All-time saves leader blows another save

With Trevor Hoffman (cough) struggling as Milwaukee's closer, Scott Pianowski wonders who might be in line to replace Hoffman ...

Sounds like Hoffman will get a chance to right the ship, but it's important for us to look around the Milwaukee bullpen to find a possible successor, just in case. Get out the notebook and let's see what's what.

LaTroy Hawkins has been the bridge to Hoffman most of the year but he's been struggling as well, getting hit hard in three of his last five outings (eight hits, eight runs). Todd Coffey has been passable as a set-up man (3.72 ERA, 1.34 WHIP) and was a mediocre closer for the Reds in 2006, if that matters to you. And then there's Carlos Villanueva, who's been far and away the most dominant man in this bullpen (11 IP, 5 H, 0 R, 4 BB, 14 K). If you have to own a non-Hoffman reliever on this team, I'd suggest betting on the skills and going with Villanueva.

If the Brewers eventually look towards Triple-A for some relief help, there are some options. Closer Chris Smith has already collected eight saves with Nashville (8 IP, 5 H, 1 R, 2 BB, 9 K), though he's also 29 and can't really be called a prospect. The real tantalizing arm belongs to left-handed set-up man Zach Braddock; he's been out of this world (9.2 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 2 BB, 17 K). But those are just names to tuck away for now; when Milwaukee has a lead to protect later this week, Hoffman figures to have the ball.

Pianowski wrote that before Hoffman blew another save this afternoon, giving up yet another home run; he's now allowed six homers after allowing only two in all of 2009. The Brewers are contenders, for the wild card if not the division title. They're simply going to have to try something else.

Villanueva would seem to be the obvious choice at hand, if only because he's got that big arm. But he's also got a home-run problem, giving up 55 in 383 career innings. He hasn't given up any homers this season and maybe Ken Macha has a short memory. But after watching Hoffman feed so many gophers, I'd probably look for somebody who keeps the ball in the park.

Coffey and Hawkins? Meh.

Young Zach Braddock is intriguing, having thrived since shifting to relief chores last spring. But you don't pluck a kid from Triple-A in April (or May) and install him as your closer. Especially a kid who's dealt with all sorts of physical and emotional issues since high school. Not if you're trying to win this season, anyway.

Like most teams, the Brewers don't have a bunch of great relief pitchers just hanging around, waiting to knock 'em down in the ninth, 1-2-3. This is really where most people think a manager earns his keep, turning an impossible situation into something less than disastrous. But the truth is that most managers simply aren't up to it.

Update: Pianowski doesn't consider Manny Parra, but Ken Macha probably should, as Parra's been outstanding as a reliever this month. We do know that most great closers are failed starters...