Cotton could be the closer

After a stellar year out of the bullpen in 2012, Chris Cotton has emerged as one of the candidates for the closer spot. But he's also in the mix to start. Which one suits the soft-throwing lefty best?

Paul Mainieri laid out three characteristics he wanted in a closing pitcher — poise, deception and an ability to throw strikes.

On paper, that sounds like Chris Cotton, the soft-throwing lefty who excelled out of the bullpen in 2012. Cotton doesn't light up the guns, rarely — if ever — cracking 90 m.p.h., but he has the kind of stuff that's created enough confidence in the coaching staff to make him one of the favorites to close games for LSU this year.

"That's the thing that helps me the most is being able to stay poised and control myself when I'm on the mound, especially in the late innings," Cotton said. "You just have to keep throwing strikes, and if you keep them low, it doesn't really matter if you throw 82 or 102. You can still get the job done."

Cotton did just that in 2012 with a 7-0 record in 36 relief appearances and a 1.59 ERA. He limited left-handed hitters to a .100 batting average and his 40-to-7 K to BB ratio was one of the best on the team.

Though most of his appearances came in the seventh and eighth innings, Cotton doesn't see much of a change in how he'd approach the closer role.

"The best thing to do would be to keep the same mindset, but it is different," Cotton said. "Those last three outs are the hardest ones to get. But I'd try to keep it the same. It worked for me last year. It might be a little more intense going in the ninth inning, but I'd have to keep it the same if that is the role I'm given."

While Cotton seems like a perfect fit to take the mound for LSU in save situations, one thing may keep him out of the role. Mainieri and pitching coach Alan Dunn have mentioned Cotton as a possible candidate for the starting rotation as well.

With Aaron Nola and Ryan Eades locked into the first two spots, the staff is still looking for a third starter. Along with Brent Bonvillain and Cody Glenn, Cotton has gotten in the mix and may find himself starting on Sundays.

"Chris was such a valuable tool for us last year," Dunn said. "He did everything, so that's comforting to know that we have that option for him."

Cotton has gotten some starting experience since the end of last season. Playing in Wisconsin for the Lakeshore Chinooks of the Northwoods League, Cotton started three games, earning two wins with a 0.56 ERA. He allowed only one run, a solo homer, and his 13 strikeouts compared to only one walk.

The staff extended Cotton's innings throughout fall practice and will continue to do so in the weeks leading up to Opening Day. Despite small changes in his preparation, Cotton said that hasn't had any affect on how he pitches.

"I've been long-tossing a little more, and I've been extending my innings a bit more," Cotton said. "But other than it's been the same. I haven't changed much. Hopefully I'll keep it the same as last year, and I'll have the same results."

But if Cotton had to pick one role, he couldn't name one over the other.

"I like relieving. I like that a lot because you can come in every game," Cotton said. "You don't have to rest a week like if you were a starter, which I had to do this summer. But [starting] was a lot of fun. It's a completely different role, completely opposite mindset going into a game. It was a touch watching the game for that whole week, but it's something you have to get used to…

"But whatever the coaches need, whatever will help the team the most, I'm happy to do."

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