|Less fierce, more wily: Milwaukee Brewers closer Eric Gagne still an enigma|
|Written by Admin|
|Monday, 07 April 2008 12:15|
One week later, the only thing that's clear is something the Brewers already knew: He's no longer the 98-mph fireballer who once converted a record 84 straight save chances and won the 2003 National League Cy Young Award.
What remains to be seen is whether a less fearsome but slightly more wily Gagne can still consistently get outs when it counts. Brewers manager Ned Yost said he believes recent injuries have forced Gagne to outthink batters instead of overpowering them.
``I think in years past, we've just seen the 97-, 98-mile an hour Gagne,'' Yost said. ``Since he's come back from his injury, he's learned to pitch. He still spots a 94-mile an hour fastball, which is really good. But he has a nice curveball, a nice changeup, and he pitches out there.''
Gagne was shaky in his first outing as a Brewer, giving up a three-run lead in the season opener against the Chicago Cubs in wet and chilly conditions at Wrigley Field - struggling with everything from his footing on a wet mound to fog on his goggles.
But Gagne rebounded nicely Saturday, pitching a perfect ninth inning for his first save in Milwaukee's 5-4 victory over the San Francisco Giants.
With Cincinnati coming to town this week, Brewers fans will get a chance to compare Gagne with last year's closer, Francisco Cordero, who left the Brewers to sign with the Reds in the offseason. Cordero's departure left the Brewers looking for a closer, and they ended up signing Gagne to a one-year, $10 million deal.
It was a gamble, given the way Gagne's 2007 season ended in Boston.
The Brewers actually were in the running to make a trade with the Texas Rangers for Gagne last July, but lost out to the Red Sox. It was just as well, because Gagne was 2-2 with a 6.75 ERA after the trade and didn't play a significant role in Boston's bullpen.
But the Brewers still were willing to take a chance on Gagne, banking on the fact that a change of scenery, the chance to close again and a few more months to recover from the elbow and back surgeries he had in recent years would help him regain his form.
A few days after he signed with the Brewers, Gagne's name surfaced in the Mitchell Report, baseball's investigation into the use of performance-enhancing drugs. The report contained a trainer's allegation that Gagne purchased human growth hormone in 2004.
Gagne has not directly addressed the report, offering only a public apology to teammates for ``a distraction that shouldn't be taking place'' during spring training.
He then mostly stayed out of sight as the Brewers prepared for the season in Arizona, throwing mostly on practice fields instead of in exhibition games.
Now back in the spotlight with a potential playoff contender and trying to put his injuries and the Mitchell Report behind him, Gagne acknowledges he has lost some velocity but still believes he can do the job.
``I don't throw as hard as I used to,'' Gagne said. ``But I still throw better than average.''
Yost said Gagne is making up for the few miles an hour he lost off his fastball with an improved mental approach to the game.
``I'm not saying he's a finesser by any means, anybody that can spot a 94-mph fastball like he can,'' Yost said. ``But he upgraded his game. It's the mark of a good player.''