- The Washington Times - Monday, April 28, 2008

As Chad Cordero uncorks each and every one of his 82 mph fastballs, you almost can hear the collective holding of breath coming out of the Washington Nationals’ dugout.

And as Cordero somehow manages to retire batter after batter despite his ridiculously low velocity, you practically can hear that dugout let out a huge sigh of relief.

As if the right-hander’s inability to put any zip on the ball hasn’t been strange enough, the fact he’s still pitching with great effectiveness is even more bizarre.

Cordero has made five relief appearances since his two-week stint on the disabled list to start the season. He has yet to surrender a run. He has allowed seven men to reach base in four total innings, but aside from that near-disaster April 13 against the Atlanta Braves when he loaded the bases on a hit and two walks, he hasn’t come close to getting himself into trouble.

So, Chad, are you surprised by your success?

“A little bit,” he admitted following Saturday night’s game. “But my location has been what’s getting me out of there without any damage.”

Indeed, Cordero’s precision within the strike zone has been impressive. Already a control specialist before he came down with his shoulder troubles, he has taken it to a new level this year.

In his well-publicized outing at Shea Stadium two weeks ago — his first “fastball” was clocked at 76 mph — Cordero still threw 17 of his 20 pitches for strikes. Over his last four appearances, he has thrown 43 strikes against only 21 balls.

And those strikes haven’t sailed right over the heart of the plate. They have been hitting the corners, so much so that opposing batters have taken 17 of Cordero’s pitches for strikes the last four appearances.

All of which proves a well-placed 82 mph fastball is far more effective than a poorly placed 95 mph heater.

“That’s the truth,” manager Manny Acta said yesterday. “Location is the most important thing when you’re pitching. Velocity is not the No. 1.”

But is it enough for Cordero to reassume his closer’s job and be successful doing it?

So far, Acta has not felt comfortable using the 26-year-old in the ninth inning with a lead. He wants to see more from Cordero before he’s willing to give him his old job back and return Jon Rauch to the setup role for which he is suited.

But Acta admitted yesterday that if Cordero continues to get hitters out at this rate, it won’t be long before he’s back closing games even if his velocity remains the same.

“Eventually, he’ll go close his games, yes,” the manager said.

It’s a potentially dicey situation, putting a guy on the mound with a one-run lead in the ninth inning trying to set down big league hitters with a fastball that looks like it’s only a few ticks above a Tim Wakefield knuckleball. But it’s not like Cordero was a power pitcher before his shoulder started acting up. The guy always has relied on location and pitch selection to get hitters out, not on oomph.

And Cordero remains confident in his abilities, a crucial character trait for a big league closer.

“I feel I can go out there and do it right now,” he said. “But if [Acta] wants me to go out there and [pitch earlier in the game] one more time, then I’ll go out there and do it one more time. Hopefully I’ll go out there and do it with the same results — no runs.”

So far, that’s exactly what Cordero has done. Even if he’s done it in unconventional fashion.

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