If you want some insight into the real Ozzie Guillen, check out his handling of Heath Bell.
It’s too bad that Ozzie Guillen is best known for saying outrageous things, silly things. If you judge Ozzie Guillen by the headlines he generates, you’ll have Ozzie all wrong. Inside baseball, the men who’ve managed against Ozzie or played for him know a different Ozzie. This Ozzie is a really, really good manager. He’s good with people, and when the game starts, he’s very, very good.
Heath Bell is learning what it’s like to play for Ozzie. That is, Bell is finding out that Ozzie doesn’t abandon his players, that he gives them every possible chance to succeed. If things go south, he’s going to stick by a guy as long as he possibly can. He’s not going to punish the other 24 guys on the team, but he’s virtually always going to take the long view.
Ozzie has stuck with Heath Bell longer than a lot of other managers would. He has other options in his bullpen, but as he has said all along, “We’re a good team. We’re a better team with Heath Bell as our closer.”
Ozzie pulled the plug on Heath as his closer earlier this season, but even then, he announced very loudly that he simply was allowing Heath to take a deep breath and that he expected and hoped he’d get back to pitching the end of games as quickly as possible.
Bell did indeed get his job back and finished seven straight games. He converted four straight games, too, and with the Marlins playing the way they were expected to play, all seemed right with the world. Then Bell was unable to finish games both Saturday and Sunday.
Ozzie stayed with his guy. There’s no instruction book on dealing with a struggling closer. Does he risk shattering a guy’s confidence by removing him from the closer’s role a second time? On the other hand, there’s no reason to punish the other 24 players because the closer is unable to finish game.
“This is a very touchy sensitive point,” Guillen told reporters Sunday afternoon. “Like I told him a couple of minutes ago, it’s going to be tough for us to win if Heath Bell is not our closer.”
Bell got Sunday off during a 3-2 loss to the Giants, but with a two-run lead to protect on Memorial Day, Guillen went right back to Bell and got a perfect ninth for his eighth save. He’s 8 for 12 in save chances, which is not exactly Mariano Rivera stuff.
But Ozzie’s longer view is that his boss, GM Larry Beinfest, constructed his pitching staff with the idea of getting the ball to Heath Bell. Since an 8-14 start, the Marlins have sprinted back into contention by winning 19 of 27 and getting within 2 1/2 games of first place. As Guillen said, the Marlins are a good team, but they’re better with Heath Bell pitching the ninth inning. If it doesn’t work out, Bell will know his manager gave him every opportunity.