Saturday, March 17, 2007

Red Sox Eye Diamondbacks Jorge Julio as Closer

Perhaps mindful of right-hander Jorge Julio's 12 strikeouts per nine innings ratio and 95-mph fastball, the Red Sox are among teams looking to pick up the Arizona Diamondbacks setup man and part-time closer.

Play-by-play announcer Ray Fosse made the disclosure during the radio broadcast of Oakland's 8-5 Cactus League loss to Arizona on Friday, when Julio struck out two while giving up two earned runs in 1.1 innings of middle relief. Fosse cited no sources, but if his report is true the Red Sox can be added to list of other teams interested in Julio, most notably the Giants and Marlins, both of which have unsettled bullpens.

It's unknown what any of the teams might offer to acquire Julio from Arizona.

The Red Sox have signed former Mariners starter Joel Piniero, who became a free agent in December, with the idea of his replacing closer Jonathan Papelbon, who has moved to the rotation. But Piniero has been given no promises about the closer's job.

The proposition of Piniero's conversion is so rocky that considerations persist that the team may have to fall back on veterans Mike Timlin and Julian Tavarez or youngsters Manny Delcarmen and Craig Hansen. Hansen is widely regarded as the favorite should Pineiro stumble.

The Red Sox are also believed to have been in discussions to acquire Chad Cordero from Washington, perhaps in exchange for outfielder Wily Mo Pena. Rumors of those talks, however, have been quiet for several weeks.

Pineiro, 28, was 30-18 in 2002-03, but since then his ERA has risen from 3.78 to 6.36 and strikeouts per nine innings have fallen from about seven to less than five. Piniero struggled with an 8-13 record in 25 starts last year, but held hitters to a .213 average during 15 relief appearances after being demoted to the bullpen.

Last year's relief performance has given rise to belief that Piniero may be able to convert to the closer's job, but questions linger as to his ability to endure the rigors of throwing on successive days as he has been a starter for almost his entire career.

Julio's ERA stands at 2.84 for the spring, and was 3.83 last year when he blew four of 19 save opportunities before giving way to Jose Valverde, who has been restored to the Arizona closer's role to start this season.