WOODBRIDGE, Va. - Left-hander Brett Mooneyham cruised to an outstanding start last season for low Single-A Hagerstown. But when he got called up to high Single-A Potomac late in the season, he struggled a bit with his mechanics.
With the Suns, Mooneyham was 10-3 with a 1.94 ERA in 17 starts with 79 strikeouts in 93 innings, and 41 walks.
For the P-Nats, the 6-foot-5, 235-lb., Stanford product went 0-3 with a 13.50 ERA in three starts over 11 1/3 innings with only six strikeouts and 13 walks.
This season, he is back with Potomac, beginning the 2014 campaign as the third starter for manager Tripp Keister’s P-Nats.
During spring training, Mooneyham worked with Nationals pitching coordinator Spin Williams and Potomac pitching coach Franklin Bravo to focus on a mechanical issue that led to his scuffling debut in Potomac. Now he feels confident about his mechanics and approach on the hill.
“I came in and was trying to just iron out all the mechanical issues I was having towards the end of last season here,” Mooneyham said. “I had a really good stretch for about a month and a half in Hagerstown, and then got called up here and started to lose feel a little bit.
“And then, over the course of spring training, I feel like I made strides in the right direction. My last couple of outings were pretty good.”
Mooneyham said the concentrated one-on-one work with Bravo reaped big benefits in Viera. Bravo was Mooneyham’s coach in Hagerstown and joins him this season in Potomac.
“Spin helped me out a lot,” Mooneyham said. “Towards the end of spring training, they funneled me over to throw bullpens in front of Bravo. He has seen me more than anyone else. He knows what I look like when I am doing it right. He knows what I look like when I start to fall into bad habits.”
So what was the reason he “lost feel” in his pitches in that last month of the 2013 season?
“I’d say, for the most part, it is keeping everything relaxed from the waist up, and also keeping good tempo and good pace so that my hand break and knee drop kind of align,” Mooneyham said. “Release point is a product of those, so whenever my timing is correct, when I break my hands, my release point is better.”
Most of the Hagerstown roster joins Mooneyham in Potomac - at least 20 of the same 25 players who led the Suns to the South Atlantic League finals last season. Finishing his season for Potomac, Mooneyham was able to be a part of a pair of teams that were runners-up in their respective leagues in 2013.
Mooneyham said having 20-year-old catcher Pedro Severino catching his games again in Woodbridge is huge to getting into a nice rhythm early in his starts.
“I like to get to where I don’t really care what the count is, whatever Sevy, who knows me pretty well (and) caught me last year for most of the year in Hagerstown, and has a good feel for calling the game on any given day,” Mooneyham said.
“He realizes what is working early in the game and tries to go to it in the situations where you need an out pitch.”
Mooneyham mixes his fastball, curveball and changeup that is 7-8 mph off his fastball velocity to confuse hitters. Hopefully, having his mechanics back in order will help him with the season that begins Thursday. Mooneyham’s projected first start is Saturday at Carolina.
The team will leave for Carolina early Thursday morning, so the P-Nats can get a good night’s sleep in their new homes in the Woodbridge area. They will get to know the Mudcats well early in the season, with eight of their first 11 games against Carolina.
The P-Nats’ home opener is Tuesday, April 8 against Lynchburg at Pfitzner Stadium.