Even Hisanori Takahashi admits he’s not a prototypical major league closer.
“I’m still thinking why me? I’m not a high-90s fastball pitcher,” Takahashi said through an interpreter after notching his first major league save, in a 3-1 win against the Houston Astros on Monday night. “I’ll do my best anyway.”
New York Mets
With Francisco Rodriguez done for the season with a torn right thumb ligament, Takahashi received the first crack at closing games for the Mets. The left-hander pitched a 1-2-3 ninth inning. And although Jerry Manuel suggested pregame that the closer role would be by committee, the manager suggested after a 1-2-3 ninth by Takahashi that the southpaw would get the next crack as well.
“Sure,” Manuel said. “I think he can get it done for us. The key becomes resiliency -- if we happen to get on a run, how many days can he go back-to-back, that type of thing. I think that will be the real key.
“Takahashi has a feel, instinct,” Manuel added. “You’re going to put it in play, but we always feel it’s not going to be with much authority.”
Takahashi had trouble facing batters multiple times in a game as a starting pitcher, but Manuel noted about the closer role: “You don’t have to go through that lineup many times. And you can see the changeup, and you all of a sudden got a strike on you. Now you don’t know what you’re going to get. Then he takes a little bit off of that. So he can be effective in that role for us.”
Takahashi was a starter for most of his 10-year career in Japan with the Yomiuri Giants, although he did have 15 saves in 2006.
“I thought it was a brand new thing, even though I did it a year in Japan,” Takahashi conceded about his Monday role. “It’s kind of a whole different world.”
Although closing generally is reserved for flamethrowers, Manuel recalled Bruce Sutter, who had 300 saves from 1976-88, wasn’t exactly hard-throwing.
“For me, in Chicago, Keith Foulke had a changeup and he was a command guy,” Manuel said. “But he had a dominant power changeup. I think there’s been a few.”
Jeff Francoeur cited Trevor Hoffman.
“It’s a big hole,” fellow reliever Pedro Feliciano said about the loss of Rodriguez. “He’s the best pitcher we have in the bullpen, and the best closer in the league. To have him down now, we have to pull together more. I know that we’ve been a little weak late in the game -- eighth, seventh. But now we have to come together like today.”
As for Takahashi, Feliciano added: “He throws strikes. That’s the bottom line to be in the ninth inning.”
Feliciano was surprised to learn Rodriguez needed surgery. K-Rod told Feliciano on Sunday that his thumb bothered him, but the closer pledged to continue pitching.
“He said he’s going to get through it,” Feliciano said. “He’s going to pitch and adjust. I found out today he was going to get surgery.”
As for Takahashi in the closer’s role, the Japanese left-hander good-naturedly concluded: “I cannot pitch high 90s, but I can still pitch high 80s.”