Veras Opening Doors As The Stopper

Jose Veras has a 0.64 ERA in his last 12 games

As the Clippers season enters its second half, the team has made a move toward the .500 mark and the division lead. While lurking some 10-15 games under for most of the season, Columbus has now won 13 of their past 17 games. Although many attribute the turnaround to timely hitting and good starting pitching, the closer, Jose Veras, has gone unheralded through the run.

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During the important four-game sweep of Louisville, Veras saved three of the four games, all of them with just a one run lead. During the course of the year, Veras is 3-2 with a 2.48 ERA and 12 saves in 32 appearances, this coming from a guy who wasn't even brought in to close.

"This year, I came here to be a set-up man for Mark Corey, but they moved him to be a set-up man, and they moved me to be a closer," said Veras about his role.

The 25-year-old Veras, a native of the Dominican Republic, was signed as a minor league free agent over the past winter. He was a journeyman, having bounced around the minors over the past couple of years, and learning how to pitch out of the bullpen after being a starter for most of his career.

Veras reminisces about his transition from starter to reliever.

"I was a good starting pitcher and a couple of coaches in Tampa Bay said, you know, he's a big guy, got a good arm, he can be a good closer or set up man," recalled Veras. "And I went to the Dominican to pitch in winter ball, I was a closer, had a great year there, and that's when I signed here and they said let's put him at closer, he's had a couple of good saves."

However, Veras said that he welcomed the transition, and once he got a few games in, he realized how much he enjoyed being a reliever.

"I'm happy being a closer. I like being a reliever. I like to relieve a game, because that's when the game really counts, when you have a good closer or a good set-up man that shuts down the other team," said the competitive Veras. "I feel good being in that position."

Certainly few doubt Veras' ability to be a good closer, but the toughest part of the transition from starter to reliever may be the consistency.

As a starter, you're pitching once every five days, while relievers are relied on to be sharp almost every day. Mentally, it's a different approach. In that regard, Clippers pitching coach Neil Allen likes what he sees out of Veras.

"He's made a lot of progress this year," said Allen. "His consistency is getting a lot better, and that was a key thing for him coming out of Spring Training, to be more consistent and throw strikes with all his pitches. As time goes on, he's starting to do that, and he's developed a lot more confidence in all of his pitches."

The increased consistency earned Veras a trip to New York, albeit for only a few days. Although he didn't actually get to pitch up there, Veras used the call-up as a vote of confidence from the Yankees.

"Right now, they (Yankees) are happy with what I've been doing," he said. "I'm throwing strikes, being aggressive, so everything's coming along now."

Still, the transition is not fully complete for the Clippers' closer. He needs to compliment a strong first half with solid pitching into the final stretch, especially as the Clippers will rely on him during their run at the division.

Also, he has been working on making his splitter a deadly pitch, to compliment his already deadly fastball and curve.

"I've been working to bring my splitter down in the zone. I've been throwing my splitter too hard, so I need to slow it down so I can get more break on it," said Veras.

But will all this hard work translate into future Major League success? Veras said he is not worried about it, and is just trying to become a better pitcher. With Mariano Rivera still ruling the 9th in the Bronx, it's tough to see Veras being the closer anytime soon. Even so, Allen is optimistic.

"If you can throw all your pitches for strikes, throw your off-speed behind in the count, they'll find a place for you in the big leagues, whether it's the Yankees or someone else."

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