JUPITER, Fla. — Tough to fault Marlins fans for assuming the club won’t make it a full season with Leo Nunez as closer. After all, closers haven’t gone wire-to-wire here often.
Armando Benitez and Joe Borowski in 2004 and 2006, respectively, were the exceptions. It’s been Vladimir Nunez to Braden Looper (2002); Looper to Ugueth Urbina (2003); Guillermo Mota to Todd Jones (2005); Henry Owens to Kevin Gregg (2007); Gregg to Matt Lindstrom (2008); and Lindstrom to Leo Nunez (2009).
The Marlins were comfortable enough with Nunez not to add a premium reliever to the fold. Some of their most experienced bullpen arms are in camp on minor-league deals. Guys like Derrick Turnbow and Mike MacDougal can boast extended runs as closers, but neither is a lock to make the team.
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“We’re hoping we don’t have to have fallback options,” President of Baseball Operations Larry Beinfest said. “When we acquired Leo a year ago we really didn’t say, ‘Well, this is going to be a closer.’ We loved the stuff, we loved the guy. We got to eat and live and sleep with him, and found out he could handle it.”
Nunez took over in late June when Lindstrom went on the disabled list with a sprained elbow. He didn’t look back, converting 26 of 33 save chances. The way Nunez finished the season validated the question as to whether he should open 2010 in the same role.
Three of Nunez’s blown saves came in September, during which he allowed 12 hits (four homers) in 10 1/3 innings. A 6.10 ERA for the month sent his overall mark over 4.00. Nunez became too predictable and saw three first-pitch fastballs last season land in the seats. The 13 homers he allowed in 68 2/3 innings tied Gregg and Jensen Lewis for most by a major league reliever.
“He can have a better season this year because of the experience he had last year,” catcher Ronny Paulino said. “He isn’t afraid. He’s always attacking hitters. Last year he would give up a home run and the next hitter he would come back at him just the same. He stays at the same level.”
Nunez hopes to reach a new level thanks in part to some advice he received from a pitching great. Last season, fellow Dominican Pedro Martinez told Nunez he could be more effective if he came inside more regularly. Nunez heeded that advice and during the winter worked on spotting his mid-90s fastball over the inner half.
He also sharpened his slider, which still isn’t quite on par with the changeup he uses to neutralize left-handed hitters.
“It’s not 100 percent, but step by step,” Nunez said. “When I get on the mound I don’t have any friends. I’ve always pitched with emotion, aggressively … I believe in myself and that I can do the job.”
So do the Marlins.
Here and gone: Left-hander Renyel Pinto was in the clubhouse before Saturday’s workout, but he was excused to take care of a personal matter. He is expected back Sunday.
Regarding his failure to appear during the Marlins Caravan last week, Pinto said the club knew he was unavailable to attend, adding he alerted the team of a family issue in Venezuela.
“It’s not that I didn’t want to come,” said Pinto, adding that the Marlins have not fined him for missing FanFest. “I had a problem and I couldn’t.” …
Newly acquired reliever MacDougal was not in camp Saturday. He had to undergo an MRI as part of his physical. …
A couple of players, including Josh Johnson, have appointments with the barber to meet the club’s neat-hair policy. Another is Turnbow, who said he wasn’t aware of the rule before he signed.
“I told him as long as you go with (Taylor Tankersley), or Scott Strickland or myself, you’re fine,” joked manager Fredi Gonzalez, referencing some of the club’s bald uniformed personnel.