AQUASOX UPDATE: Closer gets comfortable in new role

New role

Daniel Cooper is happy he doesn’t have to share anymore.

Cooper has eased into the role of the Everett AquaSox’s closer, and unlike in college this spring he’s no longer having to split the duties with anyone else.

“It’s nice knowing it’s my position and I’m going to be the one who gets the call every time so I can prepare for it,” Cooper said.

Cooper has been nearly flawless when used as a closer. He is a perfect 4-for-4 in save opportunities for the Sox and he’s only been scored upon once in his seven appearances.

“He’s done a good job,” Everett pitching coach Rich Dorman said of Cooper, who brings a fastball-slider-splitter repertoire to the mound. “He’s gone after the hitters aggressively, he trusts his stuff and he keeps the ball down.”

Cooper’s work in the bullpen is an extension of his role from this spring at USC where he was the primary relief pitcher, compiling an impressive 2.08 ERA in 22 games. But even though he was USC’s first choice out of the bullpen, he had to share the closing duties with Robert Stock, who doubled as a starting pitcher.

Cooper didn’t begin the season as Everett’s closer, either, as the Sox used whoever was slated for use that day to protect ninth-inning leads. Cooper still hasn’t officially been anointed the closer. However, he’s the closer in all but name now. Going into Monday night’s game he recorded each of Everett’s previous four saves.

That notion was reinforced last Friday in Eugene when he was told to warm up quickly as the Sox went ahead in the top of the ninth, then closed out the game for the second straight night. Saves on back-to-back nights are rare when there’s no dedicated closer.

“We haven’t really said we’re going to him every time, he’s been the last guy there and we’ve used him,” Dorman said. “He’s done a good job, so we’ll probably keep using him.

“He’s starting to pull away, he’s starting to be the guy.”

And that’s just what Cooper wants.

“That’s what I was hoping for when I showed up here,” Cooper said. “Knowing they trust me to have that spot makes me feel a lot better about myself.”

Breaking out

It looks as though Gerardo Avila has turned the corner.

Everett’s first baseman was supposed to be one of the Sox’s most-potent bats this season, given his left-handed power stroke and greater level of seasoning (he’s in his fourth season of professional ball in the U.S.).

However, Avila struggled out of the gate. Through his first 14 games he batted just .233 and had yet to crack his first home run.

But Saturday may have been the turning point. Avila ended Saturday’s game against Yakima with a 10th-inning, walk-off single off the left-field wall to give the Sox a 3-2 victory. Then he followed that up by going 3-for-5 with a grand slam and six RBI in Sunday’s 15-14 triumph.

Avila credited adjusting and going the other way — his game-winning hit went to the opposite field — for the turnaround.

“It was the approach I used in that last at bat (Saturday),” Avila said. “They were trying to throw me away, and if they’re throwing me away I have to make my approach over there.”

Today

Opponent: Yakima Bears

When: 7:05 p.m.

Where: Everett Memorial Stadium

Radio: KRKO (1380 AM)

Probable starters: Everett right-hander Luke Burnett (0-0, 1.08 ERA) vs. Yakima right-hander Andrew Wolcott (0-2, 5.40)

Nick Patterson, Herald Writer

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