- The Washington Times - Monday, September 3, 2007

Few players on the Washington Nationals roster elicit as many mixed feelings as Chad Cordero.

A faction of the Nationals fan base (and within the organization) believes wholeheartedly in Cordero’s long-term future as the club’s closer. The 25-year-old right-hander’s career numbers seem to back that up. In four full seasons, he owns a 2.73 ERA and 120 saves, superb statistics by any measure.

But a vocal faction within the fan base (and to a lesser extent within the organization) is convinced Cordero will implode for good one of these days. Those nonbelievers note Cordero’s 23 blown saves during that same span (including eight this year) and his penchant for tempting fate regularly.

Both sides have valid points. Cordero has been far from perfect. He is prone to occasional meltdowns, such as last week’s five-run collapse in Colorado. And he has been known to load the bases on walks only to somehow escape the jam and secure a nervous victory.

But, really, how many closers can you say that about? Sure, Mariano Rivera and Trevor Hoffman are going to wind up in Cooperstown because they sustained a remarkable rate of dominance over lengthy careers. But few others can make the same claim.

Since 2005, Cordero has been remarkably consistent. Yes, he has blown his share of games, but rarely has he suffered through a prolonged stretch of failure.

Think back to just one week ago, when questions were raised again about Cordero’s long-term viability after three straight appearances in which he was scored upon. Cordero himself admitted a flaw in his mechanics was causing his fastball to tail back over the heart of the plate and causing opposing batters to tee off.

But after working with pitching coach Randy St. Claire to fix the glitch — Cordero’s arm angle was too low, causing the tailing action on his pitches — the young right-hander returned to form. He tossed two scoreless innings against the Dodgers on Wednesday, cruised through a 1-2-3 ninth inning Saturday night against the Giants and held them down again yesterday.

As Cordero put it before the series finale, Saturday night “was me again.”

By now, we know what “me” is. At his best, Cordero gets ahead of hitters with his well-located fastball, then gets them to fly out or strike out on his breaking balls. The formula has worked, for the most part, for the last four years.

And even when he does struggle, Cordero has shown time and again he can figure out his problem and get back on track. That’s something he takes great pride in.

“I can’t afford to go out there and have five or six bad outings in a row,” he said. “I’m going to be out there so much that if I have a bad outing, I’m going to have to correct it the next time out.”

For four seasons, Cordero has done just that. Look at his yearly numbers and marvel at the consistency:

c 2004: 2.94 ERA, 14 saves.

c 2005: 1.82 ERA, 47 saves.

c 2006: 3.19 ERA, 29 saves.

c 2007: 3.18 ERA, 29 saves (with a month to go).

No, Cordero hasn’t been able to duplicate his magical 2005 season. But the Nationals as a whole haven’t played as well the last two years. Given the opportunities he has had, Cordero has routinely gotten the job done, and his manager realizes it.

“It’s noteworthy to point out: Cordero has never struggled for a long period of time,” Manny Acta said. “He’ll have a couple of them, and then he’ll bounce back and reel off a bunch of saves. We’ve seen that over the last few years. … That says a lot about him. He’s pretty consistent with what he does out there.”

And until someone says otherwise, he’s going to continue doing so for this franchise.

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