Street sets sights on ninth inning
Newly acquired reliever lost closer role in Oakland
TUCSON, Ariz. -- Rockies right-handed relief pitcher Huston Street prefers to never take it easy. But it took doing that to salvage last season.
Street, pitching for the Athletics, had held the closer job since 2005, but it began to slip away when he strained his left hip flexor while throwing to first base, after fielding a bunt from the Angels' Torii Hunter. He pitched through the injury with decreasing effectiveness, until the Athletics made Brad Ziegler their closer on Aug. 1.
But a funny thing happened on Street's path out of town -- a ticket that was punched Nov. 12 when he became one of three players sent to the Rockies for All-Star outfielder Matt Holliday.
Used in an earlier role by the Athletics, Street received the rest he needed, and maybe should have taken at the time of the injury. The schedule also called for a trip to Toronto, where he saw familiar doctors. The result was a 5-0 record with a 1.83 ERA in his final 17 games, which was enough to convince the Rockies to bring him in to compete with Manuel Corpas for the closer role in 2009.
"I didn't want to take time off," said Street, who has 94 career regular-season saves and two in the postseason. "It was probably a mistake in hindsight. At the same time, it led me to where I am now."
One way of looking at it is Street, 25, learned that while it's one thing to say all bullpen roles are important, he can say for sure that he can put his ego aside and be effective in a role lesser than closer. Of course, that does not mean he plans on settling for any less than pitching the ninth inning this year.
"I like throwing the ninth," Street said. "Throwing the sixth is great. Throwing the seventh is great. Throwing the eighth is great. But I want to throw the ninth. Yes, it's all three outs. But for me, that's the inning I've grown accustomed to.
"Once it became apparent that they weren't going to let me close anymore, then you start kind of realizing and you're hearing all the talk about trades, you're like, 'Let's just show that you still got it.' Everything happens for a reason in my book, and I finished the season strong and I ended up here with a great opportunity."
Street's difficulty last year highlighted the difficult choices facing an injured player -- whether to keep playing or trade some time out of the lineup for wellness, and possibly, production later.
Rockies veteran left-hander Alan Embree, whom Street calls "Father Embree," also played for the Athletics last season. Embree saw Street struggle to pitch with any power, and suffer when his pitches stayed flat and high. Embree said he tried to talk Street into taking time off, but understood why Street kept plowing.
"I told him, 'That's what I respect about you. You're not in there with aches and pains. You're willing to play injured,'" Embree said. "From a lot of guys, you don't see that. That had a little bit of old-school to it.
"It gets to a point where it's easy for another guy to tell a guy, 'Hey, you need a day off.' But the competitor inside you listens to that and goes, 'Yeah, I should, but I want the ball.'"
It was no coincidence that the strong finish started not long after the Athletics went to Toronto in early August.
In 2007, Street missed slightly more than two months with ulnar nerve irritation in his throwing arm. His strength coach, Lance Hooten, referred him to the Institute of Sports Medicine in suburban Toronto, where he worked with Dr. Anthony Galea, Dr. Anthony Masica, Dr. Mark Lindsay and strength coach David Alblack. With the Athletics' permission, the same team helped Street through his issues lat year.
Has Street learned a lesson about listening to the pain and backing away accordingly?
"I just have a tendency not to take time off -- maybe that's overworking," Street said. "Maybe I'm supposed to back off a little bit. I'm still learning."
Now that he's healthy, Street is prepared to go all-out this spring. He'll attack hitters with his mid-90s sinking fastball, which also sets up a hard slider.
Street has experience in one-on-one contests such as the one he'll have with Corpas. In 2005, a little less than a calendar year after the Athletics drafted him out of the University of Texas, he competed with Octavio Dotel in the Athletics' camp. Dotel began the year pitching the ninth, but Street took over once Dotel suffered an elbow injury.
"At the end of the day, yes, I hope they reward me with the ninth inning," Street said. "But if they don't, I'll show up the same every day and pull for the team the same way."
Thomas Harding is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.