Huston Street was tapped as the A's full-time closer just 19 appearances into his major league career in 2005, and he made the adjustment look easy.

He saved 23 games. He took home American League Rookie of the Year honors.

Until recently he was entrenched as the A's ninth-inning man.

Now his role is tougher to define.

As he struggles through his toughest stretch as a big leaguer, Street has been replaced as closer for now by rookie Brad Ziegler, current owner of a 37-inning scoreless streak.

"I understand that until I get back to pitching how I was, I'm probably not going to see the late innings," Street said. "When you've got a guy that has 37 scoreless innings, I can understand that."

But as the Street bandwagon loses membership rapidly, it's worth keeping in mind that he's still a relatively young player.

Of all the full-time closers in the majors, only the Kansas City Royals' Joakim Soria and the Pittsburgh Pirates' Matt Capps are younger than Street, who turned 25 at the beginning of this month.

Most of the game's top closers all followed the same career path, cutting their teeth as middle relievers or setup men before transitioning to the ninth inning later in their careers.

Mariano Rivera was John Wetteland's setup man and eventually inherited the New York Yankees' closing job in 1997 at age 27.


Advertisement

Even the Los Angeles Angels' Francisco Rodriguez, who starred in the 2002 World Series against the Giants when he was 20, spent two seasons setting up for Troy Percival before assuming closing duties in 2005.

Street spent three seasons closing for the University of Texas, which made him a quick study when the A's turned to him after Octavio Dotel got hurt in May 2005.

But he was just 21 at the time.

"Huston's still developing. He's still finding himself," veteran Detroit Tigers reliever Todd Jones said. "He's done a fabulous job when you look and see what he's actually had to absorb on the run with no training. The difference between the eighth inning and ninth inning is in your head. Few guys can handle it."

A's manager Bob Geren has said Street's fastball has fluctuated between 90 to 93 mph this season. But Geren, Street and pitching coach Curt Young all agree that Street's struggles primarily boil down to pitch location.

He's just 18-for-24 in save situations this season.

"Even though you come to this level and have great stuff and great success there's always adjustments that have to be made, really from outing to outing and sometimes season to season," Young said. "Now (Street's key) is adjusting with the location of his fastball."

Sometimes getting demoted is only a brief setback.

Brad Lidge was stripped of closing duties in April 2007 with the Houston Astros only to regain his role two months later. This season he was an All-Star with the Philadelphia Phillies.

Jones, who got bumped from closer duties himself recently by Tigers manager Jim Leyland, admittedly is pulling for Street. The two bonded as teammates in the 2006 World Baseball Classic. They also share the same agent.

Jones thinks it's important for a young closer to keep getting the ball in the ninth even as he goes through a rough stretch.

"When he's struggling, you've got to have a manager call your closer into the office and say, 'You know what, you're my guy, so you better figure it out. Because I'm gonna run you out there, and run you out there and run you out there until you make an adjustment or we make an adjustment.' "

Geren believes Ziegler has earned his shot in the ninth. Ziegler earned a two-inning save Friday in Detroit, the A's lone victory on their recent 10-game road trip.

On Sunday, Street entered in the fifth against the Tigers and was charged with three runs in an inning of work.

Although he knew it sounded weird, Street came away encouraged. He's working on his slider to right-handers, and he thought that showed some improvement.

"I feel very confident," he said before Sunday's game. "I just haven't been pitching like I need to pitch, and when you're doing that in the ninth inning sometimes it gets magnified. If this is my rough patch for my first four years, I feel like I've been pretty solid up to this point."

Contact Joe Stiglich at jstiglic@bayareanewsgroup.com.