Where Have All the Closers Gone?

Last season at this time there was a group of studs coming in to save games for Dodger farm teams. In particular, it was Yhency Brazeban at Jacksonville, Steve Schmoll at Vero Beach and Jose "Jumbo" Diaz at Columbus. Oh, how they blew the opposition away with the game on the line. So proficient were they that all three moved up before the season was old.

Today, Brazeban is standing in for Eric Gagne in L.A. where Schmoll has proved to be an invaluable set-up man. Diaz, alas, had elbow surgery and is now re-habbing.

So, who's the saviors ouf the bullpen these days? Really, nobody with any consistency with the result that the Dodger farm teams have been going through would-be closers like a guy with sinus problems does Kleenex. As a result the ninth inning has often become a brush fire out of control.

At Las Vegas, it was to be Aquilino Lopez. After all, he'd saved 14 for the Blue Jays as a rookie in 2003. True, he'd fallen on hard times last year but reclaimation projects are a Dodger specialty. Think Wilson Alvarez or Jose Lima. However , Lopez hasn't joined that clan . Oh, he has two saves but an 11.00 ERA gives you much more of an idea how things are going.

Next to try was Mike Venafro. He saved one but has been pelted to the tune of an 8.59 ERA. Now, it's the turn of sinker ball specialist Franquelis Osoria, who, in the past, has been a middle reliever. He's made things better; at least, somewhat as a 4.50 ERA with two saves indicates.

At Jacksonville, the first to try ending matters satisfactorily was Beau Dannemiller, a Rule 5 choice who in 2004 did nobly for Vero after Diaz went down, picking up seven saves down the stretch. But the Southern League hasn't been as kind . He's 0-2, 9.59 with only a solitary save . It should be noted that Luis Gonzalez has thrown 13.1 innings without allowing a run in middle relief so maybe he's edging his way toward closing time.

Vero has been using both Mark Alexander and Kyle Wilson, in his rookie pro season, for the job. Alexander, who closed for Ogden in 2004, has been okay with two saves and an 0.68 ERA although he faltered in his last atempt, being tagged with the defeat. Wilson began efficiently, but he, too, has been torn apart of late and is currently 0-2, 6.75.

Columbus really hasn't presented its would-be closers with too may save opportunities but to compound matters , the results haven't been too satisfactory when they have. Cory Wade was first in line, then when Zach Hammes reported after re-habbing and looked sharp in relief roles, he was thrust into the breach. He was shelled twice in as many nights so is 0-2, 5.23. The Catfish have gone back to Wade who did save his second game Thursday, thus currently stands 0-1, 6.14.

Obviously, the inflation-rate figures indicate why the managers in thre system approach the ninth with some trepadation. Clsers used to be called "firemen" for the manner in which they cooled matters . Right now, it's more like the firemen turned book burners in Ray Bradbury's "Farenheit 451. "