Closing It Out In Style

For some time now the Dodgers have had success converting erstwhile starting pitchers into closers. Eric Gagné, the most successful of them all, was a starter in the minors. Takashi Saito did the same in Japan. Jonathan Broxton, the heir-apparent to the role, began his career in starting rotations. And now the latest wonderboy from the minors did the same.

That would be righthander Jonathan Meloan, just concluding his first year as closer, one that saw him move rather briskly from Jacksonville to Las Vegas and now to Los Angeles. He piled up 19 saves for the Suns, added one more for the 51's but will be standing in line waiting his turn in L.A.- if he ever is to be the man to finish games.

There was another who seemed to be making a successful switch but he's been temporarily delayed. Lefthander Brent Leach, who started his first year, then made the conversion to the bullpen in his second, began his third season in the closing role for the first time for Inland Empire. He picked up a quick four saves but a torn muscle in his side put him out for the year.

Incidentally, before he went out, he'd already picked off four runners, something he's an absolute marvel at He nailed a rather phenomenal total of 22 in 2006.

Las Vegas, as usual, used a number in the closing role but by far the most effective was Eric Hull. Anything but the conventional type who comes in to blow batters away, Hull, who can fill just about any role required on the staff, was very successful in this one, piling up 11 saves while chalking up a 2.74 ERA in a land where anything under 4.00 is considered exceptional.

When Meloan left Jacksonville, the Suns brought up Ramon Troncoso, who had already recorded seven saves as one of several used at Inland Empire. He went on to add seven more for the Suns in a solid season.

Inland Empire, as noted, had both Leach and Troncoso during the course of the season. They also made good use of righthander Kyle Wilson, who does throw smoke, and who overcame injuries to save 14 in only part of a campaign. Then came Miguel Ramirez from Great Lakes where he saved 15.

At Great Lakes Ramirez was working for a losing team and so, for that matter, was Johnny Caraballo at Ogden. They didn't give him a lot of opportunities but he made the most of those he had with 10 saves for the Raptors.

The Gulf Coast Dodgers began the year with Eduardo Perez, fresh from rehabbing an elbow surgery. As often is the case with those just back, he had both good days and some not so good. He picked up four saves before they turned to Brandon Tuten, a newly signed free agent, who did a fine job down the stretch with a pair of saves to his credit.

In the Dominican League the Dodgers had Luis Ferreras, a very reliable performer who came in to rack up 12.

Of course the demand up on top is limited and Saito has already said he desires to return so when some of these do make it up, it will be in other roles. But as was proved with Gagné (and Yhency Brazoban and Gullermo Mota, for that matter) the situation can take unpleasant turns so it's nice to know they have what looks like ready replacements standing by.

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