BRIAN RICHESSON Scrappers' Harris enjoying closer role
NILES -- Mark Harris knows his place with the Mahoning Valley Scrappers, and that's in the back end of the bullpen.
The Ohio native didn't plan to be among the New York-Penn League leaders in saves this season. It just worked out that way.
"I thought I was going to be more of a late-inning guy; I didn't know I'd actually be closing," said Harris, a native of Cincinnati and a former standout at William & amp; Mary College. "I just fell into that closer role."
The Scrappers have given Harris a closer's responsibility mainly because he's thrived on his sinker.
"When I started throwing the sinkers, I was getting a lot more ground balls," Harris said. "It limits the ability for people to hit home runs, especially late in the games when you're ahead and guys are taking hacks.
"It's a good pitch to get guys swinging early in the count and swinging at balls out of the strike zone," he added.
Harris spent extra time with coaches in extended spring training earlier this year, refining his pitches and tinkering with his arm angle. He's seen a difference.
"I've had ups and downs, but the coaching staff has been working real hard with me," Harris said. "I've made some improvements, and I've had a pretty solid year."
Going into weekend play, Harris was 1-2 with a 4.15 ERA in 21 appearances for the Scrappers. He also had 10 saves, which ranked third in the league.
"Everybody in the bullpen getting a role helped, so they know how to prepare themselves for a situation they'll be put in during a game," Scrappers manager Mike Sarbaugh said. "He's taken that [closer] role and run with it. He's done a great job."
It also helps that Harris, last year's 31st-round draft pick of the Cleveland Indians, is familiar with his surroundings.
The 6-foot-3 right-hander is in his second season with the Scrappers after making 16 appearances out of the bullpen in 2003. He went 2-2 with a 4.22 ERA.
"Obviously you want to move up levels, but it's a great situation here for us, with the host families and the community support," he said. "It's a great facility and a great little town, so you can't really ask for much more."
Harris isn't sure whether he'll remain a closer. That will depend on personnel available at each level of professional ball and where the Indians need him most.
But to Harris, it doesn't matter. He just wants to play and contribute in any way possible.
"I had some success with it early, and I'm happy to do it," Harris said of his role this season. "I throw when I'm told to throw -- it's been in a closing role this year, and that's fine with me."