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From Finish to Start
Lisa Altobelli
March 26, 2007
A spring of change for closers stepping into the rotation
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March 26, 2007

From Finish To Start

A spring of change for closers stepping into the rotation

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"There's nothing like getting the last three outs," says Wainwright, who did exactly that to close out the 2006 World Series and is now pegged to be St. Louis's No. 2 starter. "But there's a rush in starting too." Wainwright, 25, was a starter in the minors but pitched in relief with the Cardinals last season as a rookie, assuming the closer's role in September and saving four postseason games. To transition back, Wainwright sought the guidance of ace Chris Carpenter and pitching coach Dave Duncan. "They're telling me to throw first-pitch strikes to get first-pitch outs," says Wainwright, whose tendency to try for strikeouts—even as a starter—was ballooning his pitch count. "[You want to] get them to put the ball in play and trust your defense." Just because Wainwright—who through Sunday had given up just two runs in 16 2/3 innings this spring—is in the rotation doesn't mean he's given up on closing things out. "If I have the ball at the start of the game," he says, "the only thing I'm thinking about is finishing it."

After nine years, 103 saves and zero career starts, Looper was asked by Duncan to prepare to move into the rotation. "I thought he was joking," says Looper, 32, who likes his new role. "When you come in from the bullpen, one mistake and you're the idiot who blew the game, but in the first inning, you're probably not going to lose the game." Still, he'll miss some things about relief. Says Looper, who'd allowed five runs in 14 spring innings, "We talk more smack in the bullpen. In the dugout you can't be like that."

"I'm better as a starter," Papelbon has said, quite a claim given his 35 saves and 0.92 ERA as a rookie last year. After relying mainly on a fastball and splitter as a closer, he's redeveloping the curve and slider he threw as a starter in the minors. He's also building stamina after missing last September with a shoulder injury. Papelbon, slated to be Boston's No. 4 starter, had 13 strikeouts in 8 2/3 spring innings. Said Papelbon: "I'm going to use a bit of that closer mentality when I need to."

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