SARASOTA, Fla. - The walk back to the clubhouse stings, no matter the date or relative insignificance of the game.
Branden Kline is a competitor. He’s a proud young man. And he really wishes that he could undo the pitch he threw yesterday to the Pirates’ Cole Tucker leading off the bottom of the ninth inning at LECOM Park.
A fastball in a 2-0 count with the score tied. Tucker clearing the right field fence and circling the bases. Players leaving the field as fans head toward the exits.
“I think it’s the first time I’ve ever gone into a game and literally thrown only three pitches,” Kline said this morning. “But at the same time you’ve got to give credit to Tucker. It was a 2-0 count, fastball’s coming in and he definitely didn’t miss it.
“The only thing I can do is just kind of move on from that, try to get some work in here the next couple of days and go from there.”
The teaching moment was an obvious one. Don’t just undo the pitch. Reverse what led to it.
Falling behind in the count is a dangerous game, with the hitter now waiting on Kline’s heater. And Tucker, a first-round pick in 2014, had already homered earlier in the day off Yefry Ramirez.
“Absolutely, especially at this level,” said Kline, the second-rounder in 2012 out of the University of Virginia who’s armed with a mid-to-upper 90s fastball. “When you get to 2-0, guys start sitting on one pitch and one location, so if they kind of guess correctly and I throw where they’re looking, they definitely don’t miss it.
“Definitely don’t want to come in and have the first two balls be balls. Got to come in and do a better job of attacking the zone. But at the same time, if I find myself in that situation again, just kind of learn from it. Maybe go to a different spot, use a different pitch, something along those lines.”
Tucker hasn’t hit more than six home runs in a season as a professional, but he delivered the walk-off in a 5-4 win in Bradenton. Not the first surrendered by Kline, who recorded 17 saves last season while posting a combined 1.64 ERA and 1.066 WHIP in 44 games at Single-A Frederick and Double-A Bowie and earning a spot on the 40-man roster.
“It’s definitely happened before. This wasn’t the first time,” he said.
“It’s happened in the past, but the good thing is it’s in spring training, so that number doesn’t go on the back of my card right now. But it’s still a good teaching moment. Just got to learn from it and pretty much come in and be better and just go from there.”
Pitchers need short memories, and that’s especially true of late-inning relievers. Kline, 27, will move on from the home run, but he won’t forget about it.
Those steps back to the clubhouse beyond the left field corner and the return trip to Sarasota gave him plenty of time to think.
“I think any athlete will tell you that anytime that they lose it’s not fun,” said Kline, who struck out the side for the save in his spring debut but has allowed a run in each of his last two outings.
“Whether the game counts or not, whether it’s a scrimmage or a practice or an actual game, it’s all the same. So mentally, you never want to give up a home run, you never want to be put in that situation.
“The fortunate thing is, even though it doesn’t count, at the end of the day you still kind of analyze what you could have done differently and what to improve on. So it still is a long walk back to the clubhouse, especially after that, but like I said, it’s a good thing that it doesn’t count right now and just kind of use that as fuel to get better and take it into the season.”