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The million dollar question


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Marlins' No. 1 question: Is Mota ready for 9th-inning duty?


By Steve Wine

Associated Press

Posted February 21 2005, 3:57 PM EST


JUPITER, Fla. -- Guillermo Mota is a converted shortstop with just five career saves and no theme song, so it's fair to wonder whether he's up to his new job as the Florida Marlins' closer.


``I want to let my work answer that question,'' Mota says.


At first glance he's miscast, lacking the embellishments associated with closers. The Dominican's facial hair is neatly trimmed, and he eschews tattoos. As for musical accompaniment, he might choose a merengue tune by countryman Tono Rosario for his ninth-inning entrances.


That would make fans in Miami dance in the aisles - unless Mota's a bust. As spring training begins with the Marlins expected to contend for a playoff berth, general manager Admin Beinfest considers Mota one of the biggest question marks.


``You never really know until somebody does it,'' Beinfest says. ``But when you look at the Mota package, there's everything there to be a closer.''


The package starts with a 95-mph fastball. He also throws a changeup and slider with good command.


And Mota benefited from excellent mentors. For two years he was in the Los Angeles Dodgers bullpen alongside closer Eric Gagne, the 2003 Cy Young Award winner. After being traded to Florida last July, Mota was the setup man for closer Armando Benitez, who set a Marlins record with 47 saves.


When free agent Benitez went to San Francisco, Mota inherited the closer's job.


``I'm pretty excited to get the opportunity,'' he says. ``Every reliever wants to be the closer, and that was my goal. That's the guy everybody looks for. This year it will be me.''


Closing wasn't always Mota's goal. His childhood idol was shortstop Tony Fernandez, and Mota played the same position when the New York Mets drafted him in 1990. After hitting just .234 in Single-A in 1996, he became a pitcher in the Montreal organization, then was traded before the 2002 season to Los Angeles, where he blossomed.


``Gagne taught me a lot,'' he says. ``I thank him for that. I feel like if he can do it, I can do it.''


Mota came to Florida in a six-player deal that also sent catcher Paul Lo Duca and Juan Encarnacion to Miami, while the Marlins gave up right-hander Brad Penny, first baseman Hee Seop Choi and left-hander Bill Murphy.


Thin as a bat handle, Mota appeared to tire at the end of last season, when he pitched 96 2-3 innings, and he had an ERA of 7.89 ERA in his final 14 games. But with the Dodgers in 2003-04 he went 14-7 with a 2.04 ERA in 168 innings, and Lo Duca said Mota's ready for the closer's role.


``When all is said and done at the end of the year, I think we're going to say he's one of the best in the league,'' Lo Duca says. ``He's got that kind of stuff. I think he's got the temperament and demeanor to do that job, and I think he's going to be great.''


The Marlins hedged their bet during the winter by acquiring former closers Antonio Alfonseca and Todd Jones. But when the season starts, it'll be Mota's job to finish. Cue the merengue music.


``The game will be on the line,'' he says. ``It's going to be interesting.''



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I know I'm in the minority but I think he'll have little or no trouble making the transition from setup to closer.


That is not to say that he'll be perfect, no closer is. But a year from now I believe we'll look back on the season and laugh about how we doubted the guy. I'm convinced if his innings are kept down to a level equal to Benitez or most closers he'll be fine.

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As a setup man, Mota rarely made it into a game without it being a very close contest and outs needed immediately. He has performed exceptionally well in that role and should have absolutly no problem adapting to the less demanding 9th inning with a lead closer role.



The Marlins' #1 question is starting pitching. Health. Stamina. Depth. Talent vs. Production

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I think Mota will do well as long as Jack uses him properly by not overworking him pitching 2 innings every night and ONLY bringing him into games in the 9th inning and ONLY into games at the beginning of an inning, not in the middle to get another pitcher out of a jam.

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Mota will be fine. He needs to rely a little more on his heater to set up his change-up in the ninth. He loves to throw the changeup, and I think often times hitters are hoping for something slower at the end of the game when they're tired and their bat speed isn't quite the same. Just throw some heat and locate your pitches, Memo.

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