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Wednesday, April 27, 2011
Should Vicente Padilla be L.A.'s closer?

By Tony Jackson
ESPNLosAngeles.com

MIAMI -- One day after insisting Jonathan Broxton was still his closer, Los Angeles Dodgers manager Don Mattingly insisted Broxton was still his closer. In between those two insistences, though, a funny thing happened.

On an afternoon when Broxton would seem to have been well rested, Mattingly called on someone else to get the final three outs of a 5-4, 10-inning win over the Marlins before 16,523 at what, for this week anyway, is being called Sun Life Stadium.

Vicente Padilla
Vicente Padilla made a good impression with 10 pitches Wednesday.

Next year, the newly minted Miami Marlins will call it the place where they used to play when they were called the Florida Marlins. But on the same afternoon when they said goodbye to the monstrosity by the turnpike, the Dodgers might have said hello to a new closer.

Video His name is Vicente Padilla. And in recording the third save of his 13-year major league career and the first since he was a rookie with the Philadelphia Phillies in 2000, the longtime starter dominated the middle of the Marlins' order, getting Omar Infante, Hanley Ramirez and Gaby Sanchez to ground out on 10 pitches. No muss, no fuss.

Meanwhile, as Padilla was warming up in the bullpen and later as he was sailing through that bottom of the 10th, Broxton -- he of the 4.35 ERA, the 12 hits and seven walks in 10 1/3 innings this season -- remained stationary in the bullpen, still wearing a pullover on an 86-degree day.

So what's the deal, you ask?

"We were only going to use [Broxton] in an emergency today," Mattingly said.

The fact that Broxton was "unavailable" Tuesday night was easier to swallow, given that he had pitched each of the two previous days and no Dodgers reliever had pitched on three consecutive days this season. But the fact that he was "available only in an emergency" Wednesday, with an off day to follow?

"He went out and threw a little bit [before the game], and it was a little bit barky," Mattingly said. "We didn't want to use him if we didn't have to, unless it was a case where we needed him to try to win a game. … There were no real issues, because he has always taken care of his elbow. But he went out and threw, and it just wasn't coming out quite right. I play catch myself, and some days it doesn't come out the way you want it to."

Broxton -- who was told Tuesday by Mattingly and pitching coach Rick Honeycutt that the job was still his after he had suffered his first blown save of the season Monday -- backed up what Mattingly said.

"It has happened in the past, but it never really stood out because I always tried to pick [a day before] an off day, something we can work with," Broxton said. "That way, I don't have to miss too many days. It wasn't quite 100 percent, and I'm not going to go out there unless I'm really close to 100 percent. We had a full 'pen today, and Padilla came in there and did the job."

But given the refreshing efficiency with which Padilla did the job, who will be asked to do the job next time?

"Brox is my closer," Mattingly said, sounding increasingly irritated with the question each time he answered it. "I told you that."

But should Broxton be the closer? Should a guy who is notoriously shaky continue in that role, even though it could be argued he's done nothing this season to really cost him the job? Especially when Padilla, based on one time in the role, appeared to be such a perfect fit for it?

Should Mattingly at least consider making a switch here, seeing how it goes at a time when the Dodgers (13-13) are still struggling to find some consistency?

"How many times have you seen teams say, 'We're going to close by committee,' and then end up in a mess?" Mattingly asked, rhetorically. "I have never seen a team say, 'We're going to close by committee,' and not end up in a mess."

Fine. So why not give the job to Padilla alone? Why not give the job to a guy who, if nothing else, appears to be fearless every time he walks to the mound, even to the point of occasionally brushing a hitter back? Why not give the job to a guy who, granted, has never proved he can do it over the long haul but has never proved he can't, either? And in a bold move, why not give the job to a guy who, from the start of the 2002 season until the end of 2010, made 237 major league starts and exactly one relief appearance?

"At the beginning of my career, it was my dream to be a great closer," Padilla said, his tongue-in-cheek-itude not lost despite speaking through an interpreter. "But they converted me into a starter. … It's a lot easier than having to pitch seven or eight innings. As a starter, you have to throw many [different] pitches. As a reliever, you pretty much have to use three pitches, a fastball, slider and splitter."

Would he like to continue in the role?

"If they give me the opportunity, sure," he said.

The guess here is this was a sign of things to come. The thought here is that if it wasn't, it definitely should have been.

Tony Jackson covers the Dodgers for ESPNLosAngeles.com. Follow him on Twitter.