Last season was an audition for Miami Marlins closer Steve Cishek. The Marlins had signed free agent Heath Bell to a three-year contract prior to the start of last year, though Bell struggled early, and by the All-Star break, the closer job was Steve Cishek's to lose.
After having an inconsistent start of his own and not receiving many opportunities, Cishek has been dominant, converting 26 consecutive saves.
"The start I had was terrible, I was just all over the place, not consistent. To be able to kind of buckle down and put some sort of consistency together was huge for me," Cishek said in an interview with the Sun-Sentinel.
Cishek's April earned run average was 5.25, and he went 1-3 over the course of the season's first month.
Cishek also believed that at the beginning of the year he was trying to do too much and was too hard on himself. Despite a side-armed delivery, Cishek doesn't blame his lack of immediate success on an inconsistent motion towards the plate.
"There's going to be times you give up runs and give it up," Cishek said. "At the beginning of the season I felt like that I can't allow that to happen. Instead of accepting it I was too hard on myself. After awhile I said, ‘whatever, God has a plan, just roll with it'. So that made it easier for me to settle in and get my confidence back."
Manager Mike Redmond has made an effort to keep Cishek fresh, asking him to pitch in several non-save situations. Cishek witnessed and Redmond heard about the collapse of Bell, who at times was asked to enter a game with a one or two run lead having not pitched in a game over the span of three or four days.
"We know we've got to pitch him in games, even though it may not be a save situation, to keep him sharp," Marlins manager Mike Redmond said. "Early in the season he scuffled. Part of that was we hadn't gotten him into a lot of games."
A large part of Cishek's April struggles was the success left-handed hitters were having against him. Early in the season, Redmond had Mike Dunn warming up at times when Cishek couldn't retire a lefty. Cishek removed a changeup from his repertoire and added a splitter, which he said led to his success against lefties.
"It's a lot easier to throw, and it might be a little easier on my elbow, too," Cishek said of the splitter. "I'm starting to get more comfortable throwing it to lefties. If I can keep throwing it consistently I'll use it against righties too because it will be a good pitch just to get under their bats."
In 21 second half appearances, Cishek has posted a 1.23 ERA. He is 31/33 on the season, and according to the Sentinel, has converted 44 of 47 saves after taking over for Bell in 2012.
Heading into the offseason, Cishek is expected to remain the squad's closer. A 2.54 ERA and poise and consistency after a rough start may have saved his job.
"We've had a couple long stretches where we played really well, and he was a big part of that," Redmond said. "I like his confidence on the mound; I like his presence. He's not scared, he goes right after guys."
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