Officially, Heath Bell Still Marlins' Closer

Miami, FL, USA; Miami Marlins relief pitcher Heath Bell (center) is taken out of the game by manager Ozzie Guillen (right) during the ninth inning against he San Francisco Giants at Marlins Park. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-US PRESSWIRE

According to Ozzie Guillen, Heath Bell's still the Marlins' closer. But after two mid-inning pitching changes over the weekend, one might wonder if Bell is due for another demotion.

The good news is that Heath Bell picked up a couple of holds over the weekend.

The bad news is that Bell was actually going for a couple of saves, but was removed from both games because he was making things worse. You don't call them blown saves because the lead never quite disappeared, but Bell hardly performed the chore he'd been assigned.

Which meant Ozzie Guillen had to answer new/old questions about Bell's role with the Marlins. From Clark Spencer (via The Miami Herald):

"This is a very touchy, sensitive point," Guillen said. "I keep saying, and I told him a couple of minutes ago, it’s going to be hard for us to win if Heath Bell is not our closer. It’s easier for everyone if this kid comes out and does what he’s done in the past. We’ve got to get him back on track."

Guillen understands that fans might second-guess the decision.

"But I’m the manager, and I’m not going to kick the guy when he’s down," he said. "I think my job is to continue to believe in him. I will take full responsibility if we fail in that department.

"He’s not hurt. He still throws pretty good. I wish he’d throw more strikes. So does he. But I will bite the bullet from the fans, from the front office, from everybody."

We went through this whole thing once, already. And it's still May!

Just a bit over three weeks ago, Ozzie Guillen yanked Bell from the closer's role.

You couldn't really blame Guillen. Bell sported an 11.42 ERA. He'd issued seven walks in his last five outings, and on the season he'd blown more save opportunities (4) than he'd converted.

Guillen didn't let Bell pitch at all for a few days. He didn't let Bell into a save situation for a few days more. But when Bell finally got his old job back, he converted four straight save opportunities with nary a hitch. There was also (almost) nary a strikeout, but since there was also nary a walk, nobody minded so much.

Until this weekend.

Friday night, Bell came in for the save, gave up three hits and recorded just one out; the Marlins won 7-6.

Saturday, Bell came in for the save, gave up two walks and a hit while recording just one out; the Marlins won 5-3.

Which is why everyone's asking Guillen if Bell's still his closer. Guillen says Bell is still his closer, for reasons that do seem specious ... But of course, Bell's not really still the closer. Managers don't yank real closers in the middle of an inning, with the lead still in hand. Managers, for better or worse, sit on their hands and let their real closers blow leads.

Guillen's not doing that. He figures, for better or worse, that Bell's still probably the same pitcher as last year; after all, he's still throwing just as hard, getting just as many ground balls as last year. He's just not hitting his spots, and so has more walks than strikeouts. If he's really "not hurt" he'll probably find his spots, eventually. Of course, managers always say pitchers aren't hurt; otherwise they can't really justify pitching them. Often, when a pitcher's statistics are so wildly out of line with what they've done before, they really are hurt and just haven't told anyone.

Bell's pitched so few innings this season, though, that just about any sort of statistical fluke is perfectly possible. I happen to think Guillen might be right about this one: It's too early to give up on Heath Bell, if he really is healthy; but until he starts controlling the strike zone, he should be on a short leash.

The good news is that Guillen's got three more perfectly good right-handed relief pitchers at his disposal. The bad news is that the Marlins probably will lose an extra game or two if Bell's really not right.

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