Jon Rauch making most of second chance
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He'd been a fill-in closer for the Washington Nationals that summer, converting 17 of 22 save opportunities in place of injured Chad Cordero before Arizona acquired him for a top prospect on July 23.
Once in the desert, Rauch melted down, going 0-6 with a 6.56 earned-run average in 26 appearances. The D-Backs missed the playoffs by two games.
That was Rauch's low point.
That was when Rauch knew something had to change.
"I didn't want to do it twice," Rauch said on Monday, before the Minnesota Twins' home opener against Boston.
"Once was enough. I definitely didn't want to go through that again. Not just on a personal level, but seeing my teammates go through that -- I didn't want to be that guy."
The change didn't come immediately. Rauch was more focused, but he struggled early last season. The D-Backs dealt him to the Twins last Aug. 28 for a player to be named later.
Yet now that the pressure again sits atop his broad shoulders -- the Twins' high hopes with a big payroll in a new ballpark seemingly crippled by Joe Nathan's season-ending elbow surgery -- Rauch is showing something really might be different.
It's hard to miss an inked-up, nearly 7-foot giant lumbering from the bullpen to the growl of Metallica's "Anywhere I Roam."
But there was no uncomfortable murmur in the Target Field stands entering the ninth inning on Monday. No sarcastic barbs in the press box about his 89-mph heater either.
The sellout crowd of 38,145 cheered, loudly even, and Rauch razed the Red Sox 1-2-3 to preserve a 5-2 triumph -- his fifth save in as many opportunities the past eight days.
"As we told Rauch-Man, ‘Just throw the ball just like you did last year,'" manager Ron Gardenhire said. "He's not a guy that's going to throw it 96 miles per hour and strike people out. He can get a few (strikeouts) with some breaking balls, but he's more of a location guy and with a good angle.
"We just want him to do that: throw it and let us catch the ball. We catch the ball pretty good."
This is Rauch's high point, so far.
That doesn't mean the organization will live and die with their 31-year-old stopgap.
More than anytime in recent years, the Twins are monitoring other teams' major-league rosters, prepared to deal for veteran talent instead of dealing it away if contention calls for it come July and August.
They were following San Diego's Heath Bell closely at the end of spring training, and indications are the Padres had eyes on Twins minor-league outfielder Ben Revere. The thinking among those in the know was that, if Rauch crumbled, a deal might come together quickly.
But Rauch hasn't faltered. Not even a little.
"He's come in and done his job," catcher Joe Mauer said. "So far, so good."
Nathan's injury aside, the Twins have gotten their share of breaks recently.
Take Monday, when three of their runs came on, respectively, a broken-bat single by Michael Cuddyer, a Jason Kubel liner off Kevin Youkilis' glove and an infield single by Mauer that skipped off second base. In the sixth inning, starter Carl Pavano stopped a hot shot with his throwing hand -- and didn't even have to leave the game.
Rauch could use some of that with the way things went in Arizona.
"I'm just going out there and trying to let them put the ball in play and let the guys behind me do the job, and they've been doing it," Rauch said. "I'm not trying to be somebody I'm not."
But he's also not trying to be the Jon Rauch whose finish in 2008 remains a source of regret.
Rauch didn't want to do it twice.
So far, so good.