Booker Proves Clutch As Closer

After spending the 2006 season with seven different teams, including two rough stints in the major leagues, Chris Booker has settled down in Columbus producing quality outings out of the bullpen in the early part of 2007. Booker is currently leading the International League with 12 saves and has been a dominant force on the mound. (Free Preview!)

The Columbus Clippers find themselves just shy of the .500 mark after 38 games this season. A big reason why the Clippers have been able to secure victories late in games is their experienced closer coming out of the bullpen. Chris Booker, in his 13th season of professional baseball, has provided a strong shoulder for the starting rotation to fall back on. After picking up three saves last week, Booker continues to lead the International League with 12 saves on the season. He has provided strong outings and has closed the door on opponents late in games.

Booker struggled to find his rhythm last year, primarily due to splitting his time with seven teams. This year, Booker has prevailed on the mound by locating his pitches and getting great defense behind him. He is currently 0-1 with a 3.38 ERA in 16 games overall. In 16 innings pitched, he has struck out 23 batters while allowing only six runs.

"I have the blessing of God, and I come out and work hard every day," Booker said, referring to his great start early into the season. "I try to throw strikes and get batters to hit the ball to the guys behind me. The guys behind me are making plays and not letting balls get through the holes."

Despite leading the league with 12 saves, Booker remains level-headed. He realizes without the help from his teammates, he wouldn't get the opportunity late in ballgames. Although he has completed 12 of 13 save opportunities, Booker knows he must improve and continue to get better.

"As the team starts to win more, leading the league in saves will mean a whole lot more," Booker told CapitolDugout.com. "Without the team playing well, then I couldn't do what I was doing."

"One of the things I need to improve upon is my velocity, which is down right now," he continued. "I think it has something to do with my mechanics because I can't seem to repeat the same velocity. One game I will be up in the 92-94 MPH range, but the next night I will top out at 89 MPH. I need to work on my mechanics, and once I refine that, my velocity will be steady."

For any baseball club to be successful, they must have a supporting bullpen and reliable closer. Booker, who usually sees action in the ninth inning, has been dependable as the Clippers' closer this season. Booker, who likes to pitch in the 91-93 MPH range, uses two main pitches in his arsenal. He uses his fastball and forkball to perfection. When he is able to locate his pitches and control his velocity, Booker can be virtually unhittable.

"I like to be aggressive with my fastball. I have pretty good control of both the fastball and forkball," said Booker. "I feel coming out of the bullpen, I only need two pitches to be successful. My forkball works well because I am able to get a lot of batters to swing through the pitch. It is a very effective 0-2 count pitch. If I locate it down in the zone, it is a good pitch."

Some pitchers study scouting reports to review the strengths and weaknesses of each batter, but Booker believes his success stems from his personal strengths on the mound.

"I pitch to my personal strengths," Booker explained. "There is no other pitcher on the team that does what I do, and I don't do what the other pitchers do. Everyone on the pitching staff has different pitches and approaches."

Booker has already served three stints in the major leagues. His first trip came in 2005 as a member of the Cincinnati Reds. He appeared in only three games suffering a 31.50 ERA in his two innings pitched. Last season, Booker appeared in just one game with Kansas City, but was put on the disabled list the next day with a strained groin. He finished the season in Washington, where he appeared in 10 games, not allowing a run in eight of those appearances. Returning to the Washington Nationals' organization per the Rule 5 guidelines, Booker hopes his experiences and time in the big leagues will play a key role in his future. Booker could see time with the Nationals this season if he keeps his control and finds a consistent velocity.

"Good mechanics and good location is what makes a good pitcher," Booker explained. "I don't care what you do, if you are not able to locate your pitches, you will never be a good pitcher. If I can get more consistent and pitch in-and-out and up-and-down, that will help me in the long run."

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