By Ernie Palladino
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Anyone looking to add a little extra excitement to baseball spring training should keep an eye on the Mets' and Yankees' closer situations.
If nothing else, the main protagonists will provide a stark contrasts in ability, style, and outlook.
In Tampa, 43-year-old Mariano Rivera has already determined what he'll do after the 2013 season. Of course, none of us will know those plans until he deigns to tell us, maybe in a week or so. Fans will have to content themselves until then with watching Mo conduct his comeback from a blown ACL with the same cool determination he's used to saw off one opponent's bat after another in the ninth inning.
In Port St. Lucie, you'll see a totally different picture, and pitcher. Terry Collins let it slip on the radio his intentions of making hard-throwing Bobby Parnell his closer. This has already provided a modicum of entertainment, since Parnell wasn't even apprised of it before Collins hit the airwaves.
Ordinarily, a reliever with a 100 MPH fastball would welcome such news. And there's no saying that Parnell hasn't or won't embrace the opportunity. He has one problem, though, and it doesn't lie 60 feet, six inches away. It's more like the span between his thumb and pinky laid against both temples.
Parnell, you see, has all the confidence of a Mark Sanchez. In other words, he's a tad shaky upstairs. Not that he doesn't have good reason. In 2011, he blew six of 12 save opportunities. Last year, he blew five of 12.
Since his rookie season in 2008, he's blown 17 of 31 chances.
These are not the kind of stats one wants from a live-armed kid. But that's just the point, perhaps. It takes time to develop a good closer, and it's possible Parnell's strong finish last year has convinced him that this is his time. The door is certainly open, since Collins' first choice, Frank Francisco, probably won't be ready for Opening Day because his rehab from offseason bone spur surgery on his elbow has lagged.
It might help that Parnell seems to have taken some of the heat off himself.
"Maybe I put a little more pressure on myself in the past, but I can't do that now," Parnell told the media Wednesday. "It is the last line of defense, but you can't think about it like that. If you do, you've already lost the battle, and that's what I've been learning."
He could do himself a favor by glancing a bit northward toward Legends Field, where Rivera conducts his business. From the time he took over the closer role for John Wetteland in 1997, he has exuded nothing but confidence.
Even now, as he comes back with a lightweight brace that probably will support his repaired right knee throughout the season, he maintains that stoic demeanor.
"I won't be a nine when camp ends," Rivera told the media as he gauged his efficiency on a 1-to-10 scale. "I'll be a 10 when I'm finished."
Until he fails to achieve that, one would be foolish to think he won't. That's the level of his determination. Injury or not, he expects to throw that cut fastball with the same location and efficiency that has made him history's greatest reliever.
It's the type of confidence Parnell could use a dose of right now. He has all the tools. He just needs the head to go along with them.
Compare and contrast. Go ahead. It'll make the next six weeks even more interesting.
Will we see vintage Mo in 2013? How confident are you in Parnell? Baseball fans, be heard in the comments!
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