Justin Pope: The New Anchorman

Justin Pope was anointed as the closer for the Trenton Thunder by manager Bill Masse early in Spring Training. The twenty-five year old Pope has started throughout his entire professional career and says that he is still adjusting to his new role. Pope was acquired by the Yankees in 2003 along with Thunder teammate Ben Julianel for Sterling Hitchcock.

"The biggest thing for me is that I have to pitch the same way I did when I was starting." said Pope.

Pope says that when you pitch in the eighth and ninth innings there is an adrenaline factor that causes pitchers to try and strike every batter out and thus, be ineffective. Pope believes that he has benefited from knowing when he's going to pitch. "It's nice to know when I'm going to pitch." says Pope.

The hardest thing about the change to the bullpen will be those instances when Pope is called upon to go back to back. He has stretched out his arm to be able to pitch three innings at his maximum but he wasn't concerned about the length of his outings.

Pope says, "I'm most concerned about when I'm called upon to pitch back to back nights. I'm concerned about my arm's bouncing back in back to back situations since I've never done that before."

Pope has only pitched on back to back nights once this year and in that scenario, the first part of the back-to-back was the worst. Pope came back to earn his second save of the season in his only back-to-back appearance of the year. In that outing, he didn't allow a hit in one and two thirds innings of work after allowing four runs in one inning a night earlier. Last year, as a starter, Pope went 4-3 with a very good 3.59 ERA in nine games.

Pope made his Double AA debut last year with the Thunder and posted a respectable 4.21 ERA in 13 appearances, nine of which were starts, in 2004. That said, he only pitched twelve and two-thirds innings of relief during his time in Trenton last year and compiled a 6.39 ERA in those four appearances. Pope believes that the hitters at the Double A level are significantly more advanced than their single A counterparts.

Says Pope, "The hitters have a much better approach. They won't roll over on a breaking ball. You have to make quality pitches."

Pope seems to have had no problem making the adjustment though as his quality overall numbers indicate. Pope indicated that it has been a little tough for him to get his work in since the Thunder's current struggles haven't had them holding many leads, especially not late in games. Pope says that while this can be a little bit frustrating that you have to look at from a certain frame of mind.

"You just have to think about the days when you get hit around that you want them to pick you up." says Pope.

If Pope can have success in the bullpen, he hopes to be promoted to Columbus because he feels he can learn a lot from the veteran bullpen they have in Triple-A. He says he isn't completely sure what the organization's plan for him is now that he is in the pen but he is receptive to whatever that plan may be. Pope was reserved in his comments about being able to learn from the veteran Columbus bullpen, saying, "That's how you get experience, from the older guys and I would love to learn, but the first step is to put up good numbers."

Pope clearly realizes that he needs to perform in order to make a name for himself in this or any other organization. Pope is confident that he can put up numbers to make the front office and scouts take notice. "I believe that if you pitch well, there will be a spot for you, either in this organization or elsewhere." says Pope. He would love to play for the Yankees but realizes that he may have to go elsewhere to fulfill his Major League dreams. While admitting that's its "every kid's dream to wear the pinstripes and play in Yankee stadium" and that "the Yankees are the best organization," he is undiscriminating in terms of how he fulfills his major league dreams. "I haven't really thought about it, but I just want to be in the bullpen somewhere. Not even necessarily a closer. Just in the bullpen somewhere. I'd be happy with that." says Pope.

Pope is one of the nicest guys on the team and he now has the awesome responsibility of anchoring the Thunder bullpen. Should he succeed, he will head to Triple A to learn from the veterans and further advance what will be a budding career and if not, he can apply for more than a six month lease at a Trenton apartment complex.

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