As Brad Brach prepares for a likely role as the primary closer for the Orioles while Zach Britton recovers from Achilles surgery, he’s making an adjustment to his offseason routine in order to put together two robust halves.
More cardio to correct the discrepancy.
Brach has been the reverse of Kevin Gausman. Better before the break. He made the American League All-Star team in 2016 while going 6-1 with a 0.91 ERA and 0.831 WHIP in the first half, but he had a 3.94 ERA and 1.382 WHIP in the second. He registered a 2.58 ERA and 0.861 WHIP in the first half last season and a 3.94 ERA and 1.483 WHIP after play resumed.
The opponents’ slash line increased from .155/.222/.256 to .270/.325/.400 in 2016, and from .167/.231/.288 to .257/.336/.398 last season.
“This year, I’m hoping to pitch into late October,” Brach said during the “Orioles Hot Stove Show” on 105.7 The Fan. “That’s the goal every year, so when I got home this year, I thought about the second half. I don’t do as much long-distance running and I’ve been implementing that this offseason in the hope that I’ll have just as strong a first half as I’ve had the last couple of years, but to really focus on the second half and have a little extra legs under me or a little more wind going into the second half.
“I think if anything it’s just been kind of a mental thing now since it’s two years in a row, and it’s one of those things where you want to prove people wrong, but you can’t do it until you get there. You don’t want to pitch bad those first three months either, but it’s all about how you finish and not how you start, and I think that’s how people remember you, so I definitely want to finish strong in the coming year.”
Brach is one of 18 pitchers to log 200 or more innings over the last three seasons. He worked 68 innings in 2017, compared to 79 1/3 and 79 in the prior two campaigns.
“I think in 2016 we kind of learned a lesson that it’s great to try to pitch as many games and as many innings as possible and at some point you’ve got to pull the reins back, and I think right after the All-Star break, it wasn’t like a mental thing, but more of just a physical thing,” Brach said.
“I felt good, my velocity was there, but just wasn’t able to execute my pitches. I think Buck (Showalter) and I and the other guys learned a lesson that you can’t go full throttle for an entire season for six months. I love being out there as much as possible, but I think the previous years in ‘15 and ‘16 were 70-plus appearances or somewhere around there, and I just know that, looking at the history of baseball, you just can’t sustain that. So I think last year was a nice rest and I think coming into this year I’m going to have a really strong year.”
Brach actually made 62 appearances in 2015, 71 in 2016 and 67 last year, but point taken.
With extensive closing experience in the minors, Brach isn’t sailing in uncharted waters when handed the ninth inning for the Orioles. He was 18-for-24 in save chances in 2017 while Britton made two trips to the disabled list and was shut down in September.
“You can’t control what inning they want you to pitch,” he said. “You’ve just got to prepare yourself and be ready to pitch to the best of your ability. Whether it’s the seventh, eighth or ninth inning, it doesn’t matter. I’m just going to try to do the best that I can. Just put in the extra work this year and, hopefully, have an even better year than I did last year.”
“I think every year I’ve kind of had more experience moving back to the late innings and, obviously, last year that experience closing for those couple months was invaluable. I think going into this year my mindset’s clear. I know what it takes now to close in the major leagues. There’s no mystery, there’s no excuses anymore. If they do hand me the ball in the ninth inning and expect me to close out games, that’s my job. There’s no ands, ifs or buts about it.
“Last year’s experience was great and, hopefully, I get the chance to do that again this year.”
Brach’s name came up regularly at the Winter Meetings, as it also did in 2016. But the Orioles weren’t going to deal him unless they knew that Britton was staying, and the ensuing Achilles surgery pretty much sealed Brach’s return.
“I definitely follow it,” Brach said of the hot-stove chatter. “I’m a fan of baseball, first and foremost. I always have been. I love the game, I love seeing what’s happening with other teams and especially what’s happening with us. If I would say that I don’t pay attention to it or I don’t care about anything of that stuff, that’s a lie. I definitely pay attention to it and it’s easy to do in the offseason because it’s not affecting your work.
“You don’t have to go in the mornings and go to MLBTradeRumors or turn on MLB Network and see your name and go to the park that night and pitch. The offseason you have all day and all night to kind of just sit there and mess around. And being from New Jersey, a lot of my friends are my fans, and as soon as my name got brought up I had a group text message and there were probably 50 text messages sent to me in about three minutes, so it’s hard to ignore it and especially in the offseason. I kind of like it. It’s fun. It kind of makes these winter months not drag as much.”
The recent birth of his first child, daughter Brilee Kay, should pick up the pace in the Brach household.
“It’s awesome,” he said. “It’s been the best couple weeks of my life so far and I’m just enjoying every minute of it. It seems like every time you look at her, whether it’s the morning or nighttime, she seems to be different. It’s been awesome and I’m looking forward to the rest of that time seeing her grow up.
“I kind of played the tough-guy role and I’m not going to spoil my daughter, and as soon as she came out she pretty much had me wrapped around her finger from the moment she was born, so I’m in trouble when it comes to that. It’s all right, though. As people told me, it’s OK to spoil them with love and that’s what I plan on doing.”
I broke the news to Brach that, from my experience, spoiling with love works for a while. Once they hit the teenage years, they also want money and stuff.
“Yeah, I’ll be ready for that,” he said, laughing.
In the meantime, pacing the floor with a fussy baby and later chasing her around the house will add to his cardio routine. And any improvements from the rotation could keep the bullpen fresher, reducing the number of innings. The Orioles ranked second in the American League and fourth in the majors with 595.
“It’s one of those things that it’s hard to ignore, that the starters weren’t able to get as deep as they would like to,” Brach said. “The innings are going to catch up to you in September. But it was something we never discussed, it was something we never thought about. That’s kind of the way Buck runs things and the way Darren and Zach make sure everybody don’t pay attention to what’s going on. Just be ready when the phone rings and your name is called. So, it’s one of those things where, obviously, the starters didn’t live up to the expectations that they have for themselves.
“I think this year is going to be totally different. I think the starters that we get, whoever they end up being, are going to be a lot better than they were last year. The way that I look at it, it can’t get much worse than maybe it was last year, so I think it’s just a positive way to look at the way last year went.”