- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 1, 2002

ARLINGTON, Texas The Texas Rangers thought they would have a strong closer. They just didn't expect it to be Hideki Irabu.
Irabu was thrust into the unexpected role because Jeff Zimmerman is on the disabled list and John Rocker failed in his chance to be the Texas stopper.
"The thing that has happened in the last couple of weeks is that Irabu has pitched like Zimmerman would pitch," Rangers manager Jerry Narron said. "It will be interesting to see if he can sustain it like Zimmerman does."
Texas won consecutive series for the first time this season, taking two of three games from both Cleveland and Toronto. Irabu had a save in all four of those wins, twice getting saves on consecutive days.
Irabu has converted five of six save chances since becoming the closer April 17, the day after the Rangers assigned Rocker to Triple-A Oklahoma.
"Now that this role has been given to me, and even though this is the first time for him to do this, I think it's a very exciting job," Irabu said through his Japanese translator. "I want to continue to develop myself as a closer. I like this role."
When Irabu signed a minor league deal with the Rangers, he did so hoping to make the team as the No. 5 starter. He had just 14 starts the previous two seasons in Montreal, where three extended stints on the disabled list led to his release.
A series of spring training injuries to starters Chan Ho Park, Kenny Rogers, Dave Burba and Ishmael Valdes prompted Texas to keep 13 pitchers, including Irabu as a spot starter and long reliever.
Zimmerman, whose 28 saves last year included a team-record 17 straight at the end of the year, hasn't pitched because of tendinitis in his right elbow. The injury has healed slowly and could require surgery.
Rocker was 0-1 with one save in three chances and a 9.53 ERA before he was recalled last week from the minor league assignment to which he never reported. Opponents were hitting .407 against the left-hander, who had nine strikeouts in 5⅔ innings but had allowed 11 hits, seven runs and four walks.
Irabu, who was 0-2 with a 6.55 ERA in his two starts for the injured Park, has excelled out of the bullpen. In the four saves last week, he allowed just one hit.
"He's doing a great job in that role in the fact that he throws strikes," Narron said. "I know our guys have confidence in him that when he comes in. He's not going to beat himself. Psychologically, that's great for our club."
Bill Haselman, filling in for injured 10-time All-Star catcher Ivan Rodriguez, believes Irabu's history as a starter is beneficial to his new role.
"When you go into a role like that for one inning, you've been in enough situations in the past as a starter where you can handle it," Haselman said. "He knows how to locate his fastball, he has a good split and a good curveball. He just knows how to pitch. He's a complete pitcher."
Irabu had 11 saves in nine seasons in Japan before signing with the New York Yankees in 1997. He never had a save in the majors until this season, when his eight relief appearances in 10 games are just two fewer than he had in his previous 74 games.
"I'm trying to study, learn a lot about this role and develop as a closer," Irabu said. "But I didn't even have time to watch other players because it suddenly came to me."


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