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From Eckersley to Clippard, relief pitchers tend to be made, not born
Question of the Day
“All in all,” Krol said, “it has been working out great. I was a starter my whole career. I definitely grew up trying to be a starter. When I look at the bigger picture, relieving works best for me.
“Maybe it is more my mentality. As a starter, everything is planned out. I never had planned, don’t really plan out my days. This fits me a lot better. Phone call, my name’s called, it’s time to go.”
And go he has. He’s a lot like Clippard in that his repertoire works better for shorter periods.
“It was tough for me to focus for 6-7 innings,” Krol said, “and face the lineup three times. It is a lot easier for me to focus for one inning, going out there and give it all I have instead of maybe keeping some in reserve.”
Some guys can start and relieve successfully. They’re rare. Eckersley had 12 or more victories each of the first six seasons of his career. He transitioned to the bullpen after 12 years, at 32 years old, and essentially enjoyed a second career. Now an MLB analyst for TBS, Eckersley finished his career with 197 victories and 390 saves. He was the Cy Young Award winner and AL Most Valuable Player in 1992. He made the All-Star team twice as a starter and four times as a reliever.
John Smoltz is another who had success as a starter and in the pen. Tom Gordon made three All-Star teams as a reliever after starting for much of his early career. He did both jobs for several seasons. He made 25 starts and saved 11 games for Boston in 1997.
“For me, it was a rejuvenation,” Eckersley said. “I only had to go 1-2 innings or whatever. My fastball not necessarily came back, but it was OK 1-2 innings. It was a blessing.”
Even as he saw how it worked for him, Eckersley said thoughts of starting again were never far away.
“It’s a macho thing,” he said. “Even at the end of that first year [relieving], it came up. Do you want to start again? I was thinking I could still do that. How dumb is that? If you can’t start, it’s like you’ve given up.
“But nowadays? Relieving isn’t such a bad thing. You get into getting ready every day. You feel like you’re an everyday player. For me, it made me feel younger. I felt like I was 20 again.”
That said, and despite their success in the pen, Clippard and Stammen still reserve a part of their brain for the notion they may start again. Stammen, while happy with his current job, said he’d be “eternally grateful for the chance.” Clippard said, “The competitor in me still thinks I can do it.”
Krol? He said he can’t predict the future. In his head, he’s made the switch.
“I enjoy being a reliever, 100 percent. Totally,” he said. “A lot better than being a starter.”
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About the Author
Washington Times sports editor Mike Harris has more than 30 years experience in the business as a reporter, columnist and manager. He’s covered a wide variety of events including two Olympics, horse racing, auto racing, professional and college sports. E-mail him at email@example.com and follow the section on Twitter @WashTimesSports.
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