Frankie Goes to Setup Role?
Somewhere in the swirling mess of Saturday’s game against the Giants is a disappointing performance by Frank Francisco. The Mets’ closer let up 2 hits and a walk in the ninth while attempting to protect a 3-run lead. After it was obvious Francisco didn’t have his stuff or his command, he was pulled by Terry Collins in favor of Tim Byrdak, and then Jon Rauch.
Collins’s move was the correct one, and one that most managers shy away from. If it were K-Rod or Billy Wagner instead of Francisco, he probably doesn’t make that move. Francisco isn’t the established closer those guys were when they were in Queens. Instead, Frankie has succeeded in a number of roles throughout his career, and has only been a primary ninth-inning guy in 2009 and 2011. In most years, he’s been a setup man for the likes of Francisco Cordero and Neftali Feliz.
Perhaps Collins’s mistake was to remove Pelfrey, who was cruising (yes, actually cruising!) through eight innings, and had only thrown 102 pitches – not a huge amount for the durable righthander.
But he made his bed, and Francisco had to…well…maybe do more than just lie in it. Byrdak and Rauch did their jobs – the former struck out Hector Sanchez, and the latter induced a pop up from Buster Posey that would have been caught by any other franchise that didn’t have the living spirit of Luis Castillo around to puff it out of the reach of Kirk Nieuwenhuis.
What does this mean for Francisco? It’s not at all prudent to make a decision about your closer after one bad game, but after a strong start, Frankie has looked shaky. In his first four games, he allowed 3 hits, 1 unearned run, and struck out 7. In his last three, he has allowed 6 earned runs, 6 hits, and 2 walks.
In the meantime, Rauch has been nearly perfect, Byrdak has been as reliable as he was during the second half of last season, and Bobby Parnell is simply a new man. You wouldn’t use Byrdak to get the 27th out, he’s too valuable as a LOOGY, and can get righties out in a pinch. But Rauch or Parnell as closer? Possible, especially for Rauch, who has had experience as a ninth inning guy.
Make the move now? No. It’s only April, and every closer struggles for a stretch. Besides, it’s not like a struggling Francisco would hurt the team any less in a setup role. Francisco feels confident he can bounce back, and Collins says he’s still the closer.
It’s too early to panic, but not to be concerned. It’s disconcerting to have a wobbly closer, as Mets fans are well aware.
“I trust my stuff,” Francisco said. “I was a little off (Saturday). I think I know how to make adjustments. Things are not going my way right now,” he added, “but there’s nothing you can do about it except keep fighting and see what happens.”