Bell wants to win back closer role for 2013

BY foxsports • September 24, 2012

MIAMI — Seated at a table in front of the mound at Marlins Park, Heath Bell told thousands last March what they could expect from him.
 
“I’m going to be the best closer this organization has ever seen,’’ Bell, who had signed a three-year, $27 million contract to join Miami, told a cheering crowd at Marlins FanFest.
 
So much for that. After a disastrous start to this season, Bell lost his job as the team’s closer at the All-Star break. He has pitched better in recent months, but he still has an ERA of 5.19, more than double what he put up over the previous three seasons with San Diego, when he had 132 saves.
 
But Bell, who turns 35 Saturday, isn’t deterred. He vows he will get back to his old form.
 
“I will be,’’ Bell said in an interview with FOX Sports Florida. “You can bet on it.’’
 
Bell plans to make changes after the season ends Oct. 3. For the past two offseasons, Bell said, he had been talked into hiring a personal trainer.
 
Bell said those days will end. He plans to go back to working out on his own.
 
“I’m just going to go back to my old routines, the old way I used to work out,’’ Bell said. “Everybody told me I needed to get a personal trainer. . . . My old routine was I just did it myself because I wasn’t fortunate to have the money and this and that. . . . If you’re doing things yourself, you got to be more accountable. If you have somebody telling you to do something, you’re listening to people.’’
 
Some might suggest the hefty Bell didn’t exactly listen well. While with the Marlins, he has been called out of shape.
 
Bell bristles at such suggestions. He said he weighed 255-258 pounds this season, less than when he made the All-Star Game in each of the past three seasons with the Padres.
 
“I actually was heavier in my best years,’’ said Bell, a right-hander who was signed as an undrafted free agent by the New York Mets in 1998 and pitched for them from 2004-06 before joining San Diego in 2007. “I was at 270. . . . I’m the skinny one in my family. I’m a big guy. I dropped a bunch of weight one year with the Mets and was down to 220 pounds. I looked great but had no velocity.
 
“We all can’t look like Giancarlo (Stanton, the buff Marlins slugger). . . . Some people are dealt with bad genetics. . . . My brother (Lance Bell, who is 14 years older) was close to 400 pounds, and the past two year he’s lost 130 pounds. Both my sisters are kind of big.’’
 
What hasn’t been big has been the performance by Bell after being one of three ballyhooed free agents to join the Marlins last winter. Among the other two, shortstop Jose Reyes struggled early but has gotten his average up to .285. Mark Buehrle hasn’t been spectacular but has been Miami’s best starting pitcher, with a 13-13 mark and 3.84 ERA.
 
Bell, though, got off to a mystifying horrendous start. He blew four of his first seven save chances and had an 11.42 ERA on May 4. His ERA still was above 10.00 in mid-May.
 
“If you take the first month out of the equation, I’ve had an OK year,’’ Bell said. “Not a year I’m used to. But not everybody can have stellar years year in and year out. So it’s disappointing.’’
 
Bell was solid from mid-May to early July. But after he blew two saves in early July, manager Ozzie Guillen removed him as the closer after the All-Star break in favor of Steve Cishek, who has pitched well.
 
Bell has been Miami’s setup man the second half of the season. Bell believes he still "should be closing’’ but says he has maintained a good attitude.
 
“Do I want to close? Yes, I want to close,’’ said Bell, 3-5 with 19 saves in 26 opportunities for the season. “But I haven’t complained like I should be closing. You haven’t heard that, because I want to help the team win. Yes, I do want to close, but I understand why I lost my job.’’
 
Bell wouldn’t get into specifics about why he got off to such a bad start. Catcher John Buck said Bell didn’t have command of his curve and change-up, although his fastball still was strong.
 
“We did everything under the sun,’’ Buck said of correcting Bell’s troubles. “He’s doing good (now). He’s back to old Heath.’’
 
Guillen doesn’t necessarily agree with that. He said Bell “got better but it wasn’t great’’ in the second half of the season.
 
Case in point. On Sept. 8 at Washington, Bell blew his only save opportunity since the All-Star break.
 
“I like the way he was pitching, but is one of the reasons he is pitching well because he is pitching in that spot?’’ Guillen said of Bell’s overall second-half showing in the less-pressure spot of pitching eighth innings. “Cishek was very consistent (as closer).’’
 
Cishek, a right-armed sidearmer, is 4-2 with 14 saves and a 2.87 ERA. Cishek admits it initially was tough replacing a guy who had been one of the game’s top closers in recent seasons.
 
“At first, it was kind of awkward because I know how badly he wants the job and, obviously, that’s what he’s been doing over the years,’’ Cishek said. “But he’s been great about it, and he’s taught some things to me.’’
 
Cishek said it’s up to the Marlins who should close in 2013. Guillen said there are no guarantees what will happen.
 
“Players make the decision for you,’’ Guillen said. “I want (Bell) to be my closer, but he has to be what he was. If we get to spring training and we think he throws the ball well, I don’t have a problem to put him back in the closer role.’’
 
Regardless of what happens, Bell vows to have a good attitude. He said he won’t seek to go elsewhere if he’s not Miami’s main man out of the bullpen.
 
“I signed here for three to four years,’’ said Bell, whose contract has a team option for 2015. “If I didn’t want to be here, I wouldn’t have signed here. I had (other offers). I really like this organization.''
 
But if Bell ever is going to be the best closer the organization has seen, he has a long way to go.
 
Chris Tomasson can be reached at christomasson@hotmail.com or on Twitter @christomasson


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