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Kevin Boles on Heath Hembree as a closer: ‘He has the look … the mound presence’

08.04.14 at 8:27 am ET
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PAWTUCKET, R.I. — When Heath Hembree strolled out of the Pawtucket Red Sox bullpen in left field at McCoy Stadium on Wednesday night, there was something different in the air. Hembree carried himself with a gravitas and a confidence not often seen in the minor leagues. By day, Hembree speaks with a soft voice with a slight southern twinge, an inviting, friendly tone. By night, Hembree is a different animal.

That mound presence was immediately evident in the righty’s PawSox debut in the ninth inning Wednesday. As soon as Hembree took the bump to finish off the Syracuse Chiefs in Pawtucket’s 3-2 victory, the 25-year-old made his presence known. The righty was confident and knew what his strengths were: his 95 mph fastball and his wipeout slider.

“There is no fear watching him attack those hitters,” said PawSox manager Kevin Boles. “It was pretty impressive.”

The confidence that Hembre exuded extended beyond pure mound presence; the reliever’s attack plan against the top of the Chiefs lineup displayed a sense of maturity. Hembree, who pitched one inning, striking out two, walking one and allowing one hit, mixed his fastball and slider early in counts. Hembree showed enough confidence in his slider to use it to start off the at-bat against Chiefs center fielder Eury Perez.

Hembree may get his chance to impact the late innings out of the Fenway Park bullpen sooner rather than later. Junichi Tazawa, Craig Breslow, Edward Mujica are the only pitchers in the current Red Sox relief corps signed for the 2015 season. From first impression, Hembree’s fastball-slider mix looks as if it could play up well in the late innings at the major league level.

“Looks like [the slider] has little bit of a different tilt to it,” Boles said. “Looks like he’s got some finish to it with two strikes. It’s an interesting mix. It’s one look, but very impressive.”

When you’ve got the velocity that he’s got, it’s going to be a weapon for him when he throws it for strikes,” said PawSox pitching coach Rich Sauveur. “I think with anybody, as long as you can throw it for strikes, I think it’s a very good weapon.”

Hembree says he has confidence to lean on his slider as a weapon, regardless of the count.

Especially for me, it keeps them honest and off of my fastball,” Hembree said. “I like to mix it up, throw it early in the count, behind in the count, whenever I can to try to get that extra life on the fastball.”

Boles says that the combination of Hembree’s arsenal and mound presence create a pitcher who looks built for late-inning, high-pressure situations.

He has the look. He has the mound presence,” Boles said. “Facing the top of their lineup against [Steven] Souza there, this lineup can impact the baseball, but watching how he was going after it, he was staying aggressive throughout. Didn’t back down at all.”

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