Last year, if Bob Wickman had faltered a bit, we wouldn't have even been having these thoughts. For Bob Wickman though, a better supporting cast in the pen is a double-edged sword, which means more competition and a shorter leash. After being perfect through his first six save opportunities, the veteran's last two outings have not gone so well. In the Braves only monumental collapse this season, Wickman gave up two hits and walked one, allowing all three of the inherited runners to score and then a pitch in the dirt, scored as a passed ball, allowed the winning runner to cross home plate. I was not worried then; every closer will blow a save once in a while, but last night looked even worse. Before making a slashing motion across his throat to the Braves bench indicating he was done, Wickman allowed three runs on two hits and two walks in less than an inning, but was removed and Peter Moylan eventually picked up the save.
I am not worried that somehow Wickman has fallen apart and will not be an effective reliever, but how far will Bobby let Wickman go before he turns to one of his more dominant relievers? Mike Gonzalez, after a slow start, has returned to last year's form and Rafael Soriano has been nothing short of great in the tight games he has entered. Both are harder to hit, post better strikeout rates, and have shown better control thus far than Wickman. Coming into the season, I as well as most Braves fans believed that one of the two imported relievers would make a better closer, but Wickman had earned his spot. If he has a couple more of these outings, Wickman could be looking at seventh or eighth inning duties.
If it does come to that, there are multiple schools of thought as to who gets the first shot at the closers role. Mike Gonzalez has the history of being a shutdown closer (2.17 ERA, 24/24 SV) but being the only proven lefty, Bobby may want the flexibility of using him in the seventh or eighth innings and opt to go with the right-handed Rafael Soriano, who has no history of closing but better control. One more option is a closer by committee of the two, using Gonzalez against a lefty-heavy portion of the lineup or Soriano against one that has more righties. This isn't a guarantee, but a couple more mediocre or bad outings, and we could see someone different coming from the pen in the ninth.