Nick Peterson: The Closer Opens Up

Peterson struck out the side on Tuesday

Like many pitchers before him, Nick Peterson has made the transition from starter to reliever and like many great closers before him, he hopes to find prosperity in the bullpen. Peterson, selected in the 12th round from the University of Tampa, is the Staten Island Yankees closer and despite being new to the role, is enjoying success in the early going.

The 21-year-old has pitched to a 2.45 earned run average (one run allowed), converted both of his save opportunities and struck out nine batters in just 3.2 innings pitched thus far.

"I was a starter my first two years," he said of his collegiate career with the Spartans. "But my pitching coach (Sam Militello) - who actually played for the Yankees - he thought that I was better in a reliever spot, especially in the setup man or closer role. He thought that when I went on to the next level that would be where I'd be best."

His current pitching coach, Carlos Chantres, has been pleased with the progress but said that the most difficult aspect of the transition is mental preparation.

"You have to be ready and mentally, be into for every game," he said, noting that a closer can be called upon several days in a row. "As a starter, you go once every five days. Closer, you have to be ready and you have to be paying close attention to batters throughout the entire game."

Peterson, a jovial presence in the clubhouse, undergoes a metamorphosis of his demeanor when he enters the games. A fan of country music, he jogs to the mound from the bullpen with Marilyn Manson's "The Beautiful People" blaring from the stadium speakers and considers himself to be an intimidating pitcher.

Though he doesn't model himself after anyone - "I just try to do my own thing and keep my head on straight," he said - the Tampa native says that he has always admired Kyle Farnsworth because of his intensity and no-nonsense attitude.

Of his own pitching style, he said that his strategy is simply to attack the hitters. "When we step between the lines, the game face is on," said Peterson.

"I like that he isn't intimidated by anything," said Gaylen Pitts, his manager, when asked what made him believe Peterson could thrive as a closer. "He goes out there with a lot of confidence, throws strikes, and he's not going to back down."

Asked about the greatest influences, Peterson said, "It's kind of a hard question to answer because I've had a lot of people in my life that have helped me get to where I'm at now. Parents, of course, and I've had a couple pitching coaches that have put me on the right track."

Chantres lauded Peterson's delivery, saying that he does a great job of hiding the ball which makes it difficult for batters to pick up and said that his pitches are "sneaky."

"He's got phenomenal mechanics," said Paul Patterson, a fellow reliever. "He's always the same whenever he goes out to pitch in that you can always rely on him. He throws strikes, has a good arm and he's getting better every time."

Though his pitching arsenal consists of a hard fastball along with a slider and changeup, the coaching staff hopes to cut down his repertoire, believing that he is better suited to work mostly with the fastball. The heat, which tops out at 93 to 94 miles-per-hour, is considered his best pitch as he's got exceptional command of it.

"I think that if you've got a dominant pitch, you've got to live and die by it," said Pitts. "Don't get beaten on your second or third best pitch."

Though he struck out the side in Tuesday night's game against the Aberdeen Ironbirds, Peterson did get beaten on his tertiary pitch, surrendering a long double to Chris Vinyard. "I threw a changeup to him and that was a mistake," he lamented after the game.

"But you do need two pitches," Pitts said, talking about his closer's options. "You've got to have something to get them off the fastball.",br>
Sharing the manager's sentiments, both Peterson and Chantres stressed the need for him to improve his slider to keep batters off balance.

"We're working on that," Peterson said. "It's a harder slider with some movement but I need to get better at locating it."

Though he hasn't slammed the door on the notion of one day returning to a starting rotation, saying that he will contribute to the team in any capacity possible, he has taken to closing.

"It's a different mental game," he explained. "I've done both and it's more intense, closing. Attacking the hitter in the ninth inning, with runners on, two outs and the fans screaming. In that sense, it's more fun than starting. I enjoy the pressure."

Armed with a strong arm, guile and the confidence of his teammates and coaches, Peterson hopes to become a stalwart of the Staten Island pitching staff and someday the New York Yankees.

Said Paul David Patterson of his teammate, "We know when he comes into the games that he's going to shut 'em down."

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