Rocha is Silver Knights late-inning weapon

It’s the ninth inning, the bases are loaded and the Nashua Silver Knights are in danger of blowing a two-run lead. Manager B.J. Neverett knew what he had to do in this situation: Call on Cody.

Three pitches later, the batter struck out and the threat was over. Probably should’ve opened the ninth inning with him, huh?

“He’s a fierce competitor,” Neverett said of his closer, Cody Rocha. “No situation really bothers him.”

“My biggest thing is I like the challenge and I don’t like to sit back,” said Rocha, who may have to do just that when he returns to Assumption College in the fall, where he’ll most likely be a starting pitcher. “As a starter I’d probably have to be a little more crafty.”

For now Rocha will relish his time as perhaps the best closer in the Futures Collegiate Baseball League, leading the circuit with nine saves as the Silver Knights have clinched the top seed in the upcoming FCBL playoffs. He’s 0-2, but since a tough Opening Night outing he’s been on fire, sporting a 1.15 earned run average with eight hits, four walks and 19 strikeouts in 152?3 innings.

“Being a closer, I’m going to give it everything I can,” Rocha said. “I’m going to throw it as hard as I can and try to put it by you.”

Rocha was a reliever his first two years at Assumption, but the Fall River, Mass., native will try to make the transition to starter in the fall and spring, and then perhaps go back to being a closer if he returns to the Silver Knights in 2013. He was with the team at the start of the 2011 season, but his arm was teetering on the edge of injury from his spring season and he shut it down after finally feeling what many thought would be that inevitable pop.

He had an early season relief appearance and had partially torn an elbow ligament and didn’t know if he’d need Tommy John surgery. But rest and treatment did the trick.

“I’m pumped I got another opportunity,” he said. “I got cleared to throw about a week and a half before the season was starting in Florida. They took it easy with me.”

Rocha was hoping to return at some point last summer, but once the tear was discovered, it was over. He was crushed, because he was relegated to pitching one last year in American Legion ball rather than summer collegiate baseball.

“When I got the contract, I was so excited,” he said.

Only to be disappointed.

“It was kind of devastating a little bit when I snapped that curve ball and felt the pop,” he said.

“His arm trouble the year before really started in school,” Neverett said. “When he pitched here he had two weeks off, then we put him in a game, and he didn’t feel good.”

Fortunately, the Silver Knights had Northeastern’s Dylan Maki to close out games, but Neverett had always thought of Rocha taking that role if he returned.

And Rocha has recovered in fine form. As he said, they guided him through things at Assumption, where he made 18 appearances, all in relief, for a 2-1 record with one save and an ERA of 3.81. The idea was to build up his arm and next spring he’ll add to his innings total with starts.

But for now, he enjoys the pressure of the late inning role.

“I like the ball in my hands, give us a chance to win late in the ball game,” he said. “I’d like to be a closer for sure. Probably come springtime I’ll have no problem going into the starting rotation, but when I come out of the game in the seventh inning, and the ninth inning comes around , I’m going to wish I was out there closing the game.”

Rocha had been a starter at Durfee High School and hadn’t been a reliever until college.

“It’s part of the game, I mean to be successful, you’ve got to want the ball, you can’t be scared to take the mound. But I think for the betterment of my team at Assumption, it’s better that I start, so I want to be a starter. But I hope to come back here and be a closer next year, too.”

What’s his key pitch? It’s his changeup, which Neverett says “has been his devastating pitch this year.” But he can also bring it.

“I have a changeup, I have a curve ball, I don’t throw the slider much, I’m still developing it, I use it playing catch,” Rocha said. “But I go with my fastball, I like to attack and get ahead with it, and use my changeup and curve ball to put away.”

He wants to get his curve back to where it was his freshman year in school, as that was his strikeout pitch and that’s the pitch he got hurt throwing.

“It’s been a little bit of a mental block to get it back but lately it’s back to where I feel good about it,” Rocha said.

Knowing his role is also a benefit to Rocha, so he’s able to mentally prepare.

“It’s tough when you’re sitting out there hoping you’d be the guy coming in,” he said waiting to take the ball in the ninth. “But it helps to get into that routine.

“You can’t be nervous, you can’t be scared of (the hitters). You have to come after them.”

So watch out, FCBL hitters. The playoffs are coming, and so is Cody Rocha.