Rockies' Corpas learning on the job to be a big-league closer

DENVER (AP) - Rockies closer Manuel Corpas knew he was late and tried to sneak into the clubhouse without fellow reliever Jorge Julio noticing.

However, Corpas was busted. Julio was waiting for him near his locker and simply pointed at the clock. Julio gave Corpas - only a few minutes tardy - a lecture on punctuality.

Corpas just listened, something he's been doing a lot of since inheriting the closer's role when Brian Fuentes went on the disabled list earlier this month.

Colorado's relievers have taken the 24-year-old Corpas under their wings, giving him pointers, tips and, when necessary, lectures. Corpas is just glad they care enough to share, and he's putting the advice to good use. He's been brilliant in Fuentes' absence, going 6-for-6 in save opportunities since the promotion.

"He knows nothing about closing, so I teach him," Julio said with a grin. "He's got the mentality to be good."

Not to mention wicked movement on his pitches.

"He has electric stuff," reliever Matt Herges said. "The one thing that he does as good as any young kid I've seen is he believes in his stuff. He's come to the realization that his stuff is really good. He's like, 'Here it is. I'm going to ram it down your throat and see what you can do with it."'

Manager Clint Hurdle had no reservations about giving the job to Corpas. Although young and inexperienced - he hadn't saved a major-league game until this season - Hurdle thought he could handle the pressure.

"He doesn't have the deer in the headlights look," Hurdle said. "He respects everything and he's in awe of nothing - so far."

Although Corpas is enjoying his new job, he's not sure how long it's going to last. Fuentes is out with a strained left lat muscle and is eligible to return anytime. Corpas fully expects the closer's role to revert back to Fuentes, a three-time All-Star, once he's healthy.

However, it's not a guarantee. Fuentes had his share of pitching woes before going on the DL. Fuentes blew four straight saves and was demoted.

"I know the job's a temporary one," Corpas said through an interpreter. "It's his role. I'll pitch the seventh or eighth (when Fuentes comes back). I just want to help the team."

Corpas grinned.

"I like this, though," he said of closing.

Corpas has a bevy of former closers at his disposal should he ever need advice. Julio had 36 saves for Baltimore in 2003. Herges had 23 saves for San Francisco in 2004 and LaTroy Hawkins had 28 saves in 2001 for Minnesota and 25 for the Chicago Cubs in 2004.

"It's great for him to have so many (former closers) here," Hawkins said. "He can get a lot of different perspectives. I just tell him to believe in himself. We know he can pitch."

Corpas earned his first big-league save on July 7 against Philadelphia, striking out all three batters he faced in the ninth.

He's been prepping for this moment ever since he was signed by Colorado in 1999 at the age of 16. Corpas was briefly a starter for Single-A Tri-City in 2003 - going 5-6 with a 5.79 ERA - and then converted into a reliever. He had 19 saves last season for Double-A Tulsa.

Corpas pitched eight games last season at Triple-A Colorado Springs before being called up to the Rockies last July.

Now, he's living a dream.

"I've always wanted to be a big-league closer," said Corpas, who's from Panama City, Panama.

Hurdle hasn't been afraid to turn the ball over Corpas this season. He leads the team with 52 appearances and has held opponents scoreless in 43 of those outings.

"I think we've all felt this guy was a special arm," Hurdle said.

Hurdle gave Corpas his first real test last season, putting him into a pressure-packed game against the Chicago Cubs on Aug 13. Hurdle thought about inserting Jose Mesa in the eighth inning with Colorado holding onto a 7-5 lead. Instead, he opted for Corpas, who gave up a three-run double to Ryan Theriot for a blown save in the 8-7 loss.

"He didn't do well," Hurdle said. "I had a lot of questions that were pointed about how can you bring that young man into this situation? I said I thought he was a pretty special young man and those situations would be coming his way with more frequency in the future."

Hurdle was right. Corpas has been exceptional in the role.

"What he's done, it's been special," Hurdle said. "And he's not finished."


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