SPORTS

Jeff Francis comfortable with closer role for Canada's Pan Am team

07/18/2015 09:40 EDT | Updated 07/18/2016 05:59 EDT
AJAX, Ont. — Team Canada pitcher and Blue Jays farmhand Jeff Francis knows what it means to be a professional.

The 34 year old from North Delta, B.C., began his baseball career as a starter with the Colorado Rockies in 2004, two years after he was drafted in the ninth round of the MLB draft.

After an unsuccessful tenure as a starting pitcher, he transitioned into a middle reliever and played for the farm systems of five different organizations, most recently with the Toronto Blue Jays.

On Friday night, after Canada's 4-1 loss to the United States, Francis spoke on what that change of roles has been like.

"There's some differences between the two jobs," said the well-traveled veteran. "Sometimes the hardest thing is learning to get ready quicker, as a starter you have all the time you need but as a reliever you need to get ready as fast as possible.

"That and being ready to pitch everyday are probably the biggest adjustments."

The experience that the 6-foot-5 lefty has gained from transitioning to a reliever has helped him in his current role with the Canadian national senior men's team — closing out ball games.

Canadian closer

Team Canada manager and former Blue Jay Ernie Whitt has made Francis the team's Pan Am Games closer, bringing him into ninth innings against the Dominican Republic and Cuba and earning the saves in both games.

"I've never closed before in my career," laughed Francis when asked about the challenges that closing presents. "So, it's too early to say that it's been difficult or easy. You know, it's crunch time and your team is depending on you to win a game. As a pitcher, I think that you like that the team has that confidence in you."

The Canadian team is mixed with younger guys and veteran players and aside from closing, Francis has taken on the lesser-known role of being a mentor.

He's using his time at the Pan Ams to help his more youthful teammates understand what it takes to carry themselves in a professional manner.

"I've played long enough to have the knowledge to be able to talk to guys," said Francis. "Not necessarily anything about pitching or teaching them how to play, but just about being a pro. There's more to being a big leaguer than just playing in the big leagues.

"That's something I was taught at a young age and I think it's the responsibility of older players to teach that to the younger guys."

Despite losing to the Americans, Canada finished preliminary play with a 5-1 record and were guaranteed a spot in Saturday night's semifinal game a few days ago, being the top seed in the tournament. The Canadians will face Puerto Rico (7:05 p.m. ET).

Francis believes this Canadian squad has what it takes to defend its gold medal, which was won four years ago in Guadalajara, Mexico.

"Canada is not known as a baseball nation, but there's a small group of us here that do believe that we are," said Francis. "We believe we have the team to win gold, it's just a matter of going out on the field, executing, and doing the right things."

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