Last winter, Heath Bell signed a new contract with the new-look Miami Marlins.
It's not a huge contract: three years and $27 million, with Bell earning just $6 million in 2012.
Still, that's $6 million that Jeff Loria can't spend on animated statuary, so you know the organization would like Bell to pitch more like Steve "Bedrock" Bedrosian than Steve Austin (who could throw really hard but never really learned how to pitch).
Entering Tuesday night's game against the Giants, though, Bell had struggled. In eight games, he'd racked up a 10.80 ERA with more blown saves (3) than saves (2). He'd also walked eight batters in 6⅔ innings. Tuesday night, though, things went well. Clark Spencer (via The Miami Herald):
The collective sigh of relief among the Marlins was all but audible when Heath Bell closed out Tuesday’s win over the Giants with a 1-2-3 ninth inning.
"He got this out of his way," manager Ozzie Guillen said of Bell’s performance. "That creates confidence for him. That gives us the confidence for us, too, and the ballclub."
Confidence. So much confidence, in fact, that this happened Wednesday night, also against the Giants:
So much confidence that Guillen, Wednesday night in the ninth inning, gave his closer exactly 11 pitches to prove that Tuesday night's outing wasn't a mirage.
You know how this usually works: Closer enters game, closer gets into trouble, closer blows save and perhaps loses game before manager makes even a cursory call to the bullpen.
Not Wednesday night, though. Guillen obviously had very little confidence in his closer, because Steve Cishek was ready to take over after just three batters.
Cishek let in one more run but the Marlins escaped with a tie score, and ultimately won in the 10th. So, it could have been worse.
People go, 'Wow, what's he doing?' I don't work for people. I have 25 guys here to take care of. It drives everybody crazy? Well, you don't think I don't have blood in my veins? It drives me crazy more than anybody else. I'm the one who put him there. I'm the one that has to take him out. I'm the one that's going to take the blame. All those people worried about it, relax."
Hey, I'm relaxed. But it's not my team. I'll bet some of those 25 guys aren't relaxed and I'll bet some of the Marlins' fans aren't relaxed and can you blame any of them, really?
What's been wrong with Heath Bell? It's hard to say. His fastball's down a tick from last season, but one mile per hour shouldn't be the difference between being good and being terrible. He's just not peppering the strike zone with his fastball, and that's killed him. If it's a luck thing, he'll get luckier. If it's a confidence thing, he'll get his confidence back. If it's a health thing, he might need some time off.
Bell's strikeout rate did drop precipitously last season, and it's highly possible that the Heath Bell we used to know and love is gone forever. But there's no reason to think he can't still be a pretty good major-league pitcher.