"I wish everybody would just leave the kid alone," Yost said on Wednesday at the Winter Meetings, where he gave an impassioned defense of the criticism that has been aimed at Turnbow.
Turnbow is the leading candidate to return in 2008 to the ninth-inning role he lost midway through the 2006 season to Francisco Cordero. In 2007, Cordero's only full season with the Brewers, he set a franchise saves record and then bolted via free agency to Cincinnati.
With few enticing closers on the free agent market and teams asking for too much via trades, the Brewers are poised to hand the role back to Turnbow, who was 4-5 last season with a 4.63 ERA. He set a career high with 77 appearances and held opponents to a .183 batting average, but also issued 46 walks in 68 innings and allowed 12 of 14 inherited runners to score.
Near the end of the season Turnbow became a target for Brewers fans frustrated about the team's slide from first place in the National League Central.
"'Just have fun with it,' that's what I tell him," Yost said. "I don't know what else to tell him. Go out and do your job. Don't worry about that stuff. I don't worry about it, so I hope he doesn't either."
The Brewers also lost second-half setup man Scott Linebrink to free agency, and bolstering the bullpen remains a priority for general manager Doug Melvin. The Brewers acquired beleaguered reliever Guillermo Mota from the Mets last month, and believe he still has a power arm that can be effective in late innings. On Wednesday, the Brewers finalized a three-year deal with free agent David Riske, who said the potential to close games was part of what drew him to Milwaukee.
Those two, and possibly hard-throwing right-hander Seth McClung, whom Yost said Wednesday is definitely part of the plans for 2008, could push for save opportunities should Turnbow falter. But barring more trades or signings, Turnbow remains the top option.
"Derrick Turnbow has done it before," Yost said. "He's done it before, and he's been very, very successful at it. The thing for me is that if Derrick can command his walks a little bit, and he'll be all right.
"He has a chance to be a dominant guy. [Hitters] just don't see the ball coming out of his hand."
Melvin and Yost have both pointed out that Turnbow's numbers were skewed by some particularly poor outings. Of Turnbow's 77 appearances, he escaped 62 without allowing an earned run. Seven times he was charged with three or more runs, including three games in September in which Turnbow was charged with nine total runs in 1 1/3 innings.
His numbers with runners on base were particularly alarming. Opponents hit .241 off Turnbow with men on base, and .345 with runners in scoring position. That has to change if Turnbow is to be an effective closer.
"I think that was an anomaly," Yost said. "If he ends up winning the closer's job, there are going to be times he is asked to come in in the eighth inning with two outs. That can't be a limitation on him."
The booing became particularly apparent in September. Yost believes Turnbow got mentally beat down.
"I think he did," Yost said. "I mean, come on. He had eight bad outings out of 77 and we're going to dwell on the eight? ... Coco [Cordero] might have had more [bad outings] than Turnbow did, but when Coco was on, he was lights-out. Derrick made it a little more exciting, but he would get it done."
Yost conceded that losing Cordero represented a big blow.
"It was tough," Yost said. "I think I've been really lucky, and I hope the streak doesn't end [here], but we've always found closers. We've always found a way to give a guy and opportunity to be successful."
The Brewers rescued Dan Kolb from the Rangers' scrap heap in April 2003 and he set a franchise record with 39 saves the following season. They plucked Turnbow off waivers after the 2004 season, and in 2005 he matched that club record. Then in 2006 they traded for Cordero, who had been demoted to a setup role in Texas, and made him the closer.
"I think we'll find a closer," Yost said. "I think we'll find somebody who can get the job done."