Boston Red Sox

Boston Red Sox

Monday, April 09, 2007

PINIERO'S IMPLOSION CONTINUES

Brought In To Be The Sox Closer, Piniero Can't Get Outs In A Set-Up Role. In Fact, He Can't Even Find the Strike Zone.

Joel Piniero was brought to Boston during the offseason to become the Red Sox closer. It was his job to lose, and it didn't take long for that to happen. Piniero lost the job before Spring training had even ended. And last night, in Texas, he reminded everyone why.

After Curt Schilling had limited the Rangers to just one run on four hits, over seven superb innings, Piniero entered the game in the top of the eighth with the Sox holding a 3-1 lead. The result was a near disaster. Piniero immediately walked the eighth and ninth batters in the Rangers' lineup and proceeded to load the bases on a bunt single. Before he could record a single out, Pineiro was unceremoniously, and mercifully, yanked. The man simply couldn't do his job.

Exasperated Red Sox fans, and likely Curt Schilling as well, breathed a sigh of relief. Thankfully, Piniero was gone and couldn't do any more damage.

Through seven innings, Schilling had pitched a gem, striking out six and walking one. In fact, it looked as if the veteran righty was getting stronger as the game wore on, retiring the last 10 batters he faced, and 14 of the last 15.. But after 102 pitches, Terry Francona and pitching coach John Farrell decided that Schilling had done more than enough, and that it wouldn't be prudent to push a 40-year-old so early in the season with so many more innings, starts, and months to go.

Of course, Jonathan Papelbon soon saved the day, recording five outs and earning his second save of the young season. In the process, Papelbon reminded everyone of his tremendous value. No one was more impressed, or more pleased, than Schilling.

"You just can't understand how unbelievable that is," Schilling said. "You just can't. Until you're on the mound, you cannot understand that there aren't very many guys in the history of the game that can do that."

Of course, all's well that ends well. But Piniero's poor performance can't be dismissed and it couldn't have done anything good for his confidence, or the team's confidence in him. At just 28-years-old, Piniero should be in his prime. But instead, over the last few seasons, he seems to have regressed and that trend appears to be continuing unabated.

In 2001, Piniero went 6-2 for the Mariners with a 2.03 ERA, showing just how much potential he had. The next year, that potential was proven to be genuine talent when he improved to 14-7, with a 3.24 ERA. In 2003, his wins and losses both increased, as he ended the year at 16-11 and still managed an impressive 3.78 ERA. Seattle thought they had a star in the making, and then everything went wrong.

Over the next three seasons, Piniero went from darling to disaster, posting these disappointing numbers in succession: 6-11, 4.67; 7-11, 5.62; and 8-13, 6.36.

And because he finished a few games in relief for the Mariners last year, earning one save along the way, the Red Sox somehow thought that he could be their closer in 2007. Wrong.

This kid is going in the wrong direction, and has likely lost the confidence of the team and its brass already. There have been rumors that he could be on the trading block, and may be used as bait, now that Papelbon has re-emerged as the closer extraordinaire. But the question is, at $4 million this year, who could be interested?

So far this season, which is only a week old, Piniero has appeared in four games for a total of 2 1/3 innings. In that brief period he has allowed four hits, two walks, and has an ERA of 7.71. That's not the stuff of a highly prized pitcher. At this point, the Sox would be lucky to get another team to take him off their hands and pay half his salary.

Sure, it's still quite early and things could change. But what over the last three years, or so far in this one, would lead anyone to believe that things are about to turn around for Piniero? As far as I can tell, there's been nothing and I hope we've seen the last of him in any type of critical situation when a game is on the line. Mop-up duty, when a game is out of hand and clearly decided, would seem to suit him best at this point. At such times, there would be no pressure on him at all. Those would seem to be the ideal circumstances for Piniero to attempt to regain his confidence and get his once promising career back on track -- if he still can.

Copyright © 2007 Sean M. Kennedy. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without the author's consent.

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