Can a closer convert
into a top-flight starter?
Making the switch from closer to starter is challenging--but not unheard of.
Updated: April 17, 2003, 6:06 PM ETBy Thom Henninger, STATS. Inc.
A change in career path from starting pitcher to closer isn't all that unusual. Dave Righetti, Dennis Eckersley and Flash Gordon are among the more well-known closers who have done it in the last two decades. Making the transformation in the other direction is far less common, but two successful closers are looking to join big league rotations this spring: Cincinnati's Danny Graves and Byung-Hyun Kim of Arizona. Reds manager Bob Boone and pitching coach Don Gullett believe Graves is well suited to a starting role, where he can mix his big-breaking slider and an impressive changeup with his trademark mid-90s sinker. Graves fared well in four late-season starts in 2002, but his biggest dilemma this spring is finding a windup motion to his liking. He says he hasn't used a windup in nearly a dozen years. He tried one for the first time a week ago in a spring training game, but scrapped that version after Florida's Juan Pierre lined a single on Graves' second pitch of the game. "I've tried like 72 different windups," he mused, "and 71 of them didn't work." At age 23 last summer, Kim enjoyed a phenomenal season as Arizona's closer, saving 36 games with a 2.04 ERA. Calling on mid-90s heat that he throws from down below and a wicked slider that often rises on hitters, he allowed just 64 hits and fanned 92 in 84 innings. His dominance begs the question: why convert a top-notch major league closer into a starter? Kim still is so young, so it's tempting to see if he has the upside to develop into a dominant starting pitcher.