NEW YORK -- I didn't think Don Mattingly would really answer the question, at least not definitively, and I still don't think he really intended to. But when I asked him whether Vicente Padilla could actually pitch well enough to permanently secure the closer's role for the Los Angeles Dodgers or he was simply holding it down until Jonathan Broxton returns from the disabled list sometime next month, Mattingly's attempt at a vague answer wasn't nearly as vague as he probably wanted it to be.
"That's a hypothetical, and we'll have to see how it goes," the Dodgers manager said, and the vagueness pretty much ended there. "Obviously, if Vicente comes in and pitches well, it would be hard to just hand something over to somebody else. We'll kind of cross that bridge when we get there. We have two or three weeks where [Broxton] isn't throwing at all, and then to get him back, we're probably talking about [a total of] six weeks.
"And then, just like everybody else, we would have to ease him back into the mix, where we might not want to throw him right back into tough situations."
It would appear, then, that the job is there for the taking for Padilla -- although he didn't exactly pounce on it Sunday in nailing down the Dodgers' 4-2 victory over the New York Mets before 26,312 at Citi Field. Padilla's second save, and his first since Broxton was put onto the 15-day DL on Friday because of a bone bruise in his right elbow, was of the shaky variety, the final two batters each coming to the plate as the potential tying run after Jose Reyes' fourth triple in his last four games cut the Dodgers' lead to two.
The first time Padilla was called upon to close, on April 27 against the Florida Marlins, he mowed down three consecutive batters in recording his first save in more than a decade, leading to speculation about whether he should replace Broxton as the closer. That day, an obviously annoyed Mattingly had little use for such speculation, famously insisting after the game that "Brox is my closer, I told you that."
Nine days later, Broxton wasn't his closer anymore because he was on the DL. There is a question now as to whether Broxton ever will be the Dodgers' closer again.
If Padilla continues to pitch the way he did that day, there apparently will be no debate when Broxton comes back. If he continues to pitch the way he did against the Mets, which in the end was good enough to get the job done but was far from dominating, Mattingly might be tempted to go back to Broxton.
"It's a great opportunity for me," Padilla said, with Kenji Nimura interpreting. "I'm just trying to contribute to this team as much as possible. I just want to do my job, whatever role they tell me to do, and that's it."
One thing that seems certain for the Dodgers (16-19) is Padilla will be their closer for at least the next four to six weeks. Part of the reason, of course, is that they don't really have any other viable candidates. But the other part is he has a closer's stuff and appears to have what probably is the most important part of a closer's mentality, that ability to shrug off whatever bad things happen and move on.
He also has a 2.57 ERA and has given up four hits in seven innings over seven appearances this season while making the transition to the bullpen after nine seasons of starting.
"Someday, I would like to be a [full-time] closer," Padilla said. "But I like starting too. I like them both."
Padilla came within one bad pitch of ruining another masterful performance by Clayton Kershaw (4-3), who overcame a rough first inning to basically silence the Mets over 6 2/3 innings. But after a one-out single by Daniel Murphy and Reyes' RBI triple, Padilla got Carlos Beltran to fly out to shallow right field, giving even the speedy Reyes no chance to tag up. Padilla finished it by striking out David Wright.
It was a long way from Game Over, even though the game was, in fact, over. But so far, the main difference between Padilla and Broxton appears to be that Padilla can get into and then out of trouble, whereas Broxton usually only gets into it.
The Dodgers still have a lot of things to shore up, beginning with an offense that went 3-for-32 with runners in scoring position while losing two of three from the Mets this weekend. Their bullpen also remains shaky throughout, although it was a good sign that Matt Guerrier, who had struggled of late, pitched a perfect eighth inning.
But for now, the Dodgers do have a closer of the moment. How long that moment lasts appears to be firmly in the hands of Padilla. Consequently, to at least some degree, the Dodgers' season might be firmly in his hands as well.
Tony Jackson covers the Dodgers for ESPNLosAngeles.com.