DENVER -- The challenge for Rockies left-handed reliever Rex Brothers on Wednesday was to treat the first closing opportunity of his career like any other game.
Then again, any game Brothers has pitched this season has been special.
Brothers gave up a one-out single to Wil Nieves but forced a double-play grounder from Josh Wilson to earn the save in the Rockies' 4-1 victory over the D-backs. It was Brothers' first save this season and second of his career, with the other coming against the Astros on Aug. 23, 2011.
It was Brothers' 19th straight scoreless outing -- a streak covering 18 innings. He has given up just one run in his 23 games this season, and since last Sept. 1, he has been scored upon in just three of his 37 appearances.
The Rockies needed Brothers to close because Rafael Betancourt, who is 10-for-10 in save chances, was removed from Tuesday night's game because of inflammation in his right groin. Betancourt could return to the team Friday, when the Rockies begin a three-game set with the Giants. But Brothers showed Wednesday -- a win that put the Rockies in a three-way tie for the National League West lead with the D-backs and the Giants -- that he can do the job if necessary.
"That was, 'Three outs, and let's go to San Francisco,' nothing out of the norm," said Brothers, sporting a 0.42 ERA this season. "After they got that hit, it was, 'Where's my double-play pitch right here? Hey, get the job done.'
"I created that atmosphere in my head, to make it seem the same."
Brothers, 25, considers Betancourt and right-handed setup man Matt Belisle mentors who have helped him through a Major League crash course. The Rockies made Brothers their supplemental first-round Draft pick out of Lipscomb University in 2009, and he was in the big leagues for 48 appearances in 2011. So he didn't look at Betancourt's injury as an opportunity at all.
"That's great news," Brothers said of the fact that it appears that resting Wednesday and being off with the rest of the Rockies on Thursday should help Betancourt heal. "Hopefully we can get him back Friday."
Brothers, who is the primary lefty setup man but could be used earlier in the game if manager Walt Weiss sees a matchup possibility, believes his approach will work no matter which inning he pitches.
"We are always taught to believe that from the seventh inning on, everybody is closing out his own inning," Brothers said. "Obviously, with those three [ninth-inning] outs, people say they're the hardest three outs in the game. I don't know. You could probably get different opinions on that. As far as our bullpen goes, we're going to approach it that same way. It's just getting wins for this team.
"I've never considered whether I'm a closer or whether I'm ready to close. I'm a late-inning reliever. More than anything, I get outs and keep my team ahead when I'm out there."
The Rockies could look at Brothers as the closer of the future, although Betancourt, 38, has shown no signs of declining.
Closers travel many different paths. Some are former starters. Others were trained in the job throughout their Minor League careers. Brothers actually did little final-inning work during his apprenticeship. He had just eight saves and finished just 35 of his 103 Minor League games. One save and two games finished occurred last season during a four-game tuneup at Triple-A Colorado Springs at a time when he was struggling.
The demotion was the worst time of his career, yet it was the most beneficial.
Brothers came to the Majors with a maximum-effort delivery, which in and of itself isn't bad. But at the start of last season, he would enter games at the top of the emotional scale as well, and that led to difficulties against first batters and with first pitches. Through last May 19, he was 2-2 with a 5.87 ERA, and opponents were hitting .359.
Belisle was instrumental in helping Brothers understand the importance of being even-keeled. From June 2 to season's end, Brothers went 6-0 with a 3.27 ERA, and opponents hit .214. Brothers went into the offseason looking to take some of the effort out of his delivery and vowed to come back even calmer.
It's working. Brothers has 21 strikeouts in 21 1/3 innings, and a .211 batting average against. His eight walks are a little high, but he has offset some of that by forcing four double-play grounders.
"There are some days where it's helped, as far as not trying to create too much," Brothers said. "In the past, I might have tried to throw harder. There have been some days when my velocity has been down. People have asked me, 'Are you OK?' I say I feel fine. It's just part of staying within myself and making pitches.
"The old me would have tried to throw 95, insead of a 90-mph strike down in the zone for a ground ball. It's basically, 'Relax, it's all right, make your pitch.'"
Thomas Harding is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Hardball in the Rockies, and follow him on Twitter @harding_at_mlb. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less