The art of being a swingman: How Bowden Francis embraces being a versatile pitcher

Photo credit:David Reginek
Veronica Chung
1 month ago
Three years ago, Bowden Francis was just a depth pitcher thrown into a trade.
To give the team so much-needed bullpen help, the Blue Jays dealt slugger Rowdy Tellez to the Milwaukee Brewers for Trevor Richards and Francis. Richards joined Toronto’s bullpen right away while Francis spent some time in the minors before getting his chance at the big-league level.
Francis made his Major League debut in a blowout loss early in 2022 but didn’t get a real chance with the Blue Jays until the 2023 season. Even though he was optioned to Triple-A Buffalo four times throughout that season, Francis recorded a 1.73 ERA over 36 1/3 innings for the team and struck out 35 batters while walking only eight. 
The Blue Jays called upon Francis in June when the struggling Alek Manoah was optioned to the Florida Complex League. With no sixth starter ready in Triple-A, Francis gave the team some much-needed length out of the bullpen.

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“It’s a different mindset. It’s almost like you’re going to war,” Francis said in a recent phone interview with Blue Jays Nation. As a trained starting pitcher, Francis willingly went out of his comfort zone to play the role that the team needed.  “You have to be thinking about when your turn is, and you kind of have to navigate your mindset differently because you have to be more alert.” 
Francis also emphasized how trusting his stuff and preparation mattered to be ready for any kind of situation as a member of the Jays’ rotation and the bullpen. “Staying with the flow and not getting swayed by external stuff is important when you have to be flexible,” he added. “I try to do as much as I can and challenge myself by working on things that I’m not used to.”
A swingman is a pitcher in a team’s bullpen who can be called upon to make spot starts when needed. It’s a relatively thankless job because this type of pitcher never gets much of the spotlight as a starting pitcher or star closer. Think about pitcher Patrick Corbin with the Washington Nationals in 2019. Corbin took multiple roles during the playoffs to help the Nationals make an unlikely run to the World Series stage. He started when his team needed him and filled in as a longman when their bullpen depth fell short. And yet, Corbin didn’t get as much recognition as starting pitchers Aníbal Sánchez, Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg. That’s the life of a swingman – it can be a lonely path for pitchers whether they like it or not.
In a way, Francis took up the role of a swingman with the Jays last year as he sought to find his place in the big leagues and his desire to help the Jays haven’t changed one bit. “I want to be the dependable guy my team can count on and I want to contribute to the team as much as possible,” he said. “Stress can add on because the season can be long, so going day to day and being locked in helps.” 
Throughout his time in minors and with the Jays, Francis tried to become a sponge and brought a beginner’s mindset to find things that worked for him while being observant. No matter what his role was, getting his feet wet was always his main focus because it was all about setting the foundation. Francis mentioned that having a positive perspective helps because our minds can be overwhelming and it’s easy to fall for the negatives. For a hyper-focused pitcher like him, it’s always been about not worrying about other things and trusting his stuff when it comes to effectiveness.
As the Jays begin their spring training, Francis said being a versatile guy is how he views his current role with the Jays with the hope of building up as a starter more this season. His selflessness and hard work have always set him apart even though he earned his spot in the big leagues not too long ago. He isn’t immune to second-guessing himself but he continues to believe in himself regardless of the challenges in his way. 
Francis explained that he wants to stay in the Jays’ pen as much as possible this year and have longer stints, three to four innings, to relieve the workload from top to bottom. He also credited the Jays for reinforcing their belief in his potential and helping him bloom as a pitcher. Francis’ goal has always been to become a reliable pitcher his team needs instead of seeking the limelight. He hasn’t let anything else bother him and has gone out to simply do his job without making a scene. 
And yet, his self-effacing attitude has garnered attention this spring. During a chat with MLB.com’s Keegan Matheson, starting pitcher Chris Bassitt went out of his way and said that the Jays, in fact, have seven starters because the team has Bowden Francis and Ricky Tiedemann. Bassitt also went on to praise both Francis and Tiedemann’s stuff and maturity and how they could easily become the team’s number one starters. Francis’ grind is finally paying off, and he now has the chance to potentially compete for the fifth starter role with the Jays’ improved pitching depth. 
Francis has certainly earned the organization’s trust to get the job done and will play a crucial role as a unique pitcher with a commanding presence on the mound. When fall rolls around, no one will need to explain who Bowden Francis is anymore. His last name and number 44 on the back of his jersey will be more than enough to understand who he truly is. 


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