After pitching very well late last season for Frederick, right-handed reliever Brandon Cooney is using his plus 90's fastball and an amazing ground-ball ratio to put up numbers there again.
Cooney, a 30th-round pick in 2007 out of Florida Atlantic, is 2-0, 0.60 with five saves for the Keys. Over 15 innings, the Keys closer has allowed 12 hits and just one earned run on the season, with seven walks to 18 strikeouts.
"I feel really comfortable this year. I walked a few early, but I understand my mechanics better each year. I've really developed my slider and that's become a good pitch for me that offsets my breaking ball which is a little slower," Cooney said.
The 6'6" right-hander, with three saves in his last three outings, throws a four-seam fastball that can top out at 95, along with a slider and curve and continues to work on his changeup.
"A lot people talk about velocity, velocity, velocity, but comfortable for me is probably 92 to 94. I still get good cut on my ball and that allows me to get a lot of groundballs. When I get to 95, the velocity is good but the ball may straighten out a bit."
Those groundballs have been piling up off opponent hitter bats. At Delmarva in 44 innings in 2009, he had a 2.6 ratio of groundouts to air outs. This year so far with the Keys it is a remarkable 5.50.
"I usually have had good groundball numbers because my fastball has a natural cut to it. It's just enough of a dropoff where they hit the top of the ball. Even hits I've given up this year, some were infield hits or grounders through the hole," the 24-year-old Cooney said.
Cooney has been closing for three straight seasons in the minors. Last year, between Delmarva and Frederick, he went 2-7, 2.15 with 22 saves. He had ten saves the year before at short-season Aberdeen.
"Love it. Last three years I've been a closer. I can have a routine where, the first five innings I watch the lineup. The last time through the order I can see what adjustments they've made from the starter to the first reliever.
"I like the fact that the game, I feel, is on my shoulders. If I pitch well we win, if I don't it could cost us the game. I like the extra intensity."
Cooney has been a rock in a Frederick bullpen that has been very good for the first-place Keys all year.
"Most guys in our bullpen are 90, 93, 94. We just added Jose Diaz who can throw mid to upper 90's."
As a college draftee, Cooney is older than some others on his team. That, plus his results, could net him a shot at Double-A Bowie sometime later this year.
Meanwhile, he'll enjoy closing for Frederick and continue to work on a changeup, which could be an important pitch for his future.
"I have not thrown it the last three years. I haven't really needed it to this point, but at higher levels you see better hitters. I've been using my curve to offset the timing of the hitter. So I think my change will really help to get the hitter out front so I can zip a fastball by them."
Later today: I'll post some quotes from Cooney about the pitching coaches he has worked with in the Orioles farm system.
Carolina League saves leaders:
5 - Brandon Cooney, Frederick
5 - Steve Smith, Kinston
4 - Gregory Infante, Winston-Salem
4 - Cole Kimball, Potomac