July 1, 2005

Cordero mystified by sudden rise to the top

By Steve Ginsburg

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Chad Cordero admits he is mystifiedabout his sudden rise from run-of-the-mill reliever to dominantcloser.

"For some reason I'm going out there and being successful,"said the 23-year-old Washington Nationals right-hander. "Ican't figure it out. And hopefully I never do."

Cordero leads the majors with 28 saves and has an ERA of0.87. The soft-spoken, affable pitcher is the chief reason theupstart Nationals sit atop baseball's National League WestDivision.

"I am a bit surprised," conceded Cordero. "I never thoughtI would be having this kind of success."

Cordero, a third-year major league reliever, had just 14saves and a 2.98 ERA in 69 games last season when thetransplanted Nationals played in Canada as the Montreal Expos.

While most top relievers rely on a strong arm, Cordero'sfast ball rarely hits 90 mph. His mechanics are the same fromlast year; only the results are different.

"It's kind of weird," said Cordero as music blared in theNationals' clubhouse. "The guys are swinging right through mypitches, like I'm throwing 95. I'm lucky; it's working."


Nationals general manager Jim Bowden said Cordero's bestasset was how the ball moved when it reached the plate.

"He has dominating stuff in the (strike) zone," Bowdensaid. "It has late movement. He is not afraid to challengehitters and go right after them. He's a very special pitcher.

"He's got the confidence. He knows how good he is now. Whenyoung guys with good stuff get confident, watch out."

The portly appearance of the 1.83-meter, 90-kg Corderobelies his dominance. Maintaining a team tradition he had whilein college, Cordero flattens out the bill of his hat and pullsit down just over his eyes when he takes the mound.

With the All-Star game some two weeks away, Cordero isconsidered a lock to represent the Nationals. That is quite aleap for someone who was not even named the team's closer untilthe end of spring training.

"When you have a closer that's doing so well it sets up therest of your bullpen," said centerfielder Brad Wilkerson. "Theyknow their roles. They know what they're going to do everynight.

"It's really helped the whole bullpen knowing he's going tocome in every night if we're winning by three runs or less andhe's going to close the door."


When Cordero converts a save opportunity, he pumps his fistinto his glove and then his chest while performing a pirouetteoff the mound.

He has had a lot of practice recently, having converted 25straight save chances.

"One day out of nowhere I was excited after getting out ofa big jam and I did that and it sort of stuck," said Cordero ofhis post-game ritual. "I do it pretty much all the time now."

Cordero's success and the turnaround of the formerlyhapless franchise (67-95 a year ago as the Expos) haveWashington baseball fans dreaming of a postseason berth.

"Nobody picked us to be where we are right now," saidCordero. "Everybody thought we would be dead last. So to be infirst right now is a big surprise to all of us."