SEATTLE -- The Oakland Athletics bullpen has the lowest ERA in the American League. The Mariners are fourth. The Angels, who have a well-deserved reputation for great bullpens, are struggling. The Rangers? They have the third-highest bullpen ERA in the American League. They also have Frank Francisco and others don't. One month into the season, Francisco, 29, has proven to be the most reliable closer in the American League West, if not all six divisions. "He has been incredible," Rangers third baseman Michael Young said. "When he comes in, we feel the game is over. He has the perfect demeanor for being a closer. We have all the confidence in the world in him."
The numbers bear out that confidence. Francisco is 8-for-8 in save opportunities, tied with Padres closer Heath Bell and Jonathan Broxton of the Dodgers for the most saves in the Major Leagues. He has saved seven of the Rangers last nine wins. He has not allowed a run in 13 2/3 innings to start the season and has retired 41 of 53 batters. Since becoming the Rangers closer on Aug. 22 of last year, after Eddie Guardado was traded to the Twins, Francisco is 2-0 with a 0.00 ERA and 13-for-13 in save opportunities. In 26 1/3 innings, he has allowed one unearned run, 10 hits, seven strikeouts and struck out 31. "I'm just trying to do what I know I can do," Francisco said. "I'm making the hitters hit my pitches. I hit my spots and don't give in. For the first month, that's what I've been doing. I'm not leaving any cookies over the plate." Francisco did not get a save on Tuesday. The Rangers were up 7-2 with one out in the 10th when Francisco entered the game. The Mariners had a runner on first base. It was not a save situation but manager Ron Washington didn't care. With the chance to emerge victorious in what had been a dazzling pitching duel between Vicente Padilla and Erik Bedard, Washington wanted the game over. Francisco walked one batter but struck out Franklin Gutierrez and retired Yuniesky Betancourt on a fly ball to center to end the game.
"I didn't want them to get anything going or think they could get back in the game," Washington said. Good closers give teams confidence at the end of the game. Francisco has given the Rangers that feeling from Opening Day. The other three American League West teams haven't had the luxury of being in that comfort zone at all times. The Angels lost All-Star record-breaking closer Francisco Rodriguez to free agency. They signed Brian Fuentes to a two-year, $17.5 million contract. He is 0-2 with a 6.52 ERA and two blown saves. The Mariners traded All-Star closer J.J. Putz to the Mets so they could use Brandon Morrow as their closer. Morrow was doing fine until the Mariners had to put him on the disabled list Saturday with right biceps tendinitis. David Aardsma, who is with his fifth team in six years and has a career 5.04 ERA, is filling in as closer. Brad Ziegler, who was once signed out of an independent league, has been outstanding since taking over for Huston Street as the Athletics closer last year. He has a 1.59 ERA and is 4-for-5 in save opportunities this season. But he just went nine days without pitching because of a grueling bout with the flu and has only started throwing again. The Athletics bullpen suffered two blown saves -- both in division games -- while Ziegler was down. Joey Devine was supposed to be the Athletics "co-closer" but is out for the year because of Tommy John right elbow reconstruction surgery. The Athletics also may use Andrew Bailey as their closer at some point. Francisco has caused the Rangers no heartburn as of yet. He has been ready every night if needed, sometimes for more than one inning. He is the Rangers security blanket. "We're very fortunate to have him," Washington said. "He's done a good job, that's why we gave it to him. His confidence is as high as I've ever seen it. This shows what you can do with confidence. His stuff is good too. He'll give up a run. It's going to happen. There's no perfectionism in this game. I just hope it happens when we have a big lead."
Save leaders in the Major Leagues
|Jonathan Papelbon||Red Sox||7||7||1.51||.222|
|Bobby Jenks||White Sox||6||6||2.00||.176|
T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.