For those who care: Milwaukee Journal, a little dated though
Adams is ready to make his pitch
By TOM HAUDRICOURT
Posted: Feb. 22, 2005
Phoenix - Mike Adams is not naïve enough to think there is no pressure involved in closing games in the big leagues.
Reliever Mike Adams won't be bunting much in spring training. He's trying to win the closer spot.
"You know it comes down to you and you're the last straw," said the Milwaukee Brewers' string-bean right-hander. "There's pressure involved. It's a matter of can you handle it."
Manager Ned Yost and pitching coach Mike Maddux believe Adams can handle the pressure of being a closer, even though he has only 36 games of major-league experience. That résumé was generated as a rookie last season, when Adams was a pleasant surprise with a 2-3 record and 3.40 earned run average, mostly as a late-inning setup man.
For some pitchers, the difference in getting three outs in the eighth inning and recording the final three outs in the ninth is too burdensome. The closer knows he's going to be the goat or the hero, nothing in between.
"It's only three outs," said Yost. "But, when it's the last three outs, sometimes that can make a guy nervous. You look for guys who have a stopper mentality."
Yost had one of those guys in Dan Kolb, who emerged as an all-star closer last year. Kolb, who took over that role at midseason in 2003, clicked off 39 saves in 44 chances (89%) last season while compiling a 2.98 ERA in 64 appearances.
Trying to save money to put into an offensive player, which they did upon acquiring Carlos Lee, the Brewers sent Kolb to Atlanta in December for pitching prospect Jose Capellan. Two days later, veteran setup man Luis Vizcaino went to the Chicago White Sox in the deal for Lee.
Just like that, the Brewers blew a hole in the back of the bullpen that could prove difficult to repair. But general manager Doug Melvin, Yost and Maddux liked what they saw in Adams, and the club picked up further help in veteran Ricky Bottalico and young, unproven Justin Lehr.
"These guys have done it before," said Yost, well aware that the closing experience of Adams and Lehr came in the minors. "They're not afraid to get the last three outs."
The 6-5, 190-pound Adams realizes he has competition for the closing job. He also knows he must prove his rookie season was no fluke, that there is plenty more in his tank.
But Adams believes that when the Brewers open the 2005 season, he will have proven he can handle the work.
"Right now, I'm going in saying the closer's job is mine to lose," said Adams, who signed as an undrafted free agent out of tiny Texas A&M-Kingsville in 2001.
"That's my mindset. I'm thinking, 'If you want to be the closer, you have to take it away from me.' It's not something I'm going to let slide away. It's an opportunity that's open and I want to take full advantage of it."
Pitchers with scant major-league experience are not often chosen to work the high wire as a closer, but there are exceptions. Bottalico was closing in his second season with the Philadelphia Phillies in 1996 and excelled until hurting his arm a few years later.
Adams, 26, doesn't want to hear that he's not ready for that role, that he needs more seasoning.
"All through the minors, I was a closer," he said. "It's nothing new. The only difference is it's the big leagues. I thought there was more pressure on me last year, not just to make the team, but to stick up here."
Adams performed well for the most part in camp last spring but was sent to Class AAA Indianapolis to hone his skills further. By mid-May, he was up with the Brewers, and as the season progressed was entrusted with more late-inning, game-deciding situations.
"Mike has an inner peace," Maddux said. "He does have the ability to slow the game down (mentally) when it's going fast. That's a good element to have.
"As the year progressed and he tired out a little bit, he understood the value of making that quality pitch. You don't feel 100% every day. You have to learn how to make that adjustment."
Bottalico, 35, who bounced around for a few years after undergoing elbow surgery in 1998, was sidetracked again by a shoulder injury in 2002. He recovered nicely last season with the New York Mets, compiling a 3-2 record and 3.38 ERA in 60 relief appearances.
It has been five years since Bottalico closed games with any regularity, and he says he has no preconceived ideas of doing so again with the Brewers.
"Everybody in the bullpen wants to close," he said. "Everybody should want to close. If you're going to be out there, you might as well do that job.
"I think setting up is just as tough. Usually, you go more innings and see men on base most of the time. Whatever happens happens. If I am (the closer), I am; if I'm not, I'm not."
Lehr, who was acquired in December from Oakland in the Keith Ginter trade, performed well (4-2, 2.65, 13 saves) in the closer's role at Class AAA Sacramento last season. After being summoned to the majors and used in middle relief, he struggled (1-1, 5.23 in 27 appearances), but that's not unusual in a pitcher's first foray into the majors.
Another reliever who could figure in the late-inning mix is Jeff Bennett, a Rule 5 draft pick who was given the ball 60 times last season. Bennett had his ups and downs, going 1-5 with a 4.79 ERA, but the Brewers like his arm and determination.
"He's got good stuff," Maddux said. "Rule 5 or not, he deserved to be there."
Yost says he's not worried about how the late-inning scenario will play out.
"People ask, 'Are you worried about not having a ninth-inning guy?'" said Yost. "Well, when we first got Danny Kolb, nobody knew who he was.
"We have the pieces. We just have to figure out who's going to do it."