Former Catonsville High pitcher Adam Kolarek was used to putting our fires when he came out of the bullpen to close games this summer for the St. Lucie Mets in the Florida State League.
But if the 2007 Catonsville High graduate thought he was going to ease into the bullpen rotation when he was promoted to the New York Mets Double-A affiliate in Binghamton on July 27, he was mistaken.
Instead, he was thrown right into the back end of the bullpen when the game is on the line.
That suits the 6-foot-3 southpaw just fine and he responded by earning his first Double-A save and victory in his first week with Binghamton.
After getting the phone call for the promotion after his game on July 26, he was in Binghamton the next day and pitched a hitless inning with two strikeouts in his first appearance.
"It was a great feeling, but I tried not to put any more pressure on myself," Kolarek said. "But, there is no hiding it, I was really excited to be there."
His teammates, that included former St. Lucie comrades Wilmer Torres, Wilfredo Tovar and Francisco Pena, were even more excited when Kolarek notched a save in a 3-2 victory over Harrisburg on July 31.
He struck out the first two batters in the ninth inning before allowing two hits and putting the tying run on second base. He ended the drama by striking out the final hitter.
Of his 22 pitches in the inning he threw 15 strikes.
In his next outing, on Aug. 2, Kolarek pitched a scoreless top of the 12th inning and earned the triumph in the bottom of the inning.
He walked the first batter, but vanished the next three.
Pitching coach Glenn Abbott, a former Major League pitcher who started in the Oakland Athletics organization, was familiar with Kolarek because he coached him last season with the Savannah Sand Gnats in the Class A South Atlantic League.
"I've seen him grow a lot as a pitcher," said Abbott, now the pitching coach at Binghamton. "He's pitching with such confidence."
Kolarek, 23, gained that confidence In the Florida State League where he represented St. Lucie in the Florida State League All-Star game.
At St. Lucie, he notched 15 saves in 49 innings, while pitching to an earned run average of 1.65.
His 38 hits and 15 walks produced an impressive ratio (walks plus hits divided by innings pitched) of 1.08.
Kolarek allowed only nine earned runs in leading St. Lucie to first place after the first half of the Class A Advanced Florida State League.
The 11th-round 2010 draft pick out of the University of Maryland made his debut in the Mets' organization with Kingston.
He also pitched in Brooklyn and Savannah before a promotion to St. Lucie late in the 2011 season.
In 152 2/3 minor league innings, Kolarek has yielded only 121 hits, while striking out 174.
In the Florida State League all-star game last month, Kolarek retired the side in order in the seventh inning of his team's 4-3 victory.
"I was a little more amped up for it than usual and pretty excited," said Kolarek, who retired the final two batters of the inning on strikeouts. "As a relief pitcher, you never expect the accolades."
Asked about a possible promotion after that all-star appearance he replied, "As a player, you try not to think about it because it is very situational, like if somebody gets hurt," he said. "I've worked hard all off-season and whether it's going to Double-A this year or next, I'm not focused on that."
That all changed on July 26 and he it didn't take long for the good news to spread to Colorado where his father, Frank, was at the time.
"He deserves it," said Frank, who played in the Oakland Athletics Minor League organization in the late 1970's. "He did a great job and he's made the most of it. We couldn't be happier for him."
Kolarek consistently throws his fastball from 90-93 miles per hour and keeps hitters off-stride with his slider. "That's been a huge pitch for me."
"He's got a good slider and he's worked on keeping it in the zone," Abbott said. "His fastball is a little sneaky and he appears to throw harder at times."
If he continues to consistently command his pitches, Abbott sees him closing out the regular season as one of the late-inning relievers.
"He loves the role," Abbott said. "He likes to pitch in situations late in the game."
Since his first week of perfection, Kolarek has hit some bumps, but, despite allowing his first runs (2) against New Britain on Aug. 7, he earned his second victory when the Mets rallied with three runs in the bottom of the last inning of a 9-8 win.
"It was an exciting game and we battled back," said Kolarek, who got out of a trouble with runners on second and third and no outs — after he had allowed his first two Double-A runs.
"I made a couple of good pitches, got a key strikeout and double play to get me out of the jam," he said.
Getting out of jams is most likely what he will be doing the rest of the season as the Mets shoot towards a longshot playoff berth, but he's glad to have the challenge.
"I was kind of hoping I would get my first experience here in Double-A this season and see what it's all about," he said.