, they're grooming him for the closers role as it is...either that or bring Greg Olson out of retirement!!!

You are pre-supposing that the O's will be able to generate enough offense to get into a save situation again...

How about Mike Macdougal who saved 20 0f 21 ( the highest percentage in MLB last year)for the Nats. H e is ceratinly available!

Koji for non-humid games, and Mick for humid games.

Reporter: Who's your closer for tonight's game?

DT: I'll have to check the weather forecast first!

I'll bet TruthBeTold is either Peter Angelos, or Gonzalez himself. Drop him after 2 blown save in the first 3 games when pitchers haven't had the chance to see your stuff? Absolutely! What do you think it's going to do later in the year...get better?! Yeah, you must be Angelos.

Kyle Boller

or me, I have a nasty knuckler

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About the bloggers
A Baltimore native, Dan Connolly has been covering sports for 14 years, and baseball and the Orioles for 10 seasons, including the past six with The Sun. His first year covering baseball on a daily basis was Cal Ripken Jr.'s final season as a player. It's believed that is just a coincidence.

Steve Gould is an assistant sports editor for The Sun, overseeing Orioles coverage. The Columbia native joined The Sun as a sports copy editor in 2006 after graduating from the University of Maryland.

Peter Schmuck has been covering baseball for a lot longer than Steve Gould has been on this earth. He is now a general sports columnist, but has been a beat writer covering three major league teams (the Dodgers, Angels and Orioles) and also spent a decade as the Sun's national baseball writer. If you want more of his insight on the Orioles and other sports issues, check out his personal blog -- The Schmuck Stops Here.

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