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SoxProspects News

March 12, 2007 at 1:00 AM

Closer Watch: 2007

Since pitchers and catchers reported to Ft. Myers the (chronically shifting) conventional wisdom regarding the identity of the 2007 Red Sox closer had coalesced around a few leading candidates: Mike Timlin, Brendan Donnelly, and Joel Pineiro. Devern Hansack has his devotees and drew high profile mention as a candidate for the role by Peter Gammons but is probably not a top tier candidate (if there is such a candidate, sadly). In some circles Julian Tavarez was submitted as a pitcher with the requisite guts and grit of which closers are made, others championed young arms such as hometown kid Manny Delcarmen or a rebounding Craig Hansen. A few true believers keep candles lit for a second coming of Jonathan Papelbon.

Coming into the spring Pineiro was expected to be given every opportunity to step in and claim the role and his contract was reported to contain incentives with that idea in mind. Late last season Pineiro altered his delivery, lowering his arm angle and shifted to the bullpen adding movement to his pitches. After a rough start, Pinerio has settled down and has not allowed a run since a disastrous appearance March 3.

The most recent flavor of the week, Timlin, who turned 41 Saturday, experienced a major set back when he underwent an MRI and the team announced that he will be sidelined for at least a week due to a strained oblique, without appearing in a game this spring. Some have speculated that the injury may set him back so far as to begin the season on the DL. Regardless, even a swift return would leave Timlin little time to reclaim the lead in the closer derby.

By attrition, rather than by design, the felling of Timlin may have moved Brendan Donnelly de facto into the lead. He is routinely cited as owning the highest career k/9 (9.0) of the leading candidates, although it declined to the mid-7s during his last two seasons in Anaheim (still good enough for the lead, Delcarmen excepted). For several years in Anaheim, Donnelly was very effective as a top set up man, even appearing in the 2003 All Star Game, although his last significant stint as a closer came in the minors (AAA 2002). Consistent with the other candidates, Donnelly’s performance also has been uneven so far this spring, although he was effective in his most recent appearance against Detroit (March 10).

Early in camp Manny Delcarmen was roughed up and was cited as having a tough time making adjustments, but by the time of this writing has basically righted the ship. Fellow ex-prospect Craig Hansen was late in making his spring debut due to injury (although in a box score error he was credited with an earlier dismal appearance). In his first game appearance Friday (March 9) he showed the rust that might be expected and was roughed up. While he is still nominally in the chase, he is most likely tabbed to (at least) begin the season at AAA.

In this, the first of a recurring series (until the matter is settled) we'll follow the fortunes of the contenders and do our best to keep you updated at least once a week.