Gagne says he's ready to close again
Veteran reliever tosses two innings in Monday night's game
MILWAUKEE -- Erstwhile Brewers closer Eric Gagne said he wants the ninth inning again. Manager Ned Yost was nowhere near giving it to him.Instead, Yost said he was committed to the "closer by committee" approach for the time being, despite its potential problems. "It's not ideal," Yost said. "I don't want to do this for a whole long time. I believe in set roles in a bullpen, but sometimes to get some guys over the hump, to get guys to where they need to be, you need to do this." Yost made the call after Gagne entered a tie game Saturday and surrendered two Cardinals runs on three hits and a walk, boosting his ERA for the season to 6.89. After the game, Gagne declared, "I don't deserve that ninth inning right now," and Yost agreed, announcing Sunday he would "mix and match" with other relievers. But Gagne's tune had changed by Monday, when he addressed a group of reporters in the dugout after batting practice. "Whenever he's ready," said Gagne, "I'm ready." When will Yost be ready to use Gagne again? "The game will dictate it," Yost said. "I have to use him in order to keep the bullpen balanced right now." The right opportunity presented itself on Monday, when the Brewers built an 8-1 lead behind starter Dave Bush through six innings. Gagne went out for the seventh -- the first time he'd appeared in a Major League game before the eighth inning in more than six years, since working the seventh inning for the Dodgers on April 2, 2002, against the Giants. Gagne walked the first hitter he faced, but then he induced an Adam Kennedy double play. Gagne also retired pinch-hitter Brian Barton on a groundout and was out of the inning on nine pitches. "A lot of times when a guy's been struggling, you get him through a real clean first inning like that and let him get away with a good feeling," Yost said. "But, you know, he wanted to work. He wanted a second inning, and I wanted him to go through, too." So Yost sent Gagne back out for the eighth, and it did not go as well. Cesar Izturis led off with a single and took second on defensive indifference. Izturis scored when Skip Schumaker hit a long single off the base of the right-field wall. Two batters later, Gagne walked Rick Ankiel, but he escaped the inning by striking out Ryan Ludwick and getting Chris Duncan to pop out just short of the screen behind home plate. Gagne needed 28 pitches to get through his second inning. Was the outing a step forward? "Oh, yeah -- definitely," Yost said. "Some of the adjustments we wanted to see him make, he made." Gagne's 186 saves in 201 career chances is good for a 92 percent success rate, the best for any closer in history with at least 175 saves. But he is 9-for-14 (64 percent) in save opportunities this season, and he has allowed 18 hits and 11 walks in 15 2/3 innings. Yost said the Brewers noticed a flaw in Gagne's recent outings, particularly on Saturday, but the manager would not go into detail. Had Gagne been tipping pitches? "I'm not telling you guys what it was," Yost said. "It was very obvious. That's why I think he was totally upset." The Brewers have a number of other relievers with late-inning experience. The leading candidate to close appears to be right-hander Salomon Torres, who was Pittsburgh's closer before an elbow injury contributed to him losing that job last season. Torres entered a save situation on Sunday afternoon, and he was replaced in the inning by left-hander Brian Shouse, who recorded the final out for his first save of the season. On Monday, Guillermo Mota was called upon when the Cardinals rallied in the ninth. Mota recorded the final out for his first save. Eventually, Yost predicted, Gagne will be the closer again. "He believes in himself and he believes that he can get the job done," Yost said. "He just needs a bit of a break, and I think everybody needs to give him a bit of a break."
Adam McCalvy is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.