farmer_fran Posted July 11, 2004 Share Posted July 11, 2004 Notes: Koch easing into role By Joe Frisaro / MLB.com Jack McKeon wants to use Billy Koch to bridge the gap to Armando Benitez. (Alan Diaz/AP) MIAMI -- The grooming period for Billy Koch to become the Marlins' primary setup man is just about over. With the All-Star break approaching, manager Jack McKeon said that the team is on course to making the right-hander the first choice to bridge the gap to closer Armando Benitez. Obtained from the White Sox on June 17 for minor league infielder Wilson Valdez, Koch has not been in many pressure situations. In his last few weeks in Chicago, he was used sparingly, and his command wasn't sharp. So rather than rush Koch into the top setup role, the Marlins eased him along. He's worked with pitching coach Wayne Rosenthal on refining his mechanics. "When he came over from the White Sox, he hadn't really pitched that much," said McKeon. "The last two times out, he's pitched pretty effectively. When we come into the second half, if he can be the setup guy the way we want, he can be a tremendous boost for us." Since Chad Fox went on the disabled list in late April, the Marlins have been searching for a reliable help in the back of the bullpen. Seven pitchers have been called up from Triple-A Albuquerque to help fill the void. Of late, the animated, 36-year-old Josias Manzanillo has secured the top setup role. But "Manzy," as McKeon calls him, gave up four runs in the eighth inning on Friday in the 6-3 loss to the Mets. In 10 games, Manzanillo is 1-2 with a 4.40 ERA. He was effective early on, but hasn't been as sharp of late. Koch has a proven track record, stemming back to when he was the closer for the A's. McKeon is hopeful that Koch can offer a lift similar to the one Fox provided when he joined the team during the season last year. Conine back in lineup: After three days off, Jeff Conine started in left field on Saturday and hit fifth in the lineup. With three hits in his last 29 at-bats, Conine was given a breather, sitting to make room for Double-A call-up Josh Willingham. Willingham is 2-for-8 in his brief big league career. McKeon is hopeful that the rest will get Conine out of his slump. The 38-year-old is six for his last 46 (.130) with runners in scoring position. "He's had his days off," said McKeon. "We'll go with the guys we were supposed to start originally." McKeon likes the little he has seen of Willingham, and there is a chance Willingham could start on Sunday against Mets lefty Al Leiter. One possibility is giving him a start at first base. Willingham can play catcher, first base and left field. "He's an aggressive guy," said McKeon. "We're trying to find a position for him." Choi's historic homer: On Friday, Hee Seop Choi connected on a two-run homer off his former high school teammate, Jae Seo. Seo was two grades ahead of Choi at Kwang-Ju Jae High School in South Korea. Choi said that he hadn't had a chance to talk with Seo as of Saturday. The two speak on occasion during the season, and are friends. The home run came at about 8:30 a.m. Korean time. It is believed that approximately 10 million people in Korea were watching the game on television. McKeon praises Looper: Former Marlin Braden Looper racked up his 18th save on Friday. McKeon is impressed at the solid season his former closer is enjoying with the Mets. "He's using more pitches and not just using a fastball," said McKeon. "He's using more changeups and sliders. We'd liked to have kept him." The Marlins opted instead to sign Benitez, an All-Star with 28 saves. A year ago the Marlins were fortunate to be able to acquire closer Ugueth Urbina for the second half of the season. Urbina accepted a setup role for Looper, and eventually took over the job in September and the playoffs. "It was a blessing," said McKeon. "When Loop was in a rut, Urbina picked him up. And if Urbina was in a rut, Loop picked him up." Joe Frisaro is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs. A thought there were a couple interesting notes. I thought I'd share. Quote Link to comment Share on other sites More sharing options...
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