Trevor Hoffman has asked himself the same questions that filled Internet message boards and talk radio airwaves since he suffered his fifth blown save on Tuesday.
Have his 42 years finally caught up to him? Is the all-time saves leader at the end of the line?
“I always said the hitters would let me know, and they’re talking awfully loud,” Hoffman said. “It’s not like I’m putting together a lot of 1-2-3 innings. Balls have been up, and I’ve been getting hurt by it.”
But when faced head-on with a question like, “Is this the end?” Hoffman’s answer is a resounding no. He said Wednesday afternoon that he still wants the ball in the ninth inning.
“If it was something other than the fact I was getting my head beat in, I would worry,” Hoffman said. “But there isn’t a whole lot that has changed. My mechanics are the same. Stuff-wise, it’s been a little inconsistent as far as pitches are concerned. But it’s not as if I was throwing 90 [mph] last year and I’m throwing 80 this year. I’m a mid-80s guy. The change-up has been mid- to low-70s. Not much is off in those numbers.
“I’m worried, don’t get me wrong. Or, frustrated, that’s the better word. ‘Worried’ makes it sound like you’re just hoping to get people out. No, you have to prepare, and I’m doing that. There’s frustration because something is not going right.
“Am I tipping my pitches? Has it finally caught up that I’m 42? I don’t know. It’s something that’s out of my control.”
Hoffman inherited a 4-2 lead in Cincinnati on Tuesday and retired none of the five batters he faced. Scott Rolen hit a tying-two-run home run, and three batters later Joey Votto lined a game-winning hit off the wall that went in the books as a long single.
It was Hoffman’s fifth blown save in 10 chances this season, one more blown save than he had in 41 chances during his fabulous 2009 debut season in Milwaukee. Hoffman’s ERA entering Wednesday’s game in Pittsburgh was 13.15 and opponents were hitting him at a .356 clip with seven home runs. In 2009, he only allowed two home runs all year.
“I don’t have the answers to the questions being posed,” Hoffman said. “If it was as easy as, start throwing a two-seamer [fastball] and it’s the fix, we would do it. It’s not as easy as that. You almost have to forget about what’s gone on so far and focus on the only thing you can control. That’s the next outing.”
Asked whether he felt physically well, Hoffman said, “I don’t feel any different than I have in the past. There’s nothing glaring, let’s put it that way.”
Would he consider doing something he’s never done before in his career — stepping aside to let someone else close games for a bit?
“I don’t have the answer to that,” Hoffman said. “We’ll see.”
He understands that manager Ken Macha is in a difficult position.
“He has to win ballgames, and I’m putting him in a tough spot,” Hoffman said. “It takes the wins out the club’s sail, and I’m sure there’s been a hangover effect after some of the [blown saves]. … Everybody has been grinding for the last week in a half. Hitters have been grinding at-bats. Pitchers have been working their tails off in the rotation and trying to pass that through the bullpen. You finally put it together as a game [on Tuesday] and to let it get away, that’s pretty frustrating.”