Bell shows he can thrive, no matter the spot
Closer gets first save, keeps 0.00 ERA in atypical atmosphere
JUPITER, Fla. -- The atmosphere wasn't the same as a packed big league park when Heath Bell entered in the ninth inning on Tuesday afternoon, but the result was familiar.
Before a crowd of 2,920 at Roger Dean Stadium, Bell picked up his first Grapefruit League save, locking down the ninth in the Marlins' 3-1 win over the Nationals.
It marked his first save since signing a three-year deal with Miami in December.
"Some closers say they can't pitch in spring because the adrenaline isn't out there," Bell said. "But can you still pitch?"
Although he is armed with a 95-mph fastball, Bell prides himself on being able to throw his offspeed pitches in any count, at any time. He did that on Tuesday, striking out Jason Michaels and Seth Bynum on full-count breaking balls. Both went down looking.
Care-free off the field, Bell is intense on the mound.
Since he became a closer for the Padres in 2009, his 132 saves are the most in the big leagues over the past three years.
"You can use that adrenaline against you, or you can use it for you," Bell said. "I've learned to use it for me. It doesn't mean I can't pitch in a Spring Training game and get people out and put up good numbers."
Along with bringing All-Star credentials to Miami, Bell also plans on continuing to use his same entrance music. Marlins fans will get used to hearing, "Blow Me Away" by Breaking Benjamin.
The song was introduced to Bell when he was in Norfolk in the Mets' organization.
Brian Chicklo, now the Mets' assistant trainer, picked the song for Bell.
"Brian actually found that in Norfolk years ago," Bell said. "I said when I got to the big leagues, and when I close, I'm going to use it.
"I'm a closer now. I've been using it in the big leagues the last few years. It's kind of worked. I like the song. It's got some bells in the beginning. It talks about saving the day and all that stuff. So I think it works."
You can't argue with success.
Bell has a string of three straight years of saving at least 42 games. He had 43 in 2011.
"Those guys know what they're doing," manager Ozzie Guillen said. "They're veteran players. They know what they have to do to make it happen here."
One of the Marlins' main offseason acquisitions, Bell had five previous Grapefruit League appearances, but none in a save situation. Mostly he entered in the seventh inning to get in his work.
With the regular-season opener eight days away, Bell had an actual save situation, and he converted. He struck out two and hit a batter in a scoreless frame.
"Closing in a Spring Training game or closing in a Major League game, the only difference is the crowd is into it," Bell said. "And you're not baking in the sun every single day."
Whenever called upon this spring, Bell has produced. The innings may not have been the cleanest, because his mechanics aren't quite yet where he'd like. But he's moving in that direction.
Even on Tuesday, he labored a bit with fastball command, running the counts full to the first two hitters he faced, before striking them out. Bell grazed Brett Carroll with a pitch with two outs. He had three balls on Carroll, as well. But Bell polished off the inning by retiring Andres Blanco on a ground ball to second.
"Most of all of my pitches have been working," Bell said. "Now I just need to go out there and execute every single thing. I keep putting at least one walk up there, and it's kind of driving me nuts, because I'm a strike thrower.
"It's one of those things where I try to go out and put up an egg shell every inning, whether I'm closing or not. In my last outing, the first guy got on, and then you could see me, I just beared down, because all of a sudden I didn't want anybody to score."