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Closing time for Mota?


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Closing time for Mota?

Mota always has wanted to be a closer. The job is his ? for now.

By Joe Capozzi

 

Palm Beach Post Staff Writer

 

Sunday, February 20, 2005

 

JUPITER ? He doesn't have any tattoos, wear a Fu Manchu mustache or walk onto the field to the blare of heavy metal music.

 

He's 6-feet-4, but looks skinnier than the 210 pounds the media guide says he weighs. He's 31, but can be mistaken for a batboy.

 

Unlike most closers, who thrive on a persona rich in intimidation, there's nothing scary at all about Guillermo Mota.

 

"Scary?" Mota said. "How about one-two-three? That's scary."

 

One-two-three, as in a perfect ninth inning, will be Mota's goal as he prepares to open the season in a role he always has wanted but never has had full time: closer.

 

Mota will receive extra scrutiny because he is replacing Armando Benitez, who signed with San Francisco after posting a career season in 2004 by setting Marlins records with 47 saves and a 1.29 ERA.

 

Mota struggled in the set-up role in the final five weeks of the season, posting a 7.89 ERA in his final 14 games.

 

Is he up to the task of closing? "I don't want to say nothing," he replied. "I want to let my work answer that question."

 

Mota's mentor believes the Marlins will have one of the top closers this season.

 

"He's a good listener, and that's why he has been successful," said Dodgers closer Eric Gagne, Mota's teammate for 2 1/2 seasons in Los Angeles before the Dodgers traded him to Florida in July.

 

"He's a very smart pitcher who knows how to pitch and make adjustments, and that's what you have to do every time out. I helped him with his change-up a little bit, but even there, he had the perfect fingers for it."

 

Some Marlins officials and teammates have questioned whether Mota has the makeup and work ethic to be a top closer. After Benitez signed with San Francisco, the front office rebuilt the bullpen by signing veteran right-handers Antonio Alfonseca, Todd Jones, John Riedling and Jim Mecir.

 

"To step in (Benitez's) shoes and do something like that is going be tough, because Armando had one of the best years of a closer ever. But I think he's capable of doing something like that," said catcher Paul Lo Duca, who came to Florida with Mota.

 

Alfonseca and Jones will get the call if Mota struggles.

 

"Who thought (Joe) Borowski was going to do great for the Cubs? Who thought Gagne was going to turn four years ago into the kind of pitcher he is? It's up to the individual to get the opportunity," manager Jack McKeon said.

 

Mota, McKeon said, "is a guy who wants the ball. He's never really had the chance to go out and show how tough he can be on a consistent basis."

 

Mota grew up in the Dominican Republic dreaming of becoming a shortstop like his boyhood hero, Tony Fernandez. He was drafted in 1990 by the New York Mets as a shortstop and became a pitcher in 1997 with the Montreal Expos' organization.

 

He quietly developed into an effective set-up man under Gagne, but he gained his biggest notoriety in March 2003 when he was chased by Mike Piazza after the Mets catcher got drilled and charged the mound.

 

"For every reliever, that's the job. The point they want to get to is being closer," said Mota, who worked out in the off-season with Oakland closer Octavio Dotel.

 

"That's the guy, the guy who closes the game, the guy everybody looks for. On every team they say, 'That's a good team. Who's the closer?' That will be me."

 

At least for now.

 

 

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Interesting the comments regarding Mota starting his career as a shortstop and converting to a pitcher with the Expos.

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