K-Rod, Valverde among early bullpen surprises

Published on NewsOK Modified: April 7, 2014 at 2:18 am •  Published: April 7, 2014
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Francisco Rodriguez has two saves, Jose Valverde has one — and no, this isn't a flashback to 2009.

It's just another weird week on the early-season carousel of closers.

The fickle nature of relief pitching is on full display again this April, with the Milwaukee Brewers and New York Mets among several teams scrambling in the late innings.

"Definitely it was a surprise," Rodriguez said after his opening day save for Milwaukee. "Hopefully I can go out there and get the job done every time the manager asks for me."

Jim Henderson was expected to close for the Brewers, but manager Ron Roenicke said he was struggling with his stuff coming into the season. Rodriguez had only 13 saves over the previous two years, but K-Rod has pitched well so far in 2014.

Meanwhile, with Bobby Parnell out with an elbow injury, Mets manager Terry Collins turned to the 36-year-old Valverde, who looked finished when the Detroit Tigers dropped him in the middle of last season.

"Jose — one thing about closers, that game can always be interesting — but I've been told by a lot of guys this guy just believes in what he does," Collins said. "He challenges people to swing the bat."

Even veterans such as Joe Nathan and Jonathan Papelbon are off to rough starts, and with Mariano Rivera in retirement, it looks as if Atlanta's Craig Kimbrel and Kansas City's Greg Holland have taken over as the game's dominant closers.

And the gap between them and everyone else may be widening.

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Here are five things to watch around the majors this week.

JETER RETURNS HOME: Derek Jeter takes the field for what will be the retiring shortstop's final home opener at Yankee Stadium on Monday. New York hosts Baltimore three times before a four-game series against the rival Boston Red Sox.

MAKING A SPLASH: The Diamondbacks weren't thrilled when some Los Angeles players jumped into a swimming pool at Chase Field to celebrate clinching the NL West title at Arizona last season. The Dodgers return to Phoenix to start a three-game series Friday.