Bisons pitcher Neil Wagner did not know he was going to be a closer when he came to Buffalo to start the 2013 season.
Yet, the right-hander out of North Dakota State is a perfect 11-for-11 in save opportunities and has not given up a run in 13 straight outings. Wagner has 28 strikeouts and a 1.02 ERA in 17.2 innings pitched on the year.
Not only has Wagner gotten off to a fast start on the mound statistically, teams have witnessed that he can throw the ball pretty fast, too. Just over one week ago, Wagner threw a 101 mph fastball against Louisville on his way to his 10th save of the season.
"I wasn't even aware of it until after we came off the field," Wagner said about the pitch. "Somebody else mentioned it. The other guys seemed pretty excited about it, but I didn't even know about it until we got back into the clubhouse."
The 6-foot righty attributes most of his early success to a prepared team staff that allows him to get work and practice in everyday in order to pitch successfully when he gets on the mound late in the game.
"It also helps that we've had some multiple run leads," he said of the Bisons' high-powered offense. "It's a little more comfortable to pitch with multiple-run leads. You don't have to worry about bunting and running as much."
It is not easy for a pitcher to sit on the bench for eight innings and come into the game feeling 100 percent. But, Wagner has learned in-game routines to help him be well prepared when coming in for the ninth inning.
"I take notes on hitters throughout most of the games, talk to other guys about if they've seen guys since I haven't played in the International League before," he said. "Some of these guys have seen them more often. So, I take notes and just watch the game. It helps you to stay engaged and have a little bit of an idea of what you might be looking at when you get in the game."
Coming from the Pacific Coast League to the International League this season has been another reason Wagner feels so comfortable on the mound. Wagner finished last season with a 5.46 ERA in 46 games with Sacramento and Tucson.
"I just decided to hit the reset button this offseason and get back in working," he said. "I started throwing a slider more-so than a curveball. That has helped. And throwing more strikes probably. I'm not entirely sure why that is, but I just keep working at it."
Wagner knows he has to make the most of his chances with the Bisons in order to continue his career at other levels like the major leagues. He realizes he is going to get his chances to pitch and make adjustments to his game when the time comes.
"You're not going to be going from the closer in the minor league's to being the closer in the big leagues, most likely," he said. "So you kind of have to prepare yourself to have a different role when you get into the big leagues."