'Game Over' in Vero, Too

VERO BEACH, Fla-.- Virtually every reliever was a starter at some time. Eric Gagne, after all, had failed at that role when the Dodgers turned in desperation to him. You know the happy ending to that story. Mark Alexander started in high school.

In his case, it was Tommy John surgery at the end of his last season there that halted his aspersions in that area after he graduated from Rockhurst High in Kansas City, Mo. He went on to the University of Missouri and tried starting again, only to find, "I just couldn't do it, anymore." So. he went off to the bullpen -- and thrived.

He became a most dependable closer for the Tigers. In his senior year, he set a school record of 35 appearances while going 4-0 with 10 saves. His performances were observed by Dodger scout Mitch Webster, who's made picking up Missouri talent a habit (Scott Elbert, Blake DeWitt, and Luke May are others). The Dodgers chose Mark in the 2004 draft, down in the 20th round.

You're not sure quite what you get at that level but they soon found out for Alexander quickly became the man who shut the door for Ogden as well, going 4-1, 2.65 with nine saves and 37 strikeouts in 30 innings. That earned him the accolade as Ogden's Pitcher of the Year.

By now, a Dodger official stated, "I think he's a better pitcher than we thought we had." He showed enough to skip low A and move into the Florida State League at the start of this season. However, at the beginning, he shared closing duties with Kyle Wilson, a rookie from UCLA, who had also been impressive in training. Eventually, though, Wilson faltered and has been sent to Columbus.

Alexander, by contrast, goes on in a role in he thoroughly enjoys. "I love coming in with the game on the line." His procedure is, "To throw strikes and come right at them." He does this with a fast ball, slider and "a change I'll sometimes throw to lefthanded batters."

Don't ask him, though, how hard he throws. "I don't know and I don't ever ask. As long as I'm throwing strikes and getting outs, I don't care." So, far, the 24-year-old righthander has been doing that for he's 2-1, 1.21 with five saves, holding opposing batters to a .217 average.

So, while some other Dodger system teams are still groping for a man who can close things out, Vero Beach has found him. Take the other night. Alvis Ojeda, hitherto impeccable, cruised into the ninth holding a 5-1 advantage when suddenly he came unglued. He walked the bases loaded, grooved a pitch that was slashed for a triple. An errant throw to third on that play allowed the runner to trot home. He then walked the next man.

Enter Alexander, who came in to strike out the following hitter. Game over, Vero wins 5-4. He's become one of the big reasons why Vero leads the Eastern Division.

Not surprisingly he likes it here. "It's a good team and we're having fun. I wish more people would come out to the games, though."

If they do and Vero has a slim lead that needs protecting in the ninth, chances are they'll see this man from Missouri doing just that.