Given the opportunity, Frank Francisco believes he has the stuff to be a dominant closer. The New York Mets think so, too, and will give the one-time Toronto Blue Jays' stopper every chance.
Pitching coach Dan Warthen figures if the team had a shutdown ninth-inning pitcher all last year, it would have meant at least 10 more wins. With those, the Mets would have been in contention for the post-season rather than 77-win flops. Especially considering too many players failed in that role last season.
"I certainly hope it works out great, as bad as we did last year," Warthen said Wednesday. "He can throw four pitches for strikes at any time, and locates his fastball quite well with movement on both sides of the plate. He's the total pitching package."
Francisco is among the majors' top strikeout pitchers, averaging more than one per inning over his career. He had 17 saves in 21 chances last year with Toronto and had 25 saves in 2009 for Texas.
"I don't know anybody else's role here, but I know what I want to be," Francisco said. "I'm confident I can do the job."
The biggest hurdle for Francisco switching leagues will be learning to pay better attention to base runners. Warthen said that's been a major point of emphasis.
"We need him to be a little bit better fielder and we need him to hold runners a little better," Warthen said. "So, we've had to spend a lot of time on that. He came in saying `Hey, I'm going to have to work on this because I haven't had to do it in a while."'
Basestealers were 13 for 14 last season against the six-foot-two, 250-pound Francisco, and are 33 for 36 the last four seasons.
Backup closer options
If the 32-year-old Francisco and the rest of a bullpen, rebuilt at the back end, pans out, the cost-cutting Mets believe they could surprise. There are backup options with closing experience, too, in fellow newcomers Jon Rauch and Ramon Ramirez. Non-roster invitee Miguel Batista is a former closer, too.
"A lot of nice additions back there, I think, to say the least," catcher Josh Thole said. "Typically, with the closer, you're going to get one or two really good pitches, not four."
Of the six-foot-11 Rauch, Thole said. "the arm angle and downhill plane, it's incredible."
Rauch had 11 saves in 16 chances in an inconsistent 2011 also with Toronto, teaming up with Francisco for his fourth season in double digits. In 2010 he was 21 for 25 with the Twins. Ramirez was 4-for-5 in save chances with the Giants last season.
"I have some closing experience. I wouldn't say a lot," Rauch said. "Wherever I'm pitching, I try to approach it with the same mentality. Whenever they ask me to throw, I'll do it."
The Mets auditioned several potential closers after trading Francisco Rodriguez last July. Together, Bobby Parnell, Manny Acosta, Jason Isringhausen and Pedro Beato had 17 blown saves.
The hard-throwing Parnell, 27, still is considered a potential closer despite going just 6 for 12 last season. Manager Terry Collins said the two times he's watched Parnell throw this spring, "his breaking ball has been the best I've seen him have. The best. Great rotation, late break, flat, no hump at all.
"I want to see him get into a game and use it."