CHICAGO — The next time the Mariners have a ninth-inning lead to protect, it won't be entrusted to Eddie Guardado.
Their closer since 2004, Guardado was stripped of the job in all but title Thursday after the latest in a string of meltdowns the previous night against the White Sox.
Manager Mike Hargrove plans to go to the prototypical "closer by committee" while Guardado, a two-time All-Star with 174 career saves, tries to restore his game. Hargrove wouldn't put a timetable on the change.
"How long this lasts, I don't know — a week, two weeks, a month, two months, the rest of the year, I don't know," Hargrove said.
Hargrove added that "Eddie's still my closer in name," but by the sound of it, that honorific will be as meaningful in earning him save opportunities as Queen Latifah's moniker allows her to head a monarchy.
"We have options," Hargrove said. "It may be [J.J.] Putz one night, and Sean Green the next, and [Rafael] Soriano the next, and Jake Woods and George Sherrill. It could be a combination of any of them."
The manager acknowledged, however, that the change could disrupt the bullpen.
"It takes everyone out of their roles they're comfortable with," he said. "That's why one closer is such an important part of your bullpen, because it really allows you to pitch guys in roles. People perform better when they know what their role is."
That knowledge was one of many reasons that Guardado, who termed himself "sick" over his performances, took the demotion hard. However, he directed all his anger and remorse at himself, not Hargrove.
"I don't know what the problem is," he said. "I wish I could tell you. I've got to move on, bro. I've got to get it right. I feel great. Not right now, but my arm feels great. What I can do is just keep working and get it right."
The Mariners picked up their $6.5 million team option on Guardado this past winter rather than risk losing him via free agency, but he has struggled all year.
He has blown three saves, and three times has given up a ninth-inning homer, including the change-inducing, tying homer by Pablo Ozuna on Wednesday. He is 0-2 with an 8.38 earned-run average.
Hargrove said he had stuck with Guardado to that point because of his past success and team leadership, but added, "There comes a point in time it's really not accomplishing anything, and I think we reached that point last night."
"I completely understand where [Hargrove] is coming from," Guardado said. "The thing I feel bad about, it messes the whole bullpen up. I don't want anyone to change because it's the ninth inning. I'm going to talk to them, because I put them in that situation, and I feel really bad."
Putz has the most experience at the role — nine saves in 13 opportunities as closer in 2004 while Guardado was on the disabled list — and also has the devastating strikeout pitch of so many dominant closers. Putz, aided by his split-fingered fastball, has 22 strikeouts in 15-2/3 innings.
"We're going to be together out there, try to get the outs when we need to, and give Eddie a chance to settle back into the Eddie we all know he is," said Putz. "Hopefully, that's sooner than later. Until then, we're going to just have to pick him up and keep going out and doing what we're doing."
Guardado's teammates rallied around the 35-year-old left-hander, one of the most popular players on the Mariners.
"You never like to see anybody struggle, especially when it's a guy of Eddie's character and personality," Putz said. "That makes it even doubly hard."
"Eddie's a warrior out there," said outfielder Matt Lawton, who played with Guardado in Minnesota from 1995 to 2001. "Right when you count him out, that's when he'll come back.
"It's going to be a tough role. He's going to go out and pitch in some roles he's not used to pitching, maybe a lot of garbage time. But he's going to do what it takes to get back and to regain the confidence of himself and the ballclub. I think before long he'll be back in the role of closing."
Mariners pitching coach Rafael Chaves also believes Guardado can regain his job.
"We have to find a way to help him help us," he said. "We need Eddie as a closer. He's our guy."
But now he's no longer their guy in the ninth inning with a lead.
Larry Stone: 206-464-3146 or email@example.com