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Dodgers' Jonathan Broxton answers the call, any time

Manager Joe Torre has summoned Dodgers' closer early, in eighth inning of Games 1 and 2, to create a more favorable matchup against Cardinals' Albert Pujols. Both times, it's paid off.

October 10, 2009|Dylan Hernandez

ST. LOUIS — Jonathan Broxton was called out of the bullpen with two out in the eighth inning Wednesday night.

The first batter he faced: Albert Pujols.

Broxton was called out of the bullpen again in the eighth Thursday evening, this time to start the inning.

The first batter he faced: Albert Pujols.

Both times, Broxton retired the hitter Dodgers Manager Joe Torre says is "in a class by himself."

Broxton fell behind 2-0 to Pujols but forced him to ground out to third on a 3-1 pitch on his way to earning a four-out save in the Dodgers' 5-3 victory over the St. Louis Cardinals in Game 1 of the National League division series.

He fell behind 2-0 again Thursday but got Pujols to pop up to second base to start a perfect eighth inning in the Dodgers' come-from-behind, 3-2 victory in Game 2.

"There's no fear in him," General Manager Ned Colletti said of Broxton.

Broxton, who as the Dodgers' closer is accustomed to being brought in for the ninth inning, said he wasn't surprised on either occasion when he was called out of the bullpen in the eighth.

And the All-Star said he won't be surprised if he is once again asked to enter the game earlier than usual today at Busch Stadium when the Dodgers attempt to complete a three-game sweep of the Cardinals in the best-of-five NLDS.

"It's good to have that trust from your manager," Broxton said.

On the eve of the opening game of the series, Broxton and setup man George Sherrill were summoned to the manager's office and told by Torre that when they pitched would be determined by where the Cardinals were in the lineup.

Torre was particularly concerned about the right-handed bats in the middle of the Cardinals' lineup, starting with that of Pujols, the league's leading MVP candidate.

Torre experimented with the tactic earlier in the season, calling on Broxton to pitch the eighth inning of a victory over the Chicago Cubs on Sept. 23 for matchup purposes. Sherrill, who was a closer in Baltimore until he was acquired by the Dodgers in late July, got the save in that game.

In this series, the strategy has resulted in Broxton's having to face Pujols.

Then Matt Holliday.

Then Ryan Ludwick.

Broxton retired all three in the eighth inning of Game 2, trading roles for a day with Sherrill, who pitched the ninth inning.

Broxton's four-out save the previous day wasn't as smooth, as he gave up a ninth-inning single to Ludwick, who later scored on a bloop double by Mark DeRosa.

But at least he wasn't beaten by Pujols.

Of the eight pitches Broxton has thrown to Pujols, three were clocked at 99 mph, two at 98 mph and two at 97 mph.

He's thrown only one slider.

"He's been struggling the last two games," Broxton said of Pujols, who is one for six with three walks in the series. "You can take his aggression and use his aggression against him."

Broxton said he has tried to dictate the terms of each at-bat against Pujols instead of the other way around.

"If I throw the ball where I want to, I can get anybody," he said.

Pitching coach Rick Honeycutt stressed the importance of that.

"That's what you want to see from your late-inning guys, especially your closer," he said. "That's the attitude that you're better than anybody who steps up there. You don't have that luxury of pitching around guys in that situation, especially in a close game."

Honeycutt also said that boldness shouldn't be confused with mindlessness.

"His preparation is outstanding," the coach said. "He's got to know the scouting report. I think you see him pitching a lot more than just saying, 'Here's 98, hit it if you can.' In too many people's eyes, it's, 'Oh, he's just rearing back and throwing. He's throwing 100.' There's a little more to it than that."

Broxton threw only fastballs to Pujols in a five-pitch at-bat in Game 1, but every pitch was low and away.

"You still have to be careful with him," Broxton said.

Torre said he went to Broxton with the Dodgers down by a run in Game 2 Thursday because of the upcoming off day Friday, but the closer said he had no concerns about shouldering an increased workload this month.

"You've kind of got to," he said. "You can't wait for later on. There might not be a later on."

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dylan.hernandez@latimes.com

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BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX

Pujols vs. the 'pen

How St. Louis' Albert Pujols has fared against Dodgers relievers:

*--* Pitcher Results Belisario Has never faced Broxton 1 for 10, 2 BB, 2 K Kuo 1 for 4, 1 RBI, 1BB, 1 K Sherrill Has never faced Troncoso 0 for 1, 1 BB Weaver 2 for 5, 2 RBI, 2 K *--*

Note: Stats are from regular season

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