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Hawkins a closer, and mentor, for Rockies

With career in final act, right-hander guiding Brothers through late innings @TracyRingolsby

DENVER -- LaTroy Hawkins is the Rockies' closer -- for the time being.

He's the guy the Rockies signed off the free-agent market last winter not only to get the final outs of victories but also to help lefty Rex Brothers develop into the reliever the Rockies believe he can be: their long-term answer to the challenges of the ninth inning.

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It wasn't Hawkins' idea, but he embraced it.

"It definitely surprised me," Hawkins said of the Rockies' interest in him as a closer. "When we had our conversation, it was what the Rockies wanted me to do, but they also made it clear that I'm just definitely keeping the seat warm until Rex is ready."

When will that be? Could be next week. Might be next month. Most likely, it will be sometime this year.

Until then, it's about Hawkins taking that get-the-final-out challenge while Brothers gets acclimated to late-inning big league work. It's about Hawkins providing the safety net so that Brothers can learn to deal with the bad times that come with the good in the big leagues.

It's up to Hawkins, at the age of 41, to draw on the experience of a big league career that is in its 20th season and reach out to help Brothers deal with moments like his struggles in back-to-back games starting last Sunday.

"You learn things over the years," said Hawkins. "One thing I learned is if you are going to pitch late in the game, you have to be comfortable being uncomfortable. Guys who are able to do that are successful."

In the first of those back-to-back outings, Brothers came on in the bottom of the 10th at San Francisco, and Brandon Crawford greeted him with a walk-off home run.

The next night, in San Diego, Brothers came on in the eighth inning with a 4-3 lead. After walking the first two batters he faced, the lefty issued a two-out walk to load the bases, then saw the Padres score the tying run on a wild pitch and what would be the winning run on an ensuing errant throw back to the plate by catcher Wilin Rosario.

And that, as much as anything, is what Hawkins is trying to help Brothers understand.

"There are things other than what is on the field," Hawkins said.

It's about the mental challenges, more than the physical. It's about helping Brothers learn to forget yesterday and focus on today.

It's about watching Brothers respond to those back-to-back disappointments by working a 1-2-3 seventh inning -- in which he struck out two Padres batters -- in last Thursday's 3-1 win, which closed a road trip.

And it's about Brothers responding to the challenge by setting up for Hawkins on Tuesday.

After Brothers got Pablo Sandoval to ground into an inning-ending double play in the eighth, then got Brandon Belt to bounce back to the mound to open the ninth, he handed the ball over to Hawkins to get the final two outs of the Rockies' 2-1 victory over the Giants at Coors Field.

Hawkins converted his sixth save in six opportunities. It was a bit challenging. He walked Crawford and gave up a single to Gregor Blanco, but then struck out Hector Sanchez and got Angel Pagan on a ground ball to shortstop.

Though he recorded only two outs, that's as many baserunners -- two -- as Hawkins had allowed in his four previous saves combined.

That's life in the ninth inning.

And Hawkins has had enough ninth-inning exposure to know everything about the role, having pitched for 10 big league teams.

He was the closer for the Twins in 2001, only to get hurt late that season and see Eddie Guardado assume the role. And there have been three in-season emergency calls when others were hurt -- Joe Borowski with the Cubs in '04, Jose Valverde with the Astros in '09, and Bobby Parnell with the Mets last season.

"It is different," Hawkins said of the role of a closer, "but you try not make to make different. How? I can't tell you, but you do."

Most of all, Hawkins said, he just likes playing baseball, regardless of when he is asked to pitch, and he has particularly enjoyed his time in Colorado, which is why the right-hander was eager to get a deal done when the Rockies made him an offer.

"I have no bad memories about Denver," said Hawkins. "That [2007] season was one of the most special times in my career."

It was a special time in baseball history.

Not just because the Rockies made their only World Series appearance, in which they were swept by Boston, but because of how they got there.

The Rockies won 21 of 22 games before having to wait nine games to play Game 1 of the World Series. Still, that run featured a Game 163 tiebreaker win with San Diego to claim the National League Wild Card spot, then a three-game sweep of Philadelphia in the NL Division Series and a four-game sweep of Arizona in the NL Championship Series.

"There was a bond on that team that you never forget," said Hawkins. "It's a memory that will last forever."

It's a moment Hawkins would like to help the Rockies repeat.

Tracy Ringolsby is a columnist for

Colorado Rockies, Rex Brothers, LaTroy Hawkins