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Andy Behrens

Closing Thoughts: The countdown has stalled for Trevor Hoffman

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Serious question: Has there ever been a situation in baseball history — or in the history of any sport — where a team initiated an in-stadium countdown to an individual milestone, but the player never made it?

Did the Rays have a countdown to Fred McGriff's 500th homer? (He finished with 493). That seems possible. But I can't specifically recall any cases where a team launched a countdown that a player couldn't finish.

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In Miller Park, however, they've been tracking Trevor Hoffman's(notes) progress toward career save No. 600, and it's not at all clear that he'll ever get there. He's at 596 right now and he's blown three of his last five save chances. On Tuesday he was rocked by Cincinnati, allowing four hits, one walk and three runs without retiring a batter.

Hoffman has kept hitters off-balance brilliantly over his 18-year career, but it hasn't happened this season. Today, opposing batters are perfectly balanced against him. He's allowed 21 hits and 19 earned runs in just 13.0 innings. At 42 years old, he simply has not been able to string together three consecutive outs in the final frame. These were his comments after Tuesday's blown save:

"I'm not getting outs," said Hoffman. "There's not a lot to analyze about it. It's pretty obvious that I'm not getting it done. If there was an answer at this point in time, we would've found it."

It's an awful situation for manager Ken Macha, who now has the unenviable task of … well, of doing his job. Hoffman has to be replaced. As the all-time saves leader, Hoffman has had a very long leash, but we've surely reached the end. He's had rocky starts before, sure, but nothing like this. Macha wasn't ready to reveal his plan — assuming he has a plan — following Tuesday's loss. This from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:

Macha was evasive when asked if Hoffman would be removed from the closer's role, saying he wanted to discuss it with pitching coach Rick Peterson. There is no obvious Plan B because LaTroy Hawkins(notes), who has closing experience, is on the disabled list.

Hoffman also dodged a question about his future.

"I can't worry about that," he said. "I feel prepared and ready to go out there. I'm just not getting it done."

Mr. Pianowski already discussed the replacement options on Tuesday, and a few of the names are sketchy. Todd Coffey(notes) has pitched the eighth with Hawkins on the DL, but he was mauled by the Reds on Monday (5 ER) and hasn't recorded a K in his last six appearances. Carlos Villanueva(notes) is the only Brewers reliever I've stashed in any league; he has a closer-quality strikeout rate (11.8 K/9), and he's posted the best fantasy ratios in the Brewers' bullpen (3.05 ERA, 1.06 WHIP). If you're speculating, Villanueva offers the greatest potential for an extended, successful run.

He gets the "Threatening" spot below…

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Hoffman Update, 6:00 pm CT: The Journal Sentinel's Tom Haudricourt reports the following:

Hoffman will work with [pitching coach Rick] Peterson for a few days on his mechanics and not be available for games, period, much less the ninth inning. As for who would close in the interim, Macha mentioned Carlos Villanueva as being the most consistent reliever this season but also said he'd look at match-ups.

Macha added that the team's closing situation will be re-evaluated on Friday. It's clearly meaningful that he called out Villanueva as Milwaukee's most (only?) consistent bullpen arm. For what it's worth, Hoffman tells that he's frustrated, but he wants to keep closing:

"If it was something other than the fact I was getting my head beat in, I would worry," Hoffman said. "But there isn't a whole lot that has changed. My mechanics are the same. Stuff-wise, it's been a little inconsistent as far as pitches are concerned. But it's not as if I was throwing 90 [mph] last year and I'm throwing 80 this year. I'm a mid-80s guy. The change-up has been mid- to low-70s. Not much is off in those numbers."

No, Aaron Heilman(notes) does not seem like the ideal candidate to pitch the most important innings for a team that was supposed to contend for a playoff spot. But he's presently the only guy in Arizona's 'pen with a sub-4.00 ERA. Chad Qualls(notes) has been unusually bad (7.62 ERA, 2.08 WHIP), and his most recent blown save resulted in this comment from his manager: "All bets are off as far as the bullpen goes. I've tried to remain as patient as I can, and it just hasn't really worked." Heilman finished off the D-backs' last win, although it wasn't a save situation (and he allowed two hits and a run). Saul Rivera(notes) isn't the answer, and none of the Triple-A options really leap off the page.

Baltimore manager Dave Trembley has semi-officially declared that Koji Uehara(notes) is Plan B, should Alfredo Simon(notes) struggle. "He usually gets three outs with a minimum of pitches," said Trembley, "so I could see it." Simon rebounded nicely from Saturday's blown save, however, pitching 1.2 innings against the Royals on Tuesday, earning a win. Michael Gonzalez(notes) recently threw BP to live hitters, but he's no threat to rejoin the O's until June.

Bobby Jenks'(notes) last two appearances have gone reasonably well (2.0 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 3 K), but the most recent save belongs to Matt Thornton(notes). This may already be a committee; when there's no margin for error, Thornton is clearly the better option.

Brad Lidge(notes) (elbow) received a cortisone injection, and he's eligible to return from the DL next Tuesday. An MRI indicated that there was no structural damage in his surgically repaired elbow. There's very little chance that Lidge can pitch as effectively as Jose Contreras(notes) has so far, but he somehow kept the closing gig last season, despite the 11 blown saves. Logic may not apply here.

As we mentioned on Sunday, Huston Street(notes) was removed from a minor league rehab appearance over the weekend due to a groin strain. But he's already back to playing long toss, and it sounds like the groin injury isn't too severe. It was a setback, but not the worst possible news.


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