St. Louis – Braves closer Billy Wagner hadn’t pitched in a week, and said even veterans have a hard time staying sharp with that much time off.
“Oh, hell yes,” he said before Tuesday night’s game against the Cardinals. “It’ll be no fun when I come in the game, and I’m sure it won’t be any room for error. It should be about a one-run game with [Albert] Pujols coming up.”
He wasn’t complaining. He knows the situation comes with the territory for a closer whose team is struggling.
The Braves had a six-game losing streak before Tuesday, the last four losses coming on the current trip – three at New York over the weekend, and a 4-3 defeat in Monday’s series opener at St. Louis.
“Especially on the road it’s hard” to get regular work for the closer, said Wagner, 38. “Because you can’t work him into a game like last night, into a tie game. I mean, that could be a situation where you come in, throw an inning, you don’t take the lead….”
But there’s only so long the closer or any other reliever can sit.
“There will be a time where Bobby [Cox] is going to have to throw me out there for more than an inning,” he said, “because I’m going to have to get some innings. I can’t keep doing this, because you get rusty, you’re not sharp. And the way we’re going, every time I step out there is going to be a have-to-win, so you can’t afford to [be rusty]. I’ve thrown bullpens and stayed as sharp as I can, but it’s tough.”
Then he smiled and said, “But that’s why we get paid the big bucks.”
Before Tuesday, the last time Wagner pitched was the Braves’ last win April 20 against Philadelphia, when he worked a perfect 10th inning to close it out.
That was third consecutive hitless, scoreless appearance for the left-hander, who’s 1-0 with a 3.00 ERA in six appearances this season, with three hits, two walks and 11 strikeouts in six innings.
He has converted one of two save opportunities, and both runs against him this season (as well as two of three hits he’s allowed) came in his April 9 blown save at San Francisco.
In Monday’s game, Wagner watched as pals Peter Moylan and Takashi Saito had a rough night, Moylan allowing the tying run on a two-out double in the seventh and Saito taking the loss after giving up a run in the eighth on two doubles and an intentional walk.
“When you run out there as much as a reliever does, you’re going to have some games where, no matter whether you’re throwing well or you’re not throwing well, things aren’t going to go your way,” Wagner said.
“You feel bad about it. You want to work on stuff, but you’ve got to be careful, too, because if you go out there and throw a lot of bullpens [side sessions] and try to correct yourself, you’ve got to pitch that night. So it’s one of those things where you can wear yourself down by trying to do too much to mentally get yourself back.
“Sometime you’ve just go to step away and say, ‘You know what? I’m fine. I made a mistake, and I’ve just got to get out there more.’ They’re going to be fine. They’re the least of the worries.”