« First pitch strikes key to starters success | Main | After Cubbies, Johan Santana awaits Marlins »

Is Leo Nunez on his way to becoming a shut-down closer?

CHICAGO -- There was a time last season when opposing hitters actually knew what Leo Nunez was going to be throwing them. They're looking a little more lost these days.

For the second time in as many nights, the Marlins closer put the finishing touches on a victory by retiring the side in order in the ninth for a save. It may not seem like much, but Nunez is now for seven for nine on the season (77.7 percent). That's not necessarily a better average than what he did last year when he was 26 of 33 (78.7 percent). 

But he is pitching better and not getting jumped on as often as he did a year ago for big home runs. Nunez has only allowed four hits to the 48 batters he's faced this season, the best batting average against in the majors (.087). And he's only walked five. 

Marlins pitching coach Randy St. Claire talked a little about Nunez before Tuesday's 3-2 win and believes he could be on his way to becoming a shut-down closer.

"He's been attacking the strikezone. His walks are way down. Except for the walks in New York, he's maybe walked two guys. He's being aggressive. That's a key to success," St. Claire siad. "If you're ahead of the hitters in the zone, they start chasing pitches out of the zone. If you're behind, they don't swing at those pitches that are borderline because those aren't the pitches they want to hit because maybe they're balls.

"To be a shut-down closer, you have to show people you're consistent. Time in and time out, you get the job done. That takes time. I think he's on his way. But he has to do that through the whole season and throw up 45 saves. That's when people say he's there. Then, do it another year and the next year. Then, you get that closer type of [reputation]."

Catcher John Baker said Nunez has been effective because of the addition of his slider. "He's keeping guys off balance," Baker said. "I think last year, guys could jus so one kind of speed and now he has three speeds going. That, and he's getting ahead of hitters."

> Of course, Nunez wasn't the only Marlins hero Tuesday. Ricky Nolasco rebounded from back-to-back losses with seven strong innings of five-hit ball. It was the 10th consecutive outing by a Marlins starter without giving up three runs and the 20th quality start on the season. The Marlins came in tied for 6th in baseball in quality starts and the fifth-lowest ERA by starters in the National League. Nolasco brought it down to 3.91.