Dodgers reliever Jonathan Broxton keeps it inside

Wearing a slight grin, Jonathan Broxton cut the air in front of him with his right hand.

"I was trying to veer the conversation," he said, curving the path of his hand to the right to illustrate what he was trying to do with words.

In doing so, he said, he might have created a misunderstanding.

"I wasn't singling myself out," he said. "I was talking about the general feeling in this room.

"I don't talk about myself much."

Only this time, this avoidance mechanism had undesired consequences. Responding to a question about his fatigue level a couple of days earlier, Broxton talked about how the wear and tear of the season was taking its toll.

Coaches and trainers who read his comments approached him to ask how he felt. He thought that what he said made him look as if he were offering a convenient alibi for his recent dip in form.

"I've never been like that," said Broxton, who has 27 saves in 32 chances and a 2.95 earned-run average. "I was raised better than to make excuses."

That is, if he talks at all.

Standing 6 feet 4 and weighing in the neighborhood of 300 pounds, the 25-year-old Broxton is as quiet as he is big.

He usually speaks in a hushed voice and rarely offers more than a couple of sentences at a time. In the hours leading up to games, he's often seen sitting quietly in front of his locker playing video games.

Russell Martin started catching Broxton when they were playing for Class-A Vero Beach in 2004 but, when asked how long it took to get to know the reliever, laughed and said, "About seven years."

"He's more a listener than a talker," Martin said. "It takes him time to warm up to you. He's never been a big socializer. He's a more reserved guy."

Manager Joe Torre said that he too doesn't quite understand Broxton's inner workings.

"He doesn't say anything," Torre said.

That was why Torre said he went out of his way to make a stop at Broxton's locker the morning after he summoned him out of the bullpen in the eighth inning instead of the ninth.

"I wanted him to understand that it was a compliment to him," Torre said of how he had Broxton face the heart of the Chicago Cubs' lineup and handed the closing duties to setup man George Sherrill for a day.

Torre said he learned long ago that if he is to learn anything about Broxton, he has to coax it out of him.

Such as when Broxton was experiencing pain in his toe last month.

Broxton said nothing.

Torre didn't notice anything until coach Larry Bowa pointed out that Broxton was limping off the field in Milwaukee after a rough outing.

In a postgame meeting that Torre jokingly described as an interrogation, Broxton acknowledged that he was hurt.

He rested a few days and missed the All-Star game.

Martin said something similar happened when they were playing in Class A.

Broxton was still a starter at the time.

"I remember at some point, he had dead arm," Martin said. "He was throwing like 88 mph. He might've been down to 86. But he kept pitching and he didn't say anything."

The memory caused Martin to burst out laughing.

"He still found ways to get guys out," Martin said, shaking his head. "That says a whole lot about him right there."

Born in a sports-mad Georgia household, Broxton said he was raised to be that way by parents who were competitive athletes.

"If you messed up, you messed up," Broxton said. "Don't say it got lost in the lights. If you missed it, tell the truth."

His father was on a competitive traveling softball team. His mother also played. His older brother was a junior college pitcher and his sister was offered a softball scholarship that she turned down to focus on her studies.

Broxton's father, Randy, had numerous trophies and pictures in the house.

"But I'd never hear him talk about it," Broxton said.

Broxton said he liked that about his father and tried to be that way himself.

"I don't want to be arrogant," Broxton said. "I don't like to sit there and brag about it."

He said that's why he didn't say much when he made the All-Star team. Or why he has few words to say about any of his saves.

"Even to my parents, when they ask how I'm doing, I say, 'I'm fine,' " he said.

He doesn't talk about baseball with his wife, he said.

Humility isn't the only reason.

Baseball is too personal, too sacred to talk about, he said.

"I'd rather keep it to myself because it's not just a job," he said. "It's something God's given me a chance to do. You have to treat it as more than a job."

This translates into a low-key demeanor in the field.

"I'd rather keep it inside to where you're not showing any emotion," Broxton said. "The people can't read you, especially coming from the other team's standpoint. They can't read you. They don't know what's coming."

But under the surface, there are emotions.

"When I'm struggling, I want guys to come over and pat me on the back," he said

Bullpen coach Ken Howell said that Broxton has more fire than he lets on.

"I think when a lot of people think about closers, they see Goose Gossage, a bull in a china shop," Howell said. "Why can't you be like Mariano Rivera? You can be quiet and deadly. They all have that killer instinct. They just display it internally. That's makeup. You can't teach that. That's who they are."

Broxton showed that instinct last October, when he closed out the final game of the National League division series.

With the Dodgers leading the Chicago Cubs, 3-1, in Game 3, Torre called on Broxton with one out and a man on first in the eighth inning.

Broxton earned a five-out save, striking out Alfonso Soriano to end the game and the series.

Torre said he can sense that there's a growing confidence under Broxton's stoic stare, in part because he started this season as the Dodgers' closer. Last season, he inherited the job when Takashi Saito went out because of an elbow injury.

"What I've learned about him is that he's growing by leaps and bounds this year compared to last year," Torre said. "The closer's role last year with Saito around, it felt like he was sort of taking care of it temporarily. This spring, I thought he grabbed the role and went with it. He seems to have a lot of confidence right now. I think the playoffs did that for him last year. I still visualize the last inning he pitched against the Cubs."

Broxton said he wants to relive that moment -- so much so that he said he had no trouble forgetting about how he gave up a home run to Matt Stairs of the Philadelphia Phillies in Game 4 of the National League Championship Series that put the Dodgers on the brink of elimination.

"You take the positives," he said. "You hold on to the positives. Those are the memories you play for."

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dylan.hernandez@latimes.com

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

A definite home-field advantage

A look at Jonathan Broxton's numbers at home and on the road this season:

*--* Where IP H ER BB SO HR W-L SV ERA Home 35 11 2 8 56 0 5-1 14 0.51 Road 23 21 17 16 31 4 2-0 13 6.65 *--*

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DODGERS TONIGHT

AT COLORADO

When: 5:30 PDT.

Where: Coors Field.

On the air: TV: Ch. 9; Radio: 790, 930.

Probable pitchers: Clayton Kershaw vs. Jason Hammel; Wednesday, 5:30 p.m. PDT -- Randy Wolf (8-6, 3.34) vs. Josh Fogg (0-1, 2.25); Thursday, Noon PDT -- Vicente Padilla (8-6, 4.92) vs. Jorge De La Rosa (12-8, 4.76).

Update: Kershaw has struggled to eat up innings lately, failing to complete five innings in three of his last four starts. He lasted only 3 2/3 innings in his last start, as he ran his pitch count up to 97 by walking four and throwing a wild pitch in a no-decision against the St. Louis Cardinals. The left-hander is winless in his last six starts and is heading to a ballpark where he has a lifetime earned-run average of 8.64. Hammel also has had problems at Coors Field, where he is 2-3 with a 7.02 ERA. He won three of his last four starts, including one at Coors Field. The last time he took the mound, he beat the Washington Nationals by holding them to a run and three hits in seven innings.

-- Dylan Hernandez

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Dodgers at Colorado

TONIGHT

5:30 PDT, Channel 9

* Clayton Kershaw (8-7) vs.

Jason Hammel (8-7)

WEDNESDAY

5:30 p.m. PDT, Prime

* Randy Wolf (8-6) vs.

Josh Fogg (0-1)

THURSDAY

Noon PDT, Prime

* Vicente Padilla (8-6*) vs.

Jorge De La Rosa (12-8)

* -- with Texas

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