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Street vehemently opposed to using closers early

ANAHEIM -- Huston Street is a closer. With the Angels ahead of the Mariners, 4-2, in the ninth inning Saturday, he finished the game. Carson Smith is a closer; with the Mariners ahead of the Angels, 3-1, in the ninth inning on Friday, he had already pitched.

The Mariners used Smith in the eighth because it was the highest-leverage situation -- Mike Trout and Albert Pujols were due up. The Angels used Street for the final outs, because that's his job. Street likes it that way -- if his team tried implementing a season-long, leverage-based philosophy, he'd be gone.

"I'll retire if that ever happens," Street said. "If they ever tell me, 'Oh, we're gonna start using you in these high-leverage situations.' … All right, good. You now can go find someone else to do that, because I'm going home."

But that is the modern debate around closers: Should managers base back-end bullpen usage on leverage rather than the inning?

"People talk about how the game is decided right now mostly in the sixth and the seventh, sometimes the eighth. I think if you were to start using the closer in those types of innings, 25 years from now you'd start noticing most games are decided in the eighth and ninth," Street said.

Street's fine with determining closer usage from leverage for unique situations -- like the one the Mariners faced Friday. But not long-term. His argument is one that's been forwarded by other opponents of leverage-based bullpen construction: Defined roles are important to pitchers.

"It's a ridiculous idea. It really is," Street said. "The fact is, a bullpen functions best when you have roles. If you want to have a good 'pen, you need three or four guys that you trust. And if you trust them, give them roles, so they know what they have to do every day.

"You talk to anybody that's ever been part of a bullpen where they don't know their roles -- it's the most miserable experience, it's the most miserable season. Every single player -- good relievers who know exactly what they're doing in a 'pen, know exactly how to warm up -- they absolutely hate it as a person."

Without defined roles, Street said, pitchers can't maintain their routines, which takes its toll on a bullpen.

"You don't press a button and get loose," Street said. "That idea gets neglected."

If a reliever has to stretch two innings earlier every game, that's a lot of extra innings over the course of a season he has to be prepared to pitch.

"You multiply that over two or three guys in your 'pen, you're gonna end up wearing your guys out," Street said. "I don't like the idea of, 'Well, if you trust them all, then you can use them all in different positions.' Over the course of a season, you will make a 'pen worse."

Street's issue isn't pitching earlier than the ninth -- as long as he finishes the game. He's just not OK with roles constantly shifting because of the leverage during each game.

"It's too hard; it's too hard to know what's expected of you," Street said. "Those bullpens all wear down. You'll start seeing them give up bloop hits, get unlucky -- it's a direct correlation to the fact that guys are unsure going into that game, or they're worn out. Because they got up in the fifth one day, the ninth the next day, and the seventh and the eighth and the ninth the next day -- because they were all high-leverage situations.

"There's too many holes in the theory for me personally. I can't stand it. I think it's an idea that's built on paper but doesn't work in real life. That's really what it is to me."

David Adler is an associate reporter for Follow him on Twitter @_dadler.
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