Most of the time they are called-on in games in which there's a one-run lead. Games that suddenly evaporate the concept of "team." Because when it comes down to it, and the manager makes the call to the bullpen, everyone in the park knows that a win or loss will be dictated by the arm of the closer. Who would be crazy enough to put this much pressure on themselves day-in and day-out? Andrew Carignan, for one.
Carignan, who made his professional debut with the Kane County Cougars in July after being drafted in the fifth round by the Oakland A's this June, has willingly put himself in this position for years, stemming back to his collegiate days at North Carolina.
"I've been in a closer role the past two years at school," Carignan said. "It's great to get my name called and have a chance to come in and close things out."
For the most part, it's been a great role for Carignan because he has been extremely successful at finishing off games. During his junior season with the Tar Heels, Carignan converted 18 saves and comprised a 1.43 ERA over the span. The 18 saves tied a single-season record at North Carolina and was a major reason why the Heels were 47-2 on the season when leading after six innings. Through his success during the regular college season and his experience in the College World Series in both 2006 and 2007, Carignan has developed the necessary cold-blooded attitude that all the great closers have.
"I try and go out with that attitude and go right after batters."
Cougars manager Aaron Nieckula also points to Carignan's attitude as a major factor in his success.
"He's got a bulldog mentality and that really plays into his role as a closer," Nieckula said.
When Carignan goes after batters, typically he uses his fastball that has been measured in the mid-90's. In addition to his fastball, Carignan uses a strong curve that continually has made batters' knees buckle. And although he considers himself a power pitcher, he has begun to develop a change-up that, if used correctly, will catapult him up the A's organizational ladder.
"If he can develop his change-up, and learn how to get a better grip on it, he will be hard to hit," Nieckula said.
"Once he develops that pitch and learns how to establish his fastball command more on the inside part of the plate, he will move up fast."
While many pitchers get sent to short-season Vancouver at the start of their pro careers, Carignan was shipped straight to Kane County after signing where he is already seeing success. So far this season, he has converted three saves in four attempts and has given up only one earned run in five innings of work. Carignan attributes his past experience with helping him succeed at the professional level.
"Playing in summer leagues and playing in front of 30,000 people in my last collegiate game helped me prepare for the pressures of playing in the pros," Carignan said.
"In my first appearance I was nervous. But since then, I have been very calm on the mound and ready for mostly anything."
As far as the rest of the season goes, Carignan wants to continue to develop into a smarter pitcher.
"I want to get my innings in, work on my stuff and become a better pitcher than I was going in," Carignan said.
"I'm a power pitcher, and I'm going to go out there and try and dominate."