|Secret's out on Mariners' Putz|
|Written by Admin|
|Thursday, 28 June 2007 11:25|
Seattle's emerging star closer blew through the Boston Red Sox this week to convert his 24th consecutive save chance, the longest current streak in the majors.
``If someone doesn't know him, someone's not paying attention,'' Red Sox manager Terry Francona said. ``He's one of the best. I know the players know it.''
Mariners manager Mike Hargrove had Jose Mesa in Cleveland, when Mesa saved 46 of 48 games in 1995 to lead the Indians into their first World Series in four decades.
``Putz is better than Mesa,'' Hargrove said, without hesitation. ``And that's not a knock on Jose. I like Jose. He saved 46 games for me one year and then 39 the next. That's a lot of games.
``But J.J.? He's pretty good,'' Hargrove said, chuckling.
The Mariners are 36-1 when leading after seven innings and 35-0 when carrying a lead into the ninth, Putz's domain.
After finishing last in the AL West three straight times, the Mariners have a five-game winning streak and are nine games over .500, matching their season high. Seattle is five games behind the Los Angeles Angels for the division lead.
Putz, who has 40 strikeouts in 36 1-3 innings, figures to become an All-Star when rosters are announced on Sunday. He has allowed just 15 hits and six walks in 34 games, and his 0.99 ERA is second in the major leagues to the 0.95 ERA of Boston's Hideki Okajima among pitchers with at least 18 appearances.
``His numbers don't lie. He is as good as his numbers are,'' said Boston's Kevin Youkilis, who at least made contact against Putz while grounding out in the eighth inning Tuesday.
That was after David Ortiz struck out yet again versus Putz. Ortiz is 0-for-5 with five strikeouts in his career against him. That's the most whiffs Ortiz has without hit against any pitcher he's faced in his 11-year career.
In the eighth inning Tuesday, Ortiz struck out on a 91 mph split-fingered fastball in a one-run game. And in the ninth inning Wednesday, Putz zinged a 97 mph fastball past ``Big Papi'' with the scored tied at 1.
``Yeah, it's exciting,'' Putz said.
He doesn't like talking about his accomplishments, usually steering questions about them to the success of the surprising Mariners. His menacing stare at batters while on the mound says more than his words. But he does acknowledge that making the All-Star team ``would be nice.''
What makes him so good? A fastball that zooms at speeds of 98 mph sets up a splitter that starts out at nearly the same speed - then dives toward batters' shoes as it crosses the plate.
Putz unleashed that on Barry Bonds while striking him out last June to end Seattle's 5-4 win over San Francisco.
``Man, that closer,'' Bonds said. ``He throws 98 miles per hour, then he drops that split on you?
``See you later,'' Bonds said, pantomiming a salute.
Putz threw the splitter ineffectively throughout a so-so minor league career. A sixth-round draft choice in 1999, he had just 13 saves at four stops on his way to arriving in Seattle in 2003.
Putz appeared in 64 games in 2005 as a setup man for Eddie Guardado. Then Guardado taught his understudy a new grip for the splitter during spring training of '06.
That ultimately cost Guardado his job.
Guardado flopped into May last season before Putz replaced him. Putz then equaled Guardado's 36 saves from the previous season - the third-highest total in Mariners' history. Guardado was traded to Cincinnati and is currently on the Reds' disabled list. Meanwhile, the Mariners gave Putz a $13.1 million, three-year contract.
Putz's 10 saves are a Seattle record for June, one more than Mike Jackson in June 1991. Putz already is third in Mariners career saves - he passed Norm Charlton with his 68th Tuesday.
And Putz has been on the job for all of 13 months.
``I'm just happy with the wins,'' he said.