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Heath Bell blew his sixth save of the season on Sunday, and that could cost him his job as Miami Marlins closer very soon.
"I stand behind him, Marlins manager Ozzie Guillen said after the Marlins lost 5-4 to St. Louis on Sunday. "But on another hand he's got to be better than that. He is better than that."
With reliever Juan Carlos Oviedo (nee Leo Nunez) due back from suspension later this month, Guillen does not feel like he has no other option at the end of games than Bell anymore. Nunez saved 92 games over the past two seasons. He can join the Marlins as soon as July 23.
"If [Bell] doesn't get better, I'll find a solution," Guillen said. "I will find a solution because I just get tired to watch this, very disappointing to watch this everyday."
Last week, Guillen called Oviedo's impending return the "biggest trade of the year." He added, "Hopefully, he'll throw the ball like he has in the past." Guillen demoted Bell to middle relief once before, in May. But that demotion did not stick, and Bell eventually resumed closing close games.
Bell is not the only reason the Marlins limped to a 41-44 record through the midpoint of the 2012 season, but he begs to differ. "I'm the reason we're 10 games back, plain and simple," Bell told the Miami Herald on Sunday.
He is at least partially responsible. Bell is currently sporting a 6.75 ERA to go with the 6 blown saves, one shy of his career high (set in 2008 with San Diego). Bell has walked 11.9% of batters faced and struck out 19.1% (his career averages are 8.5% and 24.6%, respectively).
Nunez may not be a huge upgrade. For his career, Nunez has a 4.34 ERA, but has blown 21 save opportunities in the past three seasons. He walks fewer batters than Bell (7.7%), but also strikes out fewer (18.9%).
There will be questions about his fitness, having just made his first appearance in live action on Monday. Nunez pitched an inning for Class A Jupiter. He passed that test, retiring all three batters he faced. He struck out one, and his fastball hit 95 mph on the radar gun.
Nunez has also added a slider to his repertoire (which consisted mostly of fastballs and changeups). "His slider looks really good," teammate Emilio Bonifacio told the Herald (he is rehabbing with Jupiter). "He'll be a much better pitcher with three pitches instead of two."
Nunez has proven capable to close for the Marlins before. With Bell struggling mightily, he could arrive back to the team when his suspension ends with a perfect opportunity to take back his old job. The Marlins severely need one of the two to get hot in the second half, and hope that having two closers will prove to be better than only one.