In high school, he started off as a relief pitcher and became a starting pitcher, but preferred playing third base.
In college, he started off in the starting rotation, switched to the bullpen as a junior, and became his school’s all-time leading saves leader as a closer.
As a pro, Christopher Alan Province was drafted as a reliever in 2007, switched back to starter in 2008, and now finds himself back in the bullpen with the Portland Sea Dogs.
Confused? Well, he’s not, and that’s the important thing.
“It’s a back and forth type thing, but we all find our id and place eventually to help the organization the best,” said the 24-year-old from Hammond, La. “Last year was the first year I’d been a full-time starter since high school, basically.
“To be honest, I was always a better infielder than pitcher.”
In many ways, Province, who Boston drafted in the fifth round of the 2007 amateur draft, is a human study in contrasts.
“Around 9 or 10, I wanted to be a basketball player at North Carolina. I remember telling my mom and dad that,” he said with a chuckle. “I was about 5 when I started playing baseball, but never really grew up watching it. My favorite sport to watch has always been football more than anything.”
The regular role reversals don’t seem to affect Province negatively. Last year, he went 9-6 with a 4.82 ERA in 27 combined starts with Single-A Greenville and advanced Single-A Lancaster. While his strikeout-to-walk ratio was solid (74 strikeouts, 33 walks), his hit total (165 in 134¤ innings) was too high.
“It’s a different mindset. When you’re a starter and give up runs and hits early, you can still settle down and win the game, but it can get you frustrated and that’s something I had to work on,” he said.
Province finished a four-year run at Southeastern Louisiana University as both the single-season and career saves leader with eight and 14, respectively.
The 6-foot-3, 220-pound righthander worked in the offseason to build up his stamina and durability and came into spring training 17 pounds heavier while expecting to be a starter again, but things quickly changed.
“That was a big question going in spring training as to what role I’d fill with the staff,” he said. “Then they started talking relief again, so I guess you could say I had to learn the tricks of the trade again.”
He apparently hadn’t forgotten many of them. Through Thursday, Province had five relief appearances, going 2-2 with a 2.45 ERA. In 11 innings, he yielded eight hits and four walks to go with 10 strikeouts.
“I like a reliever role because you’re amped up a little and the margin for error is a little less. Your job is get guys out,” Province said. “I don’t mind hitters knowing what’s coming because I like being able to just rear back and throw.”
Although he did it with the expectation of being a starter, Province’s offseason conditioning is still paying off.
“I’ve added a lot of muscle and I feel much stronger for sure,” said Province. “I’m hoping to get my velocity back. I threw 92 to 96 in college and I’m around 92 now.”
So far this season, Province has concentrated less on velocity and more on versatility.
“I don’t throw a curve and before this season, I didn’t throw a four-seam fastball, but now in certain situations, I can throw [the four-seamer] and it works well,” said Province.
Province, who sees many similarities in his pitching approach and that of former Red Sox starter Derek Lowe, considers his sinking fastball his best, but not his strikeout pitch.
“I developed a changeup my first year and I look at it now as my strikeout pitch, but I also want to get my slider back with its sharpness,” he said. “I’m making adjustments.”
Some things never change.
Suarez, Maxwell bumped up
Sea Dogs infielder Iggy Suarez has been promoted to Triple-A Pawtucket and right-handed pitcher Blake Maxwell has been called up from Single-A Lowell to take his roster spot.
Maxwell immediately enters the starting rotation and will start Sunday’s game against Connecticut. Suarez, 27, has spent parts of the last four seasons with Portland. This is his first foray into Triple-A ball. He was hitting .111 with four RBIs in 11 games this season.