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October 12, 2001

Leo Mazzone



Q. Would you talk about the qualities that make John Smoltz a good closer?

LEO MAZZONE: Well, the same qualities that made him a great starter. He hasn't changed a thing except that his fastball now has picked up a couple miles an hour because he's only pitching one inning or two innings instead of trying to go nine. Same slider, broke out his split last outing. John, when he started, could elevate his game. That's why he's a great post-season pitcher. As a starter, he could elevate his game in the post-season. During the regular season, if your team had a two- or three-game losing streak and you needed a big start, John could always elevate his game at that time, too. Well, coming in in the ninth inning, it's always the time to elevate your game. So that kind of fits right into his mentality.

Q. Your bullpen is almost completely different from the beginning of the year. Would you talk about what goes in to making a good bullpen?

LEO MAZZONE: Well, I think we made a great trade with Cleveland when we acquired Steve Reed and Karsay, especially to give us depth in the bullpen. And we counted about -- Bobby and I talked about it and we counted about ten ball games that we won this year that we wouldn't have won if we wouldn't have made that trade. That's not because we didn't have Rocker as the closer, it was because we might not have had enoough people to lead up to him What happened was, we made the trade. Then you add Smoltz to the equation, and Ligtenberg turned it on in the second half. Remlinger's been the top left-handed reliever setup guy in baseball for some time. We re-acquired Rudy Seanez, and he has been outstanding. We've always liked him. Now you got yourself a top-shelf bullpen where you figure you can match up any way you want after the sixth inning.

Q. Just to follow up, how hard is it to get guys into roles when they're changing all the time?

LEO MAZZONE: Well, number one, it's not that tough because they make their own roles, you know. You didn't have to be real smart to figure out that once Smoltz made a couple appearances in the setup role that he was going to end up closing. But we felt, too, that Karsay had saved six games for us and he could close. Remlinger could close. So, you know, we got a pretty good bullpen. Seanez can come in. Doesn't matter whether they're right- or left-handed hitters because he has a great changeup to equalize it. Same with Rem. Karsay has three great pitches and Smoltz has three. Ligtenberg has been real good. It's not that tough, really.

Q. How many closers do you know that have three pitches they can use?

LEO MAZZONE: Well, I'm sure a lot of them have two. Smoltz's got three. But I think the one thing that really is a pleasure to see is to see a closer come in with good control. That's not to knock anybody else, it's just that it seems like how the closer role has evolved is it's been somebody that can come in and throw 100 miles and hour and everybody go "Ohhh" and "Ahhh," and nobody knows where the ball's going, you look up and there's runners on first and second and two out every time you're trying to close out a ball game. Smoltz is coming in, firing bullets, throwing a nasty slider, a nasty split, but he has good control. I think being a starting pitcher like that helps with the control if you're going to close. Just like a guy like Eckersley, who had great control. So, you know, if you get beat in the ninth inning, and it's because somebody made a mistake with a pitch, that's just the human element of the game. If it's for some other crazy reason where guys are all over the place or they're being very erratic, then it makes you squirm a little more (laughing).

Q. Do you think part of that is Smoltz's age and experience and his personal demeanor, not just that he knows how to locate a pitch?

LEO MAZZONE: It's just Smoltz. I mean, I don't care how old he is. He's throwing like -- he's a tremendous athlete. I've always said there isn't a pitch invented or a delivery invented he couldn't perform because he's such a great athlete. No bigger example is when he had to drop down to alleviate a sore elbow a couple years ago and he was nasty doing it. So I think it's just the whole package that John brings mentally and physically.

End of FastScripts....

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