Dennis Hobein. 10th May, 2005 - 1:28 pm
This season is beginning to play out like a broken record for the Cubs, and for Cubs set-up man Latroy Hawkins. After losing another game to the Mets last night, one has to wonder exactly how much confidence does Hawkins have in himself? He looks as excited to enter a game as someone waiting in a dentist?s office for a root canal. It is obvious that Latroy Hawkins has lost all confidence in his ability to get a big league hitter out.
Last night, he was brought in to pitch the 8th inning, a situation he has admitted to being much more comfortable in. It didn?t matter. The very first pitch Doug Mientkiewicz saw was belted out to give the Mets a lead they would not relinquish. It doesn?t take a genius to figure out why hitters are teeing off on Hawkins. At the major league level, it doesn?t take long for the ?book? to get out on a certain pitcher or hitter. And the book on Hawkins is saying in big, bold letters, ?First pitch fastball, looking to get ahead in count.?
So, who is to blame for the dismantling of a once great set-up pitcher? Is it Dusty Baker?s fault for putting him in a situation Hawkins himself said he didn?t want? Or is it Hawkins fault for not having the mental strength and fortitude to close a ballgame, and not making the proper adjustments to get hitters out? Well, it?s probably a combination of both.
Last year, when Joe Borowski went down with a shoulder injury, Dusty Baker penciled in Latroy Hawkins as the closer for the rest of the year. How did Hawkins react? By holding a press conference saying, ?I don?t want to talk to the media anymore.? It was almost as if he knew what was coming. Blown saves is what was coming. As a manager, shouldn?t that maybe be a hint that this is going to end badly? Look at some of the all-time great coaches and managers in sports, such as Bobby Cox, Bill Belichick, and Phil Jackson. How do they succeed? They put their players in positions to succeed. Dusty Baker did the opposite of that. He put Hawkins in a position to fail, and fail he has?mightily.
That doesn?t mean Latroy Hawkins is off the hook. From the moment Joe Borowski went on the shelf, Hawkins?s acceptance of his new position had been apprehensive at best. Hawkins was successful as a set-up man, and he was scared to tamper with that success. Not quite the ?team first? attitude the Cubs were looking for. He has also been slow to make adjustments in his pitch sequence. Baseball is certainly a game of adjustments, and hitters are now locked in on that first pitch fastball. For some reason, Hawkins refuses to make the re-adjustment to throw his slider earlier in the count.
There is plenty of blame to go around for the fall of the once premier set-up man in the game. The question now for the Cubs and Dusty Baker is, ?How do we restore all that lost confidence?. Because confidence is exactly what has been lost for Latroy Hawkins and it is spreading like wild fire in that Cubs bullpen.