The numbers indicate otherwise, but Jonathan Broxton says he’s close to being the pitcher who early last season was among the dominant closers in baseball.
A pitcher who:
•Converted 18 consecutive save opportunities.
•Had an earned-run average of 0.83 through June 26.
•Earned the save in the All-Star game.
“I’m very close to it,” Broxton says.
Still, he acknowledges that he hasn’t completely recovered from a brutal second half of last season, during which he was replaced by Hong-Chih Kuo as the Dodgers’ ninth-inning man.
Where Broxton says he needs to be is in “attack mode,” which means, “you go out there and there it is.” Instead, he finds himself thinking a little too much. And when he thinks, he tends to nibble. And when he nibbles, he falls behind in counts.
“Brox really didn’t walk anybody before the break last year,” Manager Don Mattingly says. “Now you see him get in trouble not getting ahead in that count. When you get ahead in that count, it puts [the hitter] in doubt. That makes the fastball jump on you and puts the guy at a disadvantage.”
Mattingly conveyed that message to Broxton when he called him to the manager’s office on Tuesday in Miami. The primary purpose of the meeting was to reassure Broxton that he was still the Dodgers’ closer, even though General Manager Ned Colletti had implied in a radio interview that the team would use a closer by committee.
Broxton, who the previous day had blown his first save this season in six tries, says he agrees with Mattingly about the importance of not falling behind in counts.
“When I was pitching last year, the first half, I guarantee you I was ahead of a lot of batters,” he says. “Where I’m at now, I’m falling into 2-2 counts, 3-2 counts, pitching high into counts. It’s not as easy.”
It shows in his earned-run average, 4.35.
Broxton has walked seven batters in 101/3 innings. Last year, he didn’t walk his seventh batter until June 27.
Mattingly and pitching coach Rick Honeycutt also talked to Broxton about using his split-finger fastball more.
“To put a third pitch in their head,” Broxton says, to go with his fastball and slider.
Broxton was available only in an emergency situation on Wednesday because of mild elbow soreness, but he says his health is fine. As for why the velocity of his fastball fluctuates —93-94 mph on some days, 96-97 mph on others — he says he has no idea.
“It could be [having to pitch] back-to-back days,” he says. “It could be different [radar] guns. Some days you throw a little better. It’s not like a huge difference. It’s not eight, 10 mph.”
Broxton says he understands why fans might be alarmed by his form.
He used to be almost perfect. Now, he’s far from it.
Broxton asks for patience. “You can’t be perfect all the time,” he says.
He points out that even Mariano Rivera recently blew saves on successive days.
“You look at the best closer in baseball, he blew two back-to-back,” Broxton says. “It’s going to happen. It’s a matter of turning the page and coming out. You have to stay positive.”
That is easier to do with the backing of the manager, which Broxton says he has.
Even after Vicente Padilla closed out a 5-4 win over the Florida Marlins on Wednesday, Broxton was certain of his role.
“He knows how hard the game is,” Broxton says of Mattingly. “He’s always been positive.
“Even last year when I was struggling, he talked to me some. He’s always been there for me.”