April 19, 2005
Closers at the high school level are generally a luxury. Not many baseball teams have a guy they dedicate exclusively to that role.
But Mountain View coach Mike Thiel considers himself a rich man in 2005 because he’s been able to deploy one.
The 21-3-1 Toros defer many late-game situations to their version of Eric Gagne, senior southpaw Justin Kirkpatrick, aka "Lefty."
‘‘Having a closer is a year-toyear thing,’’ Thiel said. ‘‘A lot of years you don’t have one because you need all the good arms for your rotation. We have three good starters. Plus, Justin did this last year, and did it well. There’s a certain confidence level because of that.’’
Kirkpatrick isn’t the stereotypical closer. Thiel claims Kirkpatrick is not terribly outgoing or boisterous but does possess a good disposition for the role.
‘‘He could easily be a starter for us,’’ Thiel said. ‘‘But there aren’t many kids who can throw back-toback days. He can, so he’s kind of a natural fit.’’
What also qualifies Kirkpatrick for the role is his unorthodox motion. He throws sidearm. His release point is one hitters don’t see often. By the time foes get a read on his delivery it’s too late. Once through the order he’s usually done and gone and so is the opposition.
‘‘What I like about it is I get to pitch games in a row,’’ Kirkpatrick said. ‘‘It’s better than throwing just once a week. I’d like to go more than an inning or two once in a while to see what it’s like, but getting to go in a couple times a week is better.’’
Kirkpatrick has appeared in 15 of the Toros’ 25 games and has a 1-1 record, 1.78 ERA and six saves. His most recent effort came Thursday when he closed out a 5-2 win over Skyline. Kirkpatrick has 22 strikeouts in 19 2 /3 innings and just four walks, so he’s giving very little momentum to his opponents.
‘‘I don’t know if my delivery is intimidating or not,’’ Kirkpatrick said. ‘‘I hadn’t thought about it much. I hope it is.’’
Some teams attempt to squeeze a little more out of their ace or another starter since three-game weeks have become common for high schools in recent years. The ace of a staff may pitch his regular turn Tuesday and perhaps be available for an inning in a Friday game if needed.
But there are apparently too many pitfalls to the strategy for most coaches to go that route. Pitching, for most teams, is at a premium. Most don’t want to risk injury or interrupt routine for an upcoming start.
Desert Vista coach Stan Luketich has in past years used position players who aren’t a regular member of the rotation to close. Corey Myers, Jason St. Clair and current second baseman Joe Pace are three examples.
‘‘When you do that, you usually give up a good defensive player, so it can be a risk,’’ Luketich said. ‘‘Unless you have a bunch of pitchers who aren’t position players, it’s hard to come up with one and be comfortable with it.’’
Chaparral’s Ike Davis has settled into a closer’s role for the twotime defending 4A champs this season. He did it on a part-time basis last year.
‘‘He’s embraced the role,’’ Chaparral coach Jerry Dawson said. ‘‘It’s not the glamour role that most guys would like, but he’s done that for us.
"He has started a couple times, and we’re trying to get his pitch count up. We’d like to have him ready should we be lucky enough to make the state playoffs.’’
Davis has appeared in 10 of Chaparral’s 25 games and has a 1.68 ERA.
‘‘I think most guys that use one or have one pick a guy with experience,’’ Mountain Pointe coach Roger LeBlanc said. ‘‘You like to have a guy that’s been in tough games. A guy that can handle pressure situations and throws strikes."