In the 9th inning of Monday's season opener against the Braves, Francisco Rodriguez came out to close out a 2-0 victory.
While that may be reasonably familiar territory for Rodriguez, it was not the role he was anticipated to fill with the Brewers. Jim Henderson, who finished the 2013 season with a 2.70 ERA and 28 saves, had been the supposed closer for Milwaukee entering the new season.
Manager Ron Roenicke said after the game that Rodriguez would be picking up any save opportunities 'for now', however. It's likely to be a short term thing: Henderson struggled in spring with reduced velocity, leading to a 6.00 ERA, a 1.55 WHIP and a 9:5 K:BB ratio over nine exhibition innings.
After seeing him working in Arizona, Roenicke made the decision to place Henderson in a lower-leverage role until he proves that he can take closing duties over again. Henderson likely will pitch when the Brewers have a lead more secure than they did today. Instead, Brandon Kintzler and Will Smith joined Rodriguez out of the pen.
It's an interesting decision, made more interesting by the fact that Roenicke and the Brewers apparently did not tell anyone of these plans before the game. Rodriguez seemed to catch everyone off guard, both fans and beat reporters alike. Brian Anderson and Bill Schroeder openly wondered if maybe something was wrong physically with Henderson that he wasn't pitching the ninth. It appears the decision wasn't even made until today.
The Brewers have not had the best of luck finding long-term successful closers over the last decade. Dan Kolb came on in 2003/2004, then Derrick Turnbow in 2005/2006, Francisco Cordero in 2007, Salomon Torres in 2008, Trevor Hoffman in 2009, John Axford from 2010-2012 and Henderson from last year to now.
Is there some sort of Brewers curse that prevents a closer from maintaining long term success? Relief pitchers notoriously have their ups and downs, but it's not like the Brewers have ever had well-regarded and established guys in the role. Kolb, Turnbow, Axford and Torres were scrapheap pickups. Cordero was only with the team for a year and a half before free agency. Hoffman was in his final years as a player. What is Henderson? Probably closer to the scrapheap pickups. Can he maintain success and beat any sort of curse that might exist? We'll find out.
For now, he'll take a few innings when the Brewers have big leads while we suffer through Francisco Rodriguez's always-exciting save opportunities.