“I was super excited,” Braymer said. “I thought I might have an opportunity for that to happen but when I got the call (Wednesday) morning, I was very, very excited. A lot of positive emotions. It was cool.”
In part one of our visit with Braymer (Twitter: @B_Braymer), we break down his move to Triple-A and the adjustments he had to make in a roller-coaster 2019 campaign.
Any pitcher will tell you there is a big difference between high Single-A and Double-A, and an even bigger change from Double-A to Triple-A in the level of competition.
Braymer, 25, started off going 4-4 with a 2.51 ERA in 13 starts for Double-A Harrisburg. But at Triple-A Fresno, he went 0-6 with a 7.20 ERA in 13 starts. His strikeout total dropped from 69 to 47 and his walks went up from 21 to 35. He allowed seven homers at Harrisburg at 18 with the Grizzlies.
“I definitely had an adjustment period when I got up to Fresno,” Braymer said. “It’s a different league out there and there’s different factors that play into outcome of games. For a while there, I didn’t do the best job that I could do of just controlling what I could control, especially within the realm of an outing. I was able to step back and realize that.
“I had the help of my closest friends on the team and the staff, and they were very helpful for me in doing so, but whenever I was able to step back and realize that to get back and control the things I could control and just competing I was able to finish the year strong, and I am thankful for that.”
The Pacific Coast League can be an unforgiving place for pitchers. There are bandboxes, short porches, high altitudes and, of course, fastball-hunting hitters. The air is thin, the balls are harder to grip and breaking balls don’t break the way they do at sea level.
“That’s the reality of the game,” the Baton Rouge, La., native said. “(The conditions you encounter) might be the case in Nats Park and that wouldn’t be the case at Coors Field. That’s something that at every level you are going to have to battle. At least in my opinion, I’m fortunate that I was able to experience that and go through those struggles because I only think it’s going to help me down the road and make me a better pitcher.”
But the PCL is also Triple-A, the last stop before the bigs. The league is filled with top talent, mashers and gritty hitters that make contact or wait you out until you make that one mistake pitch.
“The level of competition up there is much more experienced,” Braymer said. “In my personal experience, each step that I have gone up that the talent has gotten better. In return, your margin for error as a pitcher gets smaller and smaller. Out there in the PCL as a pitcher, one of the worst things you can do is shy away from contact. There’s going to be instances where a ball is going to squeak out over the fence, and it might not be that you left it over the heart of the plate. It might just be that somebody got lucky.
“You just got to flush it and keep going back to doing what you are best at doing. For me, that’s just attacking guys, pitching in and really just competing with my best stuff that day and letting the guys work behind me. I was able to get back to that at the end of the year. It was a world of difference.”
One thing that helped the former Auburn hurler a lot during those up-and-down outings was leaning on his teammates and brothers. He bent their ears on what it was like and how to survive in the unforgiving PCL.
For a pitcher, how do you make sure the hitters don’t take advantage of the conditions? As a hitter, what are you looking for to take advantage of when you face an inexperienced starter?
“I thought it was a very good experience to get to compete against those guys,” Braymer said. “The level of experience they have out there, not only the opposing team, but especially the guys on your own team. I was very fortunate to pick the brains of a lot of awesome players and teammates. They helped me out a lot.
“A few names that come to mind: J.J. Hoover, Seth Copeland, Collin Cowgill, Matt Reynolds, Brandon Snyder. I thought they did a really good job of taking me and some of the other guys under their wing and helping us out throughout the course of the season. I will always be very thankful and fortunate to have had them (as teammates).”
Braymer’s Fresno pitching coach, Brad Holman, was influential in his development, as was the coaching he received in Harrisburg.
“I really enjoyed working with Brad as well as (Harrisburg pitching coach) Mikey Tejera,” Braymer said. “The thing that Brad helped me out with the most was he took time out of his day every day to not only check on me as a pitcher but check on me as a person, especially when things weren’t going well. I really appreciated that out of him.”
Down into the nuts and bolts of Braymer’s stuff was the focus on improving his changeup. That’s where Holman’s expertise took center stage. They worked on his changeup grip
“He works with me on my changeup a lot,” Braymer said. “The last year and a half, that’s really been my main focus is continuing to develop the changeup. When I got out to Triple-A, I changed from a two-seam changeup grip to a four-seam changeup grip, per Brad’s request. That proved to be a huge difference-maker for me.”
This grip alteration especially helped Braymer at the end of the season as he exceeded 130 innings and got more comfortable with the changeup.
“With this year being the first year that I was a starter full-time, I think I got a little fatigued at the end of the year and my fastball command wavered,” Braymer said. “On days when my fastball command wasn’t good and I was falling behind 1-0, 2-0, 2-1, that changeup came up huge for me, and I have Brad to thank for working with me on that and helping me develop that (pitch).”
In part two of our visit with Braymer, we will go over the grip alteration that Braymer initiated with his changeup, what it means to be on the Nats’ 40-man roster, his emotions watching the Nats win the World Series and his goals for 2020.