Vizcaino making most of second chance as Braves closer

Arodys Vizcaino was perfect in five save opportunities since taking over at the beginning of August. (AP file photo)
Arodys Vizcaino was perfect in five save opportunities since taking over at the beginning of August. (AP file photo)

DENVER – A year after Arodys Vizcaino’s promising early-season stint as Braves closer was dashed by a series of injuries, he’s back in the role and pitching as if he wants to keep the job as long as possible.

He has a 2.28 ERA in 47 appearances, and since moving into the closer role this month “Viz” has been dominant, converting five of five save opportunities while allowing just one hit and one walk with five strikeouts in 5 2/3 scoreless innings over six appearances.

“Not everybody gets the opportunity to be a closer for a big-league team, so obviously you have to take advantage of that opportunity and make the most of it while you have it,” Vizcaino said through an interpreter. “I’m very grateful and happy that the team has the confidence in me to go out there and be the closer and get the job done. Obviously having the manager’s and the team’s encouragement and confidence means a lot.”

Braves manager Brian Snitker moved Vizcaino, 26, into the closer role after veteran Jim Johnson posted a 5.32 ERA with six blown saves in 19 chances during a 24-appearance stretch from May 23 through July 29. Johnson, who’s owed $4.5 million in 2018 in the second season of a two-year, $10 million contract, has been used lately in the seventh or eighth inning and could be traded if the Braves get any interest in the next two weeks or this winter.

Vizcaino is making $1.55 million this season and has two more years of arbitration before he’s eligible for free agency.

A year ago,  he began the season as the Braves’ closer and thrived in the role for nearly three months. Vizcaino posted a 1.93 ERA and .202 opponents’ average in 34 appearances through June 26 while converting 10 of 12 save chances and totaling 45 strikeouts with 15 walks and two homers allowed in 32 2/3 innings.

But just when it looked like he might make the All-Star team and/or get traded – there was considerable interest from teams -- he was sidelined by a topical infection in his elbow, then a strained oblique and later an inflamed shoulder.

Vizcaino never stayed healthy long enough to recapture his early season form, pitching just six innings in nine appearances after June 27 and posting an 18.00 ERA and .400 opponents’ average in those outings before he was shut down for the season in late August.

“When I got here last year he was the guy and he was throwing really well,” said Snitker, who took over as interim manager May 17. “And then he had some setbacks with injuries and whatnot. Now he’s back healthy again and he’s done a real good job. He’s got the closer’s stuff.”

Vizcaino had a pitch clocked at 100 mph Tuesday at Colorado, when he worked a perfect ninth inning with two strikeouts for the save in a 4-3 win that snapped the Braves’ 11-game Coors Field losing streak. Health hasn’t been an issue this season.

“I’m 100 percent -- maybe 200 percent,” Vizcaino said in English, smiling and not needing an interpreter to answer a question about his current health.

He obviously has the arm to be a closer, the stuff, and Vizcaino also has shown the mentality it takes to get what many consider to be the hardest three outs to record in games. He shows no sign of fear, which is quite important for anyone in the big-league closer role.

“Here in the big leagues anyone can hit a home run off you or get a hit off you,” Vizcaino said. “Anyone in the lineup. So you kind of just have to separate yourself from that and just focus mentally on the task at hand. It’s important, that’s the kind of thing where you don’t want to get lost in the moment, you’ve got to rise above it and focus on the situation instead of letting it, like, take advantage of you.”