I was a bit concerned about Colorado Rockies fill-in closer Franklin Morales even before Sunday, when a questionable call in the ninth inning helped contribute to his unraveling and ending up with his second consecutive blown save. Morales closed well enough last September when Huston Street was unavailable, but I can't help but wonder if Rafael Betancourt would have received the call for the ninth inning this time around had he been healthy in late March. Knowing that Street needed a DL stint and Betancourt was hurting, manager Jim Tracy simply gave the job to Morales.
But Betancourt isn't hurting now, and Morales' numbers are. Statistics can be tweaked to make a point in any number of ways, but what I noticed in that fateful ninth inning Sunday was how Morales, who generally gets the fastball up to the plate at a consistent 95 mph, hasn't had the same velocity this April. The excellent curveball appears to have the same ol' bite, but Morales needs to feed off the heater. Command has always been an issue with him, and while he can blame a misread balk call, an umpire's blown call at first base and the great Jason Heyward flat-out beating him with the game-winning hit, the fact is Morales has faced 22 batters this season and fanned just one of them (Jose Reyes last week). And let's be clear, Reyes (.154, 10 strikeouts in eight games) isn't exactly thriving.
The latest on Street and his ailing shoulder is that he threw on flat ground Friday, and the team was hopeful he'd be back by mid-May. Street has been dropped in 3.8 percent of ESPN leagues over the past week, to his current 89.8 percent ownership, and as more owners become impatient, he'll become even more available. But I don't think there's much question who closes when Street is able. It's Street.
In fact, I'd be a bit surprised if Morales is given the chance to keep closing if his stuff remains somewhat erratic, so owners should be prepared to add Betancourt. As Tracy told the Denver Post in reference to Morales after the Sunday debacle, "I am confident in him. Yet we also have to realize the importance of throwing strikes. That's a big part of reliability."
Morales hadn't issued any walks in four appearances before Sunday, but just watch him throw. You can tell. Betancourt has three outings in which he has fanned two hitters each, and his ERA is 1.50, his WHIP 1.00. He has four holds, second in the NL. And he's owned in less than 1 percent of standard mixed leagues. Don't be surprised if Tracy makes a ninth-inning change in April, in advance of Street's (hopeful) return.
Other news about closers:
• Mike Pelfrey leads the New York Mets in saves ... with one. Of course, that save happened Saturday night in the 20th inning, and it's not likely to be replicated anytime soon. Then again, how does Francisco Rodriguez look to you? After that 20-inning game in which K-Rod blew the save in the 19th inning, he noted he had a "dead arm" after warming up an incredible nine times and throwing more than 100 pitches in the bullpen. Great way to use your closer, Jerry Manuel. I won't presume a Rodriguez injury is pending, but watch him carefully this week. The fact he has nary a save so far shouldn't be overrated, since Saturday was his first opportunity, but maybe it's time we stop viewing him as a sure-thing guy, a top-10 closer. If he were to lose the closer role -- with his name and aura, it would have to be for a DL stint -- I'd think Ryota Igarashi would be next in line, but I'm not sure I'd want him. This is really not a very good team.
• Juan Gutierrez was basically given a chance to usurp the Arizona Diamondbacks closer role from Chad Qualls on Friday, and he kind of blew it. Sure, manager A.J. Hinch says Qualls was unavailable for that game after giving up runs the previous two days, but a 1-2-3 Gutierrez save would have made things interesting. Then Gutierrez allowed four runs in Friday's loss, the final three on a Chase Headley home run, and came back Sunday and helped finish off a five-run San Diego Padres inning. Qualls will get the next save opportunity, and Gutierrez remains the next in line. I'll still predict more than 20 saves for Qualls, fewer than five for Gutierrez, though.
More from Eric
• Podcast: Daily Baseball Today
• When Baltimore Orioles right-hander Jim Johnson entered Sunday's game to start the eighth inning, with a 6-3 lead, one could certainly have wondered whether it was for setup duty. Then again, who could close? Is Kam Mickolio ready, just days after being called up from Triple-A? It just seemed odd for Johnson to be asked to retire six hitters. He did so, allowing just one baserunner. Maybe manager Dave Trembley wanted to make sure his team's second win in 13 games was secure. If you're counting on 20 saves from Johnson, I think you'll be disappointed. For one, this is a 100-loss team, perhaps the worst team in baseball. Mike Gonzalez will return eventually, and I do think Mickolio -- and maybe even Koji Uehara -- will get the chance to close as well.