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08/21/08 12:11 PM ET
Lewis kept on his toes in closer role
Right-hander knows that ninth-inning success can be fleeting
By Anthony Castrovince / MLB.com
CLEVELAND -- As reporters walked over to starter Zach Jackson following Wednesday night's 8-5 victory over the Royals, David Dellucci offered a little advice for the scribes. "Save some ink for J-Rod!" Dellucci yelled across the clubhouse. And when Jamaica's Usain Bolt was shown on the big-screen TV breaking the 200-meter world record in the Summer Olympics, Dellucci said, "This guy is to running what J-Rod is to saves." J-Rod? That would be Jensen Lewis, in case you're wondering. The newly installed 24-year-old closer got the Francisco and Alex Rodriguez-inspired nickname from Dellucci earlier this week. "J-Rod" is not a designation meant to inflate Lewis' opinion of himself. Quite the opposite, in fact. Dellucci has been around the game long enough to see how success can negatively impact the mind-set of a young player, and he doesn't want to see that happen to Lewis, who has never been short on confidence to begin with. "This game's amazing in that it has a way of humbling you," Dellucci said. "This is the Major Leagues. People have scouting reports on you, and it catches up with you pretty quick. That's a fact of life." Dellucci isn't belittling Lewis or his accomplishments, which, following Wednesday's action, included four saves in as many opportunities since the Indians desperately thrust him into the ninth-inning role on Aug. 8 in Toronto. Rather, Dellucci is finding a good-humored way of keeping Lewis on his toes. By overplaying Lewis' success, he is subtly reminding Lewis not to get ahead of himself. The good news here is that Lewis gets the message. "You've got to have thick skin, for sure," Lewis said. "Veterans don't give out a lot of love until you earn it. It keeps you humble and wanting more. You can't change your personality if things go well or go bad. You have to be the same guy, win or lose." Lewis has experienced both ends of that spectrum this season. Yes, he's rolling now, but he knows he's only a few months removed from giving up, among other things, a game-winning homer to Boston's Jason Varitek on April 15 and a walk-off walk to Adam Dunn in Cincinnati on May 16. Those particularly rough outings were part of a sophomore slump that got the best of Lewis in this season's first half and led to an extended stay at Triple-A Buffalo. Lewis said that demotion "definitely ate at" him, and that's allowed him to temper his enthusiasm over what is currently transpiring. Beyond that, Lewis knows that his opportunity as the club's closer could very easily be a fleeting one -- as most opportunities in the Major Leagues are. So, for now, Lewis appears to have his head in check. Should "J-Rod" stray from that mentality, one need not look far across the clubhouse to find the guy who will make sure he gets back in line. "It's a lot more effective to do it in an easygoing nature," Dellucci said. "But I can get on you pretty quick if you don't catch on."
Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.