Consistently closing out games is one of the most difficult tasks in baseball and finding someone to handle the role is a constant struggle for many teams. Even upon finding a reliable arm, there is no guarantee it will hold up for the long term.
Closers are a finicky bunch and while the occasional Mariano Rivera, Trevor Hoffman or Billy Wagner does come along, the baseball world is littered with hundreds of names of men who have faded as quickly as they burst on the scene – the name B.J. Ryan comes to mind.
The Blue Jays haven't developed their own bonafide stopper since Billy Koch set a then AL rookie saves record more than 10 years ago. Koch's time as a major league closer flickered as soon as his once-blazing fastball began to do the same and the Jays have turned to a number of men to fill the void ever since.
Developing a closer is no exact science. More often than not, the most highly touted arms in an organization begin their careers as starters. They're used to being the ace of their respective high school or college staff and a move to the bullpen isn't high on their priority list. Teams too are hesitant to anoint full-time closers at the lower levels of the minor leagues when players are still early in the learning curve of becoming professional pitcher.
"We don't want to isolate one guy," said Vancouver Canadians pitching coach Jim Czajkowski, when speaking of the closing situation in the short-season Northwest League. "When you put all your money on one guy and then he starts to struggle, you're always searching for guys to close out ball games."
So far, the second-place Canadians haven't had to carry out one of those searches, turning to righty Drew Permison to nail it down.
The native of Columbia, Maryland is a perfect six-for-six in save opportunities to start the year, while the rest of the staff has a total of three. Permison had pitched six and a third scoreless innings over his first seven appearances, allowing three hits and walking three while striking out four, before he allowed two earned runs on Sunday.
Those numbers have him set in the role for now but that isn't necessarily a harbinger of things to come.
"Right now we'll take what we can get, he's getting it done and he'll continue to get the ball," Czajkowski said. "Though he's getting the opportunity right now, there are other guys that are stepping up in the bullpen."
A former minor league closer with more than 120 career saves, Czajkowski knows a thing or two about the position. He envisions Permison – a 45th round pick in 2010 – as a guy that will have to slide into a different role in the future although he does draw some similarities to current Atlanta Braves closer Craig Kimbrel.
"When you have a small guy throwing at a low arm slot, the hitters really only see the top of the ball the whole time so it's tough for them to get the fastball. Can he pitch down there and be effective? I think so," said Czajkowski, drawing a comparison between the five-foot-11 Kimbrel and the five-10 Permison.
Permison experimented briefly with starting in his sophomore year of college and said he never looked back.
"I did alright but it just wasn't me," he said of the starting role. "I feel like that's when my stuff is the best, when I'm getting amped up to throw it. I also like the adrenaline rush you get. It's a close game and they need you to shut down that inning and I love that. I need to be out there with that."
So far, pitching on adrenaline has helped him get buy throwing mostly his sinking fastball. Successful closers usually rely on their out-pitch. Lacking one dominant weapon, Czajkowski said Permison will have to utilize his entire his repertoire.
"He's got three quality pitches that he can work with and he throws 91 – 93. He's got the velocity and sink on his fastball to be able to go through the order once."
"My changeup is pretty good but I'm still working on my breaking ball," said the righty, who has held batters to a .22 average so far.
So for now, he's going to stick to what's working.
"I kind of want to work on my offspeed stuff. But being a closer, it's a tight situation. I can't work on my stuff out there. I have to buckle down and get guys out."
Permison Closing For Now
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