When Brian Wilson went down in the first week of the 2012 season, many Giants fans panicked because Sergio Romo didn’t seem like a viable replacement.
After all, the Giants didn’t have any proven ninth inning options, and the last several World Series champions, including the 2010 Giants, had proven closers.
Bruce Bochy didn’t make many fans feel better when installing Santiago Casilla as the closer, and after a very good start as closer, Casilla folded and cost the Giants some games. So then, the Giants went to a closer-by-committee format.
Why? Because they still didn’t fully trust Romo.
Eventually, Bochy started giving most of the opportunities for saves to Romo, and he made Bochy’s trust pay off in the regular season and in the playoffs. Romo went 1-0 with an 0.84 ERA and four saves with nine games finished in the playoffs, closing out the World Series with three perfect innings (total) in the World Series.
However, there are still some concerns about the little ball of energy that is the San Francisco closer.
Romo’s elbow has always been a concern, and his small size is as well. While I’m not worried about his size, as he has pitched three days in a row before and is much heavier than Tim Lincecum, his elbow, which acts up at times, is a concern.
Even when Romo was clearly the best in the bullpen, his durability concerns prompted Bochy to give the job to Casilla. However, after seeing Casilla thrive in low-pressure situations or in the eighth inning, it’s hard to give him the job. The Giants pursued other relievers in the offseason, but they weren’t trying to use Brandon Lyon as the closer.
Romo has been able to close games, and he showed he has the mentality to be a closer. It was on display even more when Romo allowed three consecutive hits and a run against the Reds in Game 5 of the NLDS, and one home run would end the Giants season. However, he recovered to battle Jay Bruce and win in 12 pitches, before striking out Scott Rolen to finish off the game.
That’s the moment when everyone realized that Romo had the guts to close. It would have taken a lot for Bochy to insert Romo into another bullpen role, and the closer-by-committee won’t work for a whole season. It worked during the stretch run, but Romo is a better option, and it’s much easier for relievers to operate in a settled role. And Bochy knows that.
As Andrew Baggarly of csnbayarea.com notes here, Bochy will have Romo start out as closer and save almost all of the games. He may give occasional save opportunities to Jeremy Affeldt or Casilla, but Romo will be the closer.
Casilla has struggled in high-pressure situations, and I don’t think he can operate in that situation for a whole season, and Bochy didn’t feel that way either. Javier Lopez cannot pitch to righties at all, and lefties, who are supposed to do well against Romo, hit under .200 against him last year.
So if the Giants do need to replace him, they won’t have many options from within the team. And to get another closer, they will have to trade some good players, and I don’t see the Giants, who don’t operate on trades or signings of big-name players, doing that, unless Romo goes down with an injury.
In addition, Bochy is a manager who runs on trust, and if Romo has a couple of bad games, Bochy won’t yank him from his role. Romo is consistent, and he took a heavier workload in 2012. There are breaks in the baseball season, and it’s not like Romo will be pitching every day. The Giants have a very strong bullpen that can eat up innings and five guys in the rotation that can go the distance on any day, so it’s not like Romo will be pitching every day.
Professional athletes are strong and can handle a lot, and Romo can definitely handle the closer’s workload. In the playoffs, he showed he has the late-season stuff and the guts to close out games and succeed on a big stage, and he’s ready to attack in 2013.
Set-up man is no easy role, and that’s the role Romo dominated in for most of the 2012 season, and he did that for all of 2011. Romo has proven to be durable, and he has proven that he can carve up any hitter at any time. Just ask Miguel Cabrera.
Last year, Romo converted 18 of his 19 save opportunities (including the postseason), and the only one he didn’t convert was when Casilla was closing and when Romo blew an eighth inning lead. Romo’s ERA was 1.79 last year, and there’s not much more the Giants can ask for him to do. He’s proven to be the best reliever on the Giants, and he’s proven that he can handle closing.
Which is why he’s going to be the Giants closer for a long time.